One of the tenets of Bell House is to offer children the opportunity to unleash their creativity and on 25 May 2017 a group of boys from a creative writing club at Dulwich College visited the house to be inspired by some of its many stories.
As they turned into the Bell House drive and before they had even entered the house they were greeted with ‘Welcome to the eighteenth century!’, as house historian Sharon O’Connor told them about poor James Simpson, sentenced in 1769 to transportation to America for the theft of a coat worth 20 shillings, stolen from the front seat of the Bell House carriage. The coach had been standing exactly where they were now hearing the story and they were able to look down and see some of the very cobblestones over which the coach was driven.
The group moved through Bell House’s elegant rooms, learning about past residents such as Thomas Wright, the paper merchant who built the house in 1767 as a rural retreat from city life. They were excited to handle an original 1794 almanac, of the type printed by Thomas. They learnt that Anthony Harding, the house’s second resident, opened the world’s first department store in Pall Mall in 1796, and they studied engravings of his shop. The boys were fascinated to hear about John Wissmann, who like them had been at school at Dulwich College and who later became Dulwich’s first casualty of World War One.
The boys asked many fascinating questions about Bell House, ranging from whether servants would have slept in the cellar to what might be the total cost spent on the house since it was built and they all made careful notes in their creative writing notebooks. On the top floor they rang the house’s eponymous bell, installed to assemble people for local firefighting.
Out in the beautiful garden they saw original hand-coloured drawings of the garden beds and paths and heard about an out-of-control firework party held in the 1950s when Bell House was a school boarding house. They also saw the Georgian ‘ha-ha’, the sunken wall designed to keep sheep out of the garden while at the same time being invisible from the house.
The stories inspired by the time spent at Bell House will be available on our website.