Painting The Ten Bells

The Ten Bells is in Commercial Street on the corner of Fournier Street, E1 and it is one of the first buildings I painted. The reason it appealed to me was a double whammy – its history and I think the building is beautiful. I love the intricate filigree wrought iron pattern above the entrance and the ornate carved heads at the top of the columns – some of them remind me of cheeky ships’ figureheads! I took several photographs of the door as it is so detailed and painted this picture using acrylic paints on canvas. I am considering painting the pub again, but next time including the whole building.

The Ten Bells has an interesting and chequered history and the pub’s current manager, Heather McIntosh, was kind enough to share some interesting facts with me. The building has been a public house for hundreds of years and the foundations date back to 1666. In 1755 the pub was called The Eight Bells because Hawksmoor’s Christ Church (opposite the pub) housed eight bells but in 1788 two more bells were added so the pub’s name was changed to the Ten Bells.


Heather said that the pub still has its original tiles which are dated 1755 and on one wall there is a ceramic mural depicting a day in Spitalfields market in 1755. She added that on the other side of the pub there is a painting of Spitalfields in modern times which was painted in 2010 by artist Ian Harper. I would love to re-visit the pub to see the tiles and painting in more detail.


On 9 November 1888 one of Jack the Ripper’s victims, Mary Kelly, was seen in the Ten Bells which was sadly the night of her death. In the 1980s the pub changed its name to 'The Jack the Ripper' but the locals were outraged as they felt this name was gimmicky and distasteful and it was thankfully changed back.


Heather recalls an article being found that said body snatchers held their meetings in the upstairs of the pub! At a later date the pub had a stripper bar upstairs but that did not last very long.


I asked Heather if the pub was haunted and she confided, “there have been many reported deaths that happened in the pub in the 1800s, but no ghost stories of them - however, I do turn on all the lights when I am in there on my own! One story is a gentleman who came in drunk from the evening before who had fallen asleep outside, he walked into the pub and dropped dead in the main bar from being out in the cold for so long, he was then stretchered out straight to the coroner’s office just around the corner, a copy of an article about this is framed in the upstairs bar”.


Great news, the Ten Bells is going to open on 12th May, for outdoor seating, so please pay a visit if you are in the Spitalfields area.


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