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The Spitalfields Bowl

December 4, 2017
by the gentle author

One of these streets’ most-esteemed long-term residents summoned me to view an artefact that – until today – few have seen, the fabled Spitalfields Bowl. Engraved by Nicholas Anderson, a pupil of the great master of the art, Laurence Whistler, it incarnates a certain moment of transition in the volatile history of this place.

I arrived at the old house and was escorted by the owner to an upper floor, and through several doors, to arrive in the room where the precious bowl is kept upon its own circular table that revolves with a smooth mechanism, thus avoiding any necessity to touch the glass. Of substantial design, it is a wide vessel upon a pedestal engraved with scenes that merge and combine in curious ways. You have the option of looking down upon the painstakingly-etched vignettes and keeping them separate them in your vision, or you can peer through, seeing one design behind the other, morphing and mutating in ambiguous space as the bowl rotates – like overlaid impressions of memory or the fleeting images of a dream.

Ever conscientious, the owner brought out the correspondence that lay behind the commission and execution of the design from Nicholas Anderson in 1988. Consolidating a day in which the glass engraver had been given a tour of Spitalfields, one letter lists images that might be included – “1. The church and steeple of Christ Church, Spitalfields, and its domination of the surrounding areas. 2. The stacks, chimneys and weaving lofts. 3. The narrowness of the streets and the list and lean of the buildings with their different doorways and casement windows.”

There is a mesmerising quality to Nicholas Anderson’s intricate design that plays upon your perception, offering insubstantial apparitions glimpsed in moonlight, simultaneously ephemeral and eternal, haunting the mind. You realise an object as perilously fragile as an engraved glass bowl makes an ideal device to commemorate a transitory moment.

“It took him months and months,” admitted the proud owner,“and it represents the moment everything changed in Spitalfields, in which the first skyscraper had gone up and there were cranes as evidence of others to come. The Jewish people have left and the Asians are arriving, while at the same time, you see the last of the three-hundred-year-old flower, fruit and vegetable market with its history and characters, surrounded by the derelict houses and filthy streets.”

Sequestered in a locked room, away from the human eye, the Spitalfields Bowl is a spell-binding receptacle of time and memory.

The Jewish soup kitchen

To the left is the Worrall House, situated in a hidden courtyard between Princelet St & Fournier St

A moonlit view of Christ Church over the rooftops of Fournier St

The bird cage with the canary from Dennis Severs House

“He was a tinker who overwintered in Allen Gardens and used to glean every morning in the market…”

To the left is Elder St and the plaque commemorating the birth of John Wesley’s mother is in Spital Sq.

An Asian couple walk up Brushfield St, with the market the left and the Fruit & Wool Exchange and Verdes to the right

Photographs copyright © Lucinda Douglas-Menzies

16 Responses leave one →
  1. December 4, 2017

    What a breath-taking piece of art and craftsmanship. I can’t begin to conceive how such panoramas could be fitted into this small space.

  2. Peter Green permalink
    December 4, 2017

    What a wonderful bowl and a fantastic story. Thank you.

  3. December 4, 2017

    The bowl is very fascinating, a wonderful work of art. Valerie

  4. Jane Gadd permalink
    December 4, 2017

    Absolutely exquisite! It must be stunning to see such a work of art.

  5. Greta kelly permalink
    December 4, 2017

    Would be great to see it “In the flesh” ! Would it ever be put on display for the public?

  6. Liz permalink
    December 4, 2017

    This is fantastic. I suspect that the views of it are enhanced by the way it is lit but, even accounting for that, it is wonderful. I dont think I have ever seen a bowl with such intricate and artistic etching.

  7. Helen Breen permalink
    December 4, 2017

    Greetings from Boston,

    GA, gorgeous object. Agree with Keats – “A thing of beauty is a joy forever.” Amen

  8. December 4, 2017

    What a delicate work of art. Whoever owns it must love it deeply. Perhaps one day they will display it for the community to see.

  9. Ashley permalink
    December 4, 2017

    A beautiful piece of glass and a wonderful story.

  10. Kitanz permalink
    December 4, 2017

    This Bowl is So Beautiful-What a Lovely Christmas Gift it would make!

  11. Sue permalink
    December 4, 2017

    What a beautiful piece.

  12. pauline taylor permalink
    December 4, 2017

    Yes this is a truly beautiful piece of work but how sad that it is kept locked away like this I apologize for my feelings but I think that the artist deserves better.

  13. Sally Baldwin permalink
    December 4, 2017

    I keep marveling at how you, Gentle Author, have captured and enriched Spitalfields and opened it wide for all to explore without intruding… and now here is this incredible piece of art, clearly commissioned by one who loves Spitalfields as much as you do. Did you ever dream, when you started your journal, what an important and valuable part you would play in the history of London?

    Thank you again from an avid reader across the pond.


  14. Saba permalink
    December 4, 2017

    This blog works so well because you write so extremely well — plus good research — so please keep it up.

  15. Adele permalink
    December 4, 2017

    What a fascinating piece. Once again, thanks for bringing us something I’m sure very few of us knew existed.

  16. ROBERTA RIVIECCIO permalink
    December 9, 2017

    I am absolutely speechless!! Utterly and Totally Awestruck!! Thank you so much for showing us this unique piece of art/history. I regularly read your blogs and share your photos and history on East End Memories (always naming my source and showing the links should there be so much to be shared)!! Amazing work. I take my hat off to you sir. Keep this great work up . Merry Christmas and Happy, Healthy, Serene and Peaceful 2018 to you and yours!!!

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