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Peter Bellerby, Globemaker

February 11, 2022
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

8 Responses leave one →
  1. Cherub permalink
    February 11, 2022

    About 5 years ago I had the pleasure of visiting Florence for a few days, we went to the Galileo Museum which showed how globes were originally made back in his time. It was absolutely fascinating.

  2. February 11, 2022

    An amazing story, this manufacture of globes. I like the fact that Peter also takes care of restoring old cars. I really envy him!

    Love & Peace
    ACHIM

  3. Leana Pooley permalink
    February 11, 2022

    I really enjoyed this piece. What an enterprising person Peter Bellerby is.

  4. gkbowood permalink
    February 11, 2022

    Finally! Some refreshing news about people reviving lost skills and strengthening my awe of all crafts people the world over. Thank you for visiting the workshop and sharing the photos.

  5. Robin permalink
    February 12, 2022

    So fantastic to see Peter Bellerby and his fellow young globemakers making this ancient craft relevant to today. Such visually sumptuous photographs, too!

  6. Jane permalink
    February 12, 2022

    How uplifting! The best and only way to look at our lovely planet Earth. A true gift and thank you!

  7. Amanda permalink
    February 12, 2022

    Thank you GA. Such a calming, satisfying article with superb photos portraying the contentment Peter has created for himself and the artists in his stunning workshop. The ‘fish’ pegged out to dry behind his head are the segmented gores, l am pleased to learn.

    This is a skill l would enjoy seeing a video of the step by step process and a future GA article where each artist describes their background and journey to globemaking.

    I have a fascination for globes, especially illuminated ones when the rest of the lights in the sitting room are switched off.

  8. Anders Bellis permalink
    February 13, 2022

    In this day and age, when so much is becoming digitalised, including our maps of the world, we really do need talented, dedicated people like Mr. Bellerby and his staff. I applaud the development of computer technology, but I do think that if we abandon other crafts, other technologies, we lose important and sometimes better ways to understand, for example, our world. Like in this case. There is nothing comparable to a skilfully made globe if one wants a clear sense of what our planet is like, of the actual proportions of countries and continents as compared to each other and the planet as a whole, and as a fascinating and inspiring tool for educating children about these things (as I have had occasion to notice in real life). I salute Mr. Bellerby and his staff!

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