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Friday
Feb062015

Peter Bellerby of Bellerby & Co. Globemakers

So the original plan, hatched in a pub in Kings Cross was to make just two globes, one for Dad, one for me. It would probably take three, maybe four months and cost a few thousand pounds. After all, how difficult can it be to make a ball and put a map on it?


— Peter Bellerby, Founder of Bellerby & Co.

Bellerby & Co. was founded in 2008 by Peter Bellerby, the former manager of a successful bowling alley business. Intrigued by his story (when Peter was unable to find a well-made globe for his father’s 80th birthday, he took matters into his own hands), I wanted to find out more and arranged a trip to the Bellerby & Co. headquarters in Stoke Newington, London.

Faced with the insurmountable challenges of placing a map onto a sphere, Peter had to wade through licensing in order to find a world map from a reputable source. Upon finding a good version, he realised that the majority of the work was yet to come and laborious revision began on a map peppered with spelling errors, erratic capitalisation and bizarre geographies. It took Peter six hours day to make the corrections, keep up with the pace of world change and produce a world map that accurately reflected the globe as we know it today.

You’d suspect the cartography aspect to globe making to be the most time consuming and stressful part of the process, but as Peter found out first hand, finding a manufacturer to make a perfect mould didn’t prove to be straightforward. After consulting with several companies who were willing to make a 50cm sphere mould, the examples that came back were neither round, often had plateaus and fell short of the high standards set by Peter. Dismayed, he continued in his quest for perfection and through painstaking trial and error Peter found the sphere needed for the base of his first globe, cast from plaster of Paris hemispheres, moulded with Formula 1 fabricators and weighted with lead to allow a for smooth spin. He explains the very logical reason for this precision “the reason being that when you have a tolerance (error) on a sphere, you might as well multiply this by Pi (3.14159 etc. etc.) ...if you can imagine sticking 24 pieces of map on a sphere and each one is 0.1mm too small you have a 2.4 mm gap to contend with”.

Once the sphere is created the goring begins, a process that at first took eighteen months to perfect. The map is then updated or customised in Adobe Illustrator and continuously tweaked until it is as accurate as possible (it's easy to forget that the world and its geographies are constantly changing). Afterwards, the map is printed into the strips of paper that make the gores, washed with watercolours, glued on and finally finished with coats of resin. The typeface featured on every Bellerby & Co. globe is a custom 18th century font designed by James Mosley, a distinguished typographer who ran the St Bride's printing library in London during the second half of the 19th century.

From its humble beginnings in Peter's dining room, the company has quickly expanded and now Peter and his ever-growing dedicated team occupy a converted workshop loft in London’s Stoke Newington. When we visited the workshop it was clear that the globe making process is one that is arduous but rewarding, requiring huge amounts of patience and dedication. The entire globe is made by hand and should mistakes occur, the team simply start again. Watching the creation, from hand painting to the fiddly application of the gores onto the plaster of Paris globe base, is fascinating and the dedication to quality and craftsmanship displayed by each and every member of the Bellerby & Co. is rare and admirable.

The Bellerby & Co. range of handmade, hand painted globes spans from the Mini Desk Globe to the impressive size of The Churchill, measuring 50 inches in diameter and taking a full year to create. The Britannia, painted by hand in superb turquoise hues with striking colour contrasts and fine details, was the first globe in the Bellerby & Co. collection and sat on a reclaimed oak stand, it pays homage to the fine art of globe making and the archetypal globe. The Classic collection includes The Livingstone, a globe inspired by British explorer David Livingstone, featuring a modern world map sat proudly on hand-turned cherry wood and a brass meridian hand-cast at a foundry in Derbyshire (well documented by London-based photographer Hal Shinnie).

Since the idea was dreamt up in a King’s Cross pub, Peter’s journey to date has been painstakingly difficult but one I’m sure he’s thankful he pursued. By looking to traditional globe making for inspiration, Bellerby & Co. have sourced modern materials to ensure the longevity whilst offering a map of the world that’s accurate and exemplifies the world today, at its most explored point.

LF: How did Bellerby & Co. Globemakers begin?

PB: After a two year search for a globe for my father's 80th birthday present I was faced with a choice of a modern political globe (albeit frequently available with a generous dose of sepia colouring), very fragile expensive antique models, which you can't really use on a daily basis or trying to make my own. So first I had to license a map from a reputable source. It had incorrect capitals, most of the names in the Middle East were either rubbish or incorrectly spelled or positioned. Don't let me start on the Aral Sea. That took at least 6 hours a day for about a year. In the end we changed everything. At the start I had to learn Adobe illustrator, which is not so difficult. It's about as intuitive as the web and email are to my parents. 

Then I had to find a friend to write the programme to morph a rectangular map into 'gores', the triangular shapes that fit onto a sphere. I offered him a globe as a bribe. Easy. Even better his job was far from taxing so a month, two at most. Three days later he was re-assigned to Lahore (with a bodyguard and ouzi as company), it took over a year to complete.

LF: Why a globe for your fathers 80th birthday present? What is his background?

PB: My father was a naval architect; he designed ships but was also on-site at the shipyards overseeing construction. He was stationed in the yards for years as the ship progressed (all over Europe, when I was a kid). It allowed me to explore a few interesting ships as a child, including the cramped confines of a nuclear submarine in Scotland. Sadly the commander didn't answer any of my questions.

I finally made the globe for him about two years later. I think he thought the whole idea of me becoming a globe maker was pretty crazy so I'm glad I was able to show all my hard work was worth it in the end (I had originally given myself 3 months to make the globe, which I thought was ample time).

LF: Did you have any inspirations? Cartography related or not?

PB: I guess I was inspired by travels and during my quest to buy that globe for my father…I'm not a ‘fly to a location and sit around the pool’ sort of traveller so maps have always been part of great adventures and experiences for me.

LF: What's your previous background?

PB: I was always interested in taking things apart and trying to understand how they worked. I was very interested in geography, preferring to read geography books rather than novels (science and nature or volcanoes etc.). I discover new things all the time but I also surprise myself with how much I know by now! We also have to keep up to date, for instance a new state appeared in India in June of this year, so its always changing.

I worked at ITV for years, a job that led me around the world a few times but not being able to really spend a good amount of time anywhere. Then I helped a friend open a music venue, bowling alley, bar and restaurant in town. The venue turned out to be very cool which was great because it was totally unplanned. Art had always been in my family but I was also a keen mathematician, photographer and painter.

LF: When did you decide to go from part-time hobbyist to full-time craftsman? Was there a defining moment?

PB: It took a long time to make a globe that was good enough to be sold. There were many challenges as there was no manual to follow; everything was done by trial and error. Bespoke globe making had died off many years ago, and the makers, perhaps seeing their place in history (with the knowledge of how difficult the process is) took their secrets to their graves. In fact the reason I am here is probably because there is no one, I'm not very good at listening to someone explain how to do something...

There was also the challenge that there was no market for handmade globes, so customers were not used to paying this much for a globe. Luckily our customers see our globes now as works of art so when they compare them to paintings on the wall they are very good value. Once I realised that gap in the market existed and that people were interested in what we were doing, I considered making it a business. But more realistically, I decided to do it once I had sunk thousands of pounds into trial and error over making the one for my father. It got out of control and I hoped it could turn my new knowledge and passion into a business.

LF: How long does it take to make a single globe?

PB: Factoring in all the work involved (there are hundreds of elements that go in to making a globe from start to finish) and depending on the size of globe, it takes a month for the smallest globe and up to 6-8 months for the largest. We have a team of three full timers and a sprinkling of freelancers who help with things like woodwork, engraving and design.

LF: Who makes the solid wood bases?

PB: All our wood bases are made from locally-sourced wood and either handmade in our shop or at a local wood turner.

LF: What's the most interesting and favourite custom made globe you've completed?

PB: There have been a few favourite commissions. We recently made an upside-down globe for a business in Brazil, it took a very long time to reimagine the cartography but it was a project we really enjoyed doing. We did a bullet-hole through a globe for the artist Yinka Shonibare, which was interesting as well. My favourite I guess was the when we took part in the Big Egg Hunt in New York and made a one-off egg shaped globe. We were very pleased to see it auctioned at Sotheby's where it raised $25,000 for two wonderful charities. We were also commissioned by Martin Scorsese to make bespoke globes for the movie Hugo, which was cool too.

LF: How long does it take to train someone up at Bellerby?

PB: Wetting the paper gores then attaching them to the sphere with glue, without ripping it, rippling it, distorting it or damaging it in any way takes time. This took me 18 months to work out and even now with training it takes a new globe maker up to a year to learn. So it is quite a process and investment to take on anyone new. But we are looking at the moment…

LF: Any themed globes on the horizon we can look forward to?

PB: We don't really do themed globes but we’ll be doing some planetary globes next year though - we’ve been asked to do the moon!

LF: What's the possibility of there being a bricks and mortar Bellerby & Co. globe shop in the future?

PB: We are hoping to open a real shop in New York late next year or in early 2016, one where people can see us making globes through the window and pop their heads in to say hello. We used to have a shop here in Stoke Newington but outgrew it and in the process ended up in a fabulous (but private) warehouse studio. Since our globes are made to order and often personalised, we don't have stock but it would be nice for people to still be able to come, see and interact with our products before purchasing.

It’s nice that every single globe is one-off and touched by three or four people along that route. Using old school methods means that each globe ends up being entirely unique and doing everything in house means that we work with local people and can be much more flexible. I feel like people are turning away from a throwaway society where you can get everything quickly but it soon falls apart. Our customers appreciate owning something they know they will have for 50 plus years.

LF: Any favourite independent neighbours in Stoke Newington?

PB: Lyderson and Hansen do smoked salmon the old fashioned way, Meat N16, Borough Wines and other people in our studio like James UK works with us on some of our bases and designs amazing furniture. I’m very excited that The Good Egg is opening up across the street early next year - they started with market stalls and do amazing food. Stoke Newington Church Street is pretty much 90% independents so we're lucky that we’ve got a lot to choose from.

We would like to thank Peter, Jade and the Bellerby & Co. team for letting the IDMCo team behind the scenes.