Michael Howard Karslake, F.R.S.A. Model of 'Little Switzerland'

A fascinating diorama comes to light

The diorama from above
Eleanor Gal
The Karslake coffee table in situ
Eleanor Gal
The Karslake model with lighting
Eleanor Gal
The Karslake model, lit at night
Eleanor Gal

This fascinating model, made in the 1960s,  by Michael Howard Karslake, F.R.S.A. (Fellow of the Royal Society of Arts), a well-known Architectural Model Maker, has come to light, – still complete, over fifty years since he made it. Benfleet Community Archive were alerted after photographs of the find were posted on the Benfleet Community Facebook page on 30th May this year.

The diorama has certainly led a charmed life, travelling from South Benfleet to a junk shop in Camelford, North Cornwall, where Eleanor and her husband saw it. They thought it was a cool, quirky item, and Eleanor’s sister-in-law bought it for them, as a new baby gift. It then travelled to Birmingham, where Eleanor’s husband polished up the perspex case, added castors, and turned it into a unique coffee table. With the addition of sensitive lighting, the diorama has been brought back to life – In particular, I can feel an almost tangible spirit of the 1960s in the ‘night time’ shot, bathed in the soft amber glow of the street lights we had then. I can remember the stillness of a summer’s night, driving down Vicarage Hill in the 1960s, in my Father’s old Morris Traveller. Eleanor,  – you have made this ancient editor feel quite nostalgic!

A colleague of mine, – Phil, – looked up the area on google maps, and confirmed the model was of the part of South Benfleet known as ‘Little Switzerland’. This is a particularly hilly region, quite picturesque, – and not beloved of the paper boys in the 1960s!

The model is labelled, ‘proposed development of house in Vicarage Hill, Scale 1:500. Architect G. W. Woolmer. Ffs., msaat’. I had less luck looking up the letters after his name – (times have changed!) If anyone can throw light on what they stand for, it would be appreciated. This model would be of the portion of land around the Old Rectory, where the Karslake family lived.

This is certainly a quirky, sensitively handled, and atmospheric recreation of Michael Karslake’s diorama. I can imagine that such an artistic man would have found this metamorphosis to be totally charming.




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