The story goes that Peter Bellerby, a 50-something native of Suffolk, first decided to turn his hand to globe-making 12 years ago, when he failed to find a decent-looking model anywhere in London, or the greater world, for his father’s 80th birthday present. Since then, Bellerby & Company Globemakers—his small, unlikely, and entirely intriguing business—has proliferated from a family side project into a 22-maker-strong atelier in North London, which has furnished globes to everyone from Martin Scorsese to British institutions along the lines of the Royal Geographical Society.
Bellerby & Company Globemakers’s real cachet is among the world’s curious and collecting types, who come (often by word of mouth) to commission what are both maps of the world as we know it and hand-crafted, bespoke works of art. “He started out of the living room of our house,” says Bellerby’s wife, Jade Fenster, who created and runs the company with him. “And after more than 10 years of working one-on-one with each client, I can safely say there is not one type.”
Indeed, Bellerby’s patrons and proselytisers hail from all over the world—“from Papeete, to Peru, to South Africa, Australia and New Zealand, all through Asia, and Europe… and of course America and Canada,” says Fenster. “We have 20-somethings who want to celebrate their first big job. We have parents gifting to their unborn children to show the world as it was when they were born - something for them to grow up with and carry through life. We have people commissioning something in memory of a loved one who has left them, and we’ve had a young man propose with a globe instead of a ring to his fiancé.” From dot-commers in San Francisco to the owners of some of the stateliest homes in the world, Fenster says they’ve seen it all; Hollywood’s biggest names, and “the lovely ladies who own the bakery down the street from our studio”.
Passion for craftsmanship is at the root of what Bellerby, Fenster and their team do; scientific precision, as much as a singular aesthetic, is what underpins their reputation. It took Bellerby himself 18 months of experimentation to achieve a model that met both his design specifications and his geographical exactitude. The technique involves hand-manipulating geographically specific paper sections, known in the map-making world as “gores,” over globe moulds. “It takes six months of training just to make the smallest, simplest, globe the size of a bowling ball,” says Fenster. “Day after day. And until your hands have that muscle memory, and attention to detail, you won’t be able to do it—to understand the feel and movement of the paper, so it doesn’t tear or turn to mush. If you’re the smallest millimetre off in positioning one gore (section) of the globe, you can be overlapping enough to swallow a whole country by the time you get to the last piece.”
And that’s just the mapping part. “Making them and painting them, for instance—they’re totally separate roles,” says Fenster. Each globe passes through at least five sets of hands, “meaning our artists all have to be in great and seamless communication, and know how to work with and trust each other.” The Bellerby line-up includes illustrators, painters, engravers, makers, woodworkers, metal workers and, of course, the cartographers with whom everything originates.
The globes themselves range in size from 8.6 inches in diameter (£1,199, or about $1,490.50) to The Churchill (price on request), 50 inches across and set on a custom base available in oak, walnut and a host of other materials——the largest hand-made globe available for commission in the world, of which Bellerby and Fenster only make one or two a year. “In fact, we’ll only ever make 40 of these Churchill globes, so they feel extra special,” Fenster says.
And the atelier itself? It’s part of the magic of the Bellerby experience—a converted space in Stoke Newington, a newly chic North London precinct, full of light from multiple windows and skylights—and, being open only by appointment, gloriously private. “We have people who want a lot of suggestions and have minimal input, and we have people who are artists and designers in their own right, who want to be involved as closely as possible in every aspect start to finish,” says Fenster, by way of explaining the atelier-style, one-on-one approach. “My favourite clients are ones that are super passionate and who I can feel like are enjoying the process. I have all the time in the world for that; I want everyone to have a one of a kind globe they really love at the end of the process.”
Maria Shollenbarger is the longtime travel editor at the Financial Times’ How To Spend It magazine. She also writes for Travel + Leisure, The Australian’s WISH magazine, and the FTWeekend. She lives in London and Italy.