Front doors are often an eye-catching feature of a Georgian house and Bell House is no exception. The handsome doorcase, six-panelled door and intricate fanlight are decorative enough to hold their own, even against the octagonal panes of the beautiful Venetian window above.
Listed Grade II* and one of the top 8% of listed buildings nationally, Bell House is of particular historic importance and any restoration work must be expertly done. Rick is restoring the front door at the moment and as he painstakingly removes the accumulated paint and dirt of 250 years the exquisite detail of this Georgian gem is coming into focus.
Speaking architecturally, Heritage England refer to ‘the open modillioned pediment supported on carved consoles, alternate block sides and archivolt with masked keystone’. For me, that ‘masked keystone’ is the most intriguing feature. The face, placed centrally above the front door, has long been thought to be Thomas Wright himself, the man who built Bell House in 1767.
We know what Thomas Wright looked like as there are two surviving portraits of him: Thomas Wright miniature (LMA) and portrait (Stationers' Company) So, is the face presiding over the front door of Bell House its first resident? Comparing it with these portraits I think we can agree it’s probably not. So, who was it? Was it a memorial to Thomas Wright’s father, who died when Thomas was just four years old? Was it the builder? Or is it just a generic face chosen from a ‘pattern-book’, those widely-used style guides that gave detailed instructions on how to get the Georgian look. Whoever it was, his newly-restored features are nearly ready to preside over the house for the next 250 years.
As an aside, this is not the only masked keystone in Dulwich as North Dulwich station, built a century after Bell House, has one over each of its three entrance arches.