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Peter Bellerby, Globemaker

June 18, 2014
by the gentle author

Just a couple of years ago, Peter Bellerby of Bellerby & Co was unable find a proper globe to buy his father for an eightieth birthday present. Now Peter is to be found in his very own globe factory in Stoke Newington and hatching plans to set up another in New York – to meet the growing international demand for globes which he expects to exceed ten times his current output within five years. A man with global ambitions, you might say.

Yet Peter is quietly spoken with deferential good manners and obviously commands great respect from his handful of employees, who also share his enthusiasm and delight in these strange metaphysical baubles which serve as pertinent reminders of our true insignificance in the grand scheme of things.

A concentrated hush prevailed as Contributing Photographer Sarah Ainslie & I ascended the old staircase in the former warehouse where we discovered the globemakers at work on the top floor, painstakingly glueing the long strips of paper in the shape of slices of orange peel (or gores as they are properly known) onto the the spheres and tinting them with fine paintbrushes to achieve an immaculate result.

“I get bored easily,” Peter confessed to me, revealing the true source of his compulsion, “But making globes is really the best job you can have, because you have to get into the zone and slow your mind down.”

“Back in the old days, they were incredibly good at making globes but that had been lost,” he continued, “I had nothing to go by.” Disappointed by the degradation of his chosen art over the last century, Peter revealed that, as globes became decorative features rather than functional objects, accuracy was lost – citing an example in which overlapping gores wiped out half of Iceland. “What’s the point of that?,” he queried rhetorically, rolling his eyes in weary disdain.

“People want something that will be with them for life,” he assured me, reaching out his arms around a huge globe as if he were going to embrace it but setting it spinning instead with a beautiful motion, that turned and turned seemingly of its own volition, thanks to the advanced technology of modern bearings.

Even more remarkable are his table-top globes which sit upon a ring with bearings set into it, these spin with a satisfying whirr that evokes the music of the spheres. Through successfully pursuing his unlikely inspiration, Peter Bellerby has established himself as the world leader in the manufacture of globes and brought a new industry to the East End serving a growing export market.

To demonstrate the strength of his plaster of paris casting – yet to my great alarm – Peter placed one on the floor and leapt upon it. Once I had peeled my fingers from my eyes and observed him, balancing there playfully, I thought, “This is a man that bestrides the globe.”

Isis Linguanotto, Globepainter

John Wright, Globemaker

Chloe Dalrymple, Globemaker

Peter Bellerby, on top of the globe

Photographs copyright © Sarah Ainslie

21 Responses leave one →
  1. Jenny Atins permalink
    June 18, 2014

    What a wonderful story! The world, needs people like Peter. No pun intended!

  2. June 18, 2014

    A most interesting article, how fascinating to see globes still being manufactured by hand. Valerie

  3. June 18, 2014

    Simply incredible and fascinating!

    Love & Peace
    ACHIM

  4. June 18, 2014

    It had never occurred to me that globe-making was such a meticulous yet visionary pursuit. Sadly, it probably places them out of the real of the easily-affordable. I’ll have to save up!

  5. Helen Fraser permalink
    June 18, 2014

    A profession I would never have known existed without this blog! Thank you for expanding my horizons and opening my eyes to the wonderful diversity of life.

  6. Elizabeth cornwell permalink
    June 18, 2014

    How wonderful,I didnt think globes like these were made any more!

  7. June 18, 2014

    Excellent. But leaves with a desire to make a rhyme. “He was only a globermaker” …. You can complete the verse!

  8. June 18, 2014

    Wonderful!!

  9. Robin Clark permalink
    June 18, 2014

    How refreshing to see young people pursuing a traditional craft/trade. I wish I had the spare money to buy a globe.

  10. June 18, 2014

    How glorious to see this craft return to its full…well…glory. I shall also have to save up as I have always longed for a proper globe.

  11. Beth Keehn permalink
    June 18, 2014

    I love this story – and the fabulous photos. Inspirational! Thank you!

  12. June 18, 2014

    Well done Peter Bellerby :)

  13. June 18, 2014

    I want to work there! What a brilliant way to spend the day. And I think the name Isis Linguanotti – Globepainter, deserves a place in a book. The photographs were truly brilliant. A wonderful post.

  14. Ed Paul permalink
    June 18, 2014

    The postings from Spitalfields life really make my day. The tone is always one of respectful curiosity and they are much like a kind of emotional Google Street view which they zoom down to the life going on in the streets and behind doors.

  15. June 18, 2014

    Thanks Gentle Author for this fantastic post! As a maker of maps myself I was very intrigued to see what Peter’s studio is like after reading about him in Simon Garfield’s book ‘On The Map’ (which dedicates a whole chapter to him and is a book I highly recommend).

  16. June 18, 2014

    I am in constant awe of your blog–the quality, the depth,
    the incredible diversity of topics. This was a particularly lovely story–especially given my newly found fondness for ‘all things globe.’ Thank you!

  17. Pauline Taylor permalink
    June 18, 2014

    As usual I couldn’t agree more with all the comments, what a wonderful way to earn a living making something useful that is so beautiful too. And I too would never have known about this without you GA so thank you once again.

  18. June 19, 2014

    wonderful, talented people, an inspiration!

  19. Robert G. Redford permalink
    June 20, 2014

    Yet another great blog from the Gentle Author; I start my day by reading the latest offerings which are always worthwhile. It is incredibly gratifying to know that craft like this is returning to the east end and City, where so many wonderful things have been made in the past. The purchase of a Globe is now firmly on my wish list, preferably including Iceland!!

  20. Kelly @ Moving to London permalink
    June 22, 2014

    Oh how this blog post had me transported to a Dicken’s style London and then to see it grow in to something completely different and yet totally linked. Your photography is outstanding and the choice of Black and White was just perfect in my opinion.

  21. Carolyn Badcock - nee Hooper permalink
    June 26, 2014

    Delightful story! Peter Bellerby certainly deserves his success. I’ve loved owning a globe for many years and quite often give it a spin to look up where the equator “cuts” through a certain somewhere.
    Only 2 weeks ago I was in a Myer store checking out their latest stock of globes.

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