Love Stories: Unusual wedding cake topper

By beatrice behlen on 7 Mar 2016

Wedding Cake Topper, 1927

by Natasha Fenner, Assistant Curator

Each year in February our attention is turned towards love, with the occurrence of Saint Valentine’s Day. This year in our temporary Show Space display we have featured objects and an oral history that tell the love stories of four London couples.

The objects, all quite new acquisitions to the museum’s collection, relate to pivotal moments in the couples’ relationships. They have been kept and treasured over many years, symbolic of the personal and unique ways in which love is expressed.

One of the items on display is an icing model of a liquid waste disposal truck that adorned the wedding cake of Eileen Rice and Reg Flavell. Married on 11 July 1937 at St Barnabas Church, East Dulwich the couple celebrated their reception at Pritchard’s Restaurant on Oxford Street.

Wedding of Eileen Rice and Reg Flavell, 1937

The bride, reported as wearing crepe and silver, chose a wedding cake to match her colour scheme. The three-tier cake was decorated with delicate white and silver flowers and supported on an ornate silver base. It was topped with the finely detailed white and silver icing model of a gully emptier truck. These trucks, later known as ‘sludge gulpers’, were used to clean drains and suck up industrial and domestic waste, making the model a unique way for the couple to crown their cake. Their choice was a nod to the place they met; the Mechanical Cleansing Service in Burbage Road, Dulwich. Eileen worked in the office as a secretary and met Reg when he joined the business as an accountant.

The company, founded by Eileen’s father Alfred Rice in 1927, specialised in the removal and disposal of a wide range of liquid waste products for industrial, government, local authority and domestic clients. This included the clearing of household cesspits for which the advertising slogan ‘your business is our business’ was used! At its peak, the Mechanical Cleansing Service had a fleet of over 120 vehicles.

The Mechanical Cleansing Service Ltd., Fleet of Fowler Gully Emptiers, July 1931

The model on top of Eileen and Reg’s wedding cake depicted the pride of their fleet, an Albion petrol gully emptier. After the wedding the model was preserved under a glass dome which sat on a filing cabinet in Reg’s office. He went on to become Managing Director of the company, a position he filled until his retirement in 1972. The couple’s son, Den, recalls that after his father’s retirement the icing cake topper was moved to their family home and took pride of place in the dining room.

Wedding topper in its glass dome

Now a part of the museum’s collection it is an enduring symbol of their love and of the importance of the family business in their lives.  It also reveals a lighter side to the necessary work of cleaning the dirt from the metropolis of London!

See the wedding cake topper and other romantic objects in Love Stories, in the Show Space display area
Free to visit. Closes 17 March 2016.
Tell us what you think by tweeting your thoughts including #LoveStories and #ShowSpace.

Posy rings: Put a ring on it

By sarah madden, blog editor on 14 Feb 2014
A perfect token of mutual fidelity and love, the gimmel ring (from the Latin ‘gemellus’, meaning ‘twin’) is made from two interlocking gold bands with a bezel shaped like two clasped hands. The message of love is reinforced by a small heart on the uppermost hand and by a hidden message on the inside of each ring. When the rings are separated the message is revealed. One reads ‘AS HANDES DOE SHUT’, and the other, ‘SO HART BE KNIT.’

A gimmel ring (from the Latin ‘gemellus’, meaning ‘twin’) made from two interlocking gold bands with a bezel shaped like two clasped hands. When the bands are separated the message is revealed. One reads ‘AS HANDES DOE SHUT’, and the other, ‘SO HART BE KNIT.’

Expressing love with jewellery has been a tradition long adopted by lovers in London, and you have only to delve into our collection of ‘posy rings’ to see this reflected throughout the ages. Read the full postRead the full post

I Love You…I Love You Not: Victorian Valentine’s Day cards

By sarah madden, blog editor on 30 Jan 2014
Victorian Valentine's cards

Victorian Valentine’s cards

When the Uniform penny post rocked up in 1840, it completely revolutionised the way in which people communicated. Sending letters and cards, such as those celebrating Valentine’s Day, became easier and cheaper and as a result a thriving business developed in central London. Read the full postRead the full post

Love Notes

By beatrice behlen on 14 Feb 2012

Sis said John wants to take Irene out. Never saw him today. Bought Cigarettes. Saw Ernie. This is the first entry in Gladys Sandford’s 1942 diary and it could hardly be any more intriguing. Does John really want to take Irene out? Is that why Gladys did not see him that day? Maybe Sis has the wrong information? And who is Ernie? Gladys continued to write gems like the one above over the next four years. The little pocket diaries she liked (could afford?) did not provide much space and her notes are usually brief. Almost like a tweet. Well, […]

'Boys and Girls' by Paul Burston

By star guest on 7 Feb 2011

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The Celestial Bed installation by Bompas & Parr

By star guest on 2 Feb 2011

For Valentine’s Day 2011 Bompas & Parr is recreating James Graham’s Celestial Bed in the Museum of London. Visitors will be able to experience London’s most notorious bed and drink Bompas & Parr’s love philter which incorporates phenyethlyeamine, the world’s only known aphrodisiac. Bompas & Parr is working with illustrator Emma Rios on the design of the Celestial Bed that will be exhibited alongside the Lord Mayor’s Coach at the Museum of London’s City site. Historic context Dr James Graham (1745-1794) was a medical entrepreneur, quack and pioneer in sex therapy with a genius for spectacle. Having learnt the principles […]