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The Dioramas of Spitalfields

The library at Bishopsgate Institute is proud to house and publically display four large models known as 'The Dioramas of Spitalfields'.

These dioramas were made for The Bell Public House, Middlesex Street, by model maker Howard Karslake (1932-1995). They were commissioned from Truman’s Brewery in 1972 and depict Petticoat Lane Market, Truman’s Brewery in Brick Lane and the interior of The Bell at the end of the nineteenth century.

Karslake became interested in models of all kinds when he went into the Royal Air Force, where he worked as an undercover topographer making detailed scale models from maps that pilots could study as a reconnaissance before they went off on a secret mission. Later, he went on to make the architect’s working model of the Thames Barrier, the model of the pilot’s seat in Concorde and models of many of the big North Sea oil rigs.

On leaving the RAF, he studied at Kingston College of Art and it was there he decided to become an architectural model maker, employed shortly after by Basildon Development Corporation as chief model maker. However, he found the work bureaucratic at the development corporation and when he got in trouble one day for not wearing a tie, he left and set up his own model making business. Before long, he won the Queen’s Award for Industry for his model of the Piper Alpha oil rig and he was made a Fellow of the Royal Society of Arts.

The models were discovered by Glyn Roberts, landlord of The Bell, in the basement of the pub in March 2012 and a new home was sought through the popular blog Spitalfields Life. The dioramas were accepted by Bishopsgate Institute soon after and were cleaned and restored by conservation assistant Jenny Kallin in April and May 2012.

They can now be viewed in the Main Library Reading Room during regular Library opening hours.