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.

Brian Haw: the Parliament Square protestor

By jen kavanagh, senior curator of contemporary history on 11 Aug 2015
Brian Haw

Brian Haw

London has been the host to many a historic protest. From the Suffragettes of the early twentieth century to the anti-austerity marches we see today, free speech and the right to stand up for what you believe in add to the richness of the capital.

When it comes to longevity and determination regarding modern protest, Brian Haw has become somewhat of a modern London icon. Born in London in 1949, Brian moved from his family home in 2001 to start a protest camp in Parliament Square. Read the full postRead the full post

Twenty Bridges

By beatrice behlen on 20 May 2015
Twenty Bridges video displayed on the LED ellipse

Richard Müller (centre) checking Twenty Bridges in the Museum’s Sackler Hall before the launch.

In spring 2015 the museum invited students at the Slade School of Fine Art to respond to the theme of City Now, City Future. The proposal of Canadian artist Richard Müller was selected. His video installation for the museum’s Sackler Hall, Twenty Bridges, presents an apocalyptic and at the same time playful vision of a future London consumed by the Thames. Submerged in the river, objects from London’s history mix with the debris of contemporary London life as the water reduces everything to flotsam. Read the full postRead the full post

Calling all Thames swimmers!

By jen kavanagh, senior curator of contemporary history on 5 May 2015

Swimwear from 1963

When you cross a bridge over the magnificent Thames, or hop on a boat and sail past London’s Docks, has it ever crossed your mind that the city’s famous river would make a nice spot for a swim? It certainly hadn’t mine, until I met Caitlin Davies earlier this year and learned all about the amazing history of wild swimming in the River Thames. For centuries the river has been a place for bathing, and in recent years has become a hot spot for outdoor swimming once again. Read the full postRead the full post

A dress for spring

By beatrice behlen on 16 Apr 2015

I have been putting off publishing this entry as it contains too many known unknowns for my liking. But I have already spent too many hours on Ancestry and I am hoping that you will be able to solve some of the mysteries surrounding the object below.

Detail of fancy dress outfit

The bodice can currently be seen in Show Space a new (small) exhibition area we opened just before Easter. Show Space consists of three mannequin-height cases which can be (relatively) easily configured to hold different types and sizes of objects. We want to react more quickly to what’s happening in London, to bring out objects that have a good story but don’t fit into forthcoming exhibitions and generally to experiment a little. There is also a screen for film and other digital ‘stuff’ and a player for gems from our Oral History Collection (or sounds, or music). Read the full postRead the full post