Bawden Peepshow

A window into a magical world: our picture shows only half the story of this fascinating object – the aperture that leads into this seaside scene is only a small rectangle at the top of a person-sized wooden cabinet.

The peepshow has layers of image which, viewed from the correct angle, join seamlessly together to give a 3D image of a seaside pier with a jaunty Union Flag flying and holidaymakers about to enter the ‘Blue Lagoon’.

It was designed by Edward Bawden (1903-1989), a much-admired English printmaker, graphic designer, illustrator and painter, and commissioned by Scarborough hotelier Tom Laughton, who gives a charming account of his first meeting with Bawden in his memoir, Pavilions by the Sea.

Talking about his increasing interest in art as a young man, which was encouraged by his brother Charles, the Hollywood actor, he tells us: “I discovered Edward Bawden myself. I saw some illustrations of murals in the Illustrated London News which had been carried out by Bawden at Morley College. The principal subject was a lodging house with a classical pediment and with the front walls taken out, so that the life in the house was shown from the basement to the attic. I found it delightful. I managed to find out where he lived… and I went to see him. I rang his bell; waiting on the steps I looked across the road and recognised the building that was the subject of the mural. At length a young and seemingly timid man came to the door; “There is your mural”, I said. He told me that I was the first person to spot his subject. He took me on a bus to see the paintings on the walls of Morley College.

“The outcome was that he designed a wine list for the [Pavilion] hotel, decorated a large ordnance map of Scarborough (which when I left the hotel I gave to the children’s public library) and also made an amusing perspective peepshow, which is still in my possession [Pavilions by the Sea was published in 1977].”

The much-missed Pavilion Hotel stood at the top of Westborough, on the site diagonally opposite the Stephen Joseph Theatre now occupied by offices and shops. It was, sadly, demolished in 1973. 

The peepshow is on display on the first floor of Scarborough Art Gallery, where it still enchants children and adults alike.