The Whitechapel Bell Foundry is the UK's oldest manufacturing company and it has occupied its East London premises since 1738. However, it has been established in the Whitechapel area since 1570. Some of the world's most famous bells were produced here including Big Ben, the original Liberty Bell, the clock bells at St Paul's Cathederal and the bells of Westminster Abbey. The names of the Master founders were cast into the surface of Whitechapel bells on different dates, the first Master was Robert Chamberlain of Aldgate in 1420 and the last Alan and Kathryn Hughes in 1997. Prior to 1574 the sign of the three bells was often cast to indicate it was a Whitechapel (or Aldgate) bell.
The Hughes family have owned the foundry since 1904 and in April 2017 Alan and Kathryn Hughes posted an announcement on the Bell Foundry's website saying "We have taken a difficult decision in deciding to sell the site, but we are very pleased that the protection of its features will be assured by its Grade II Listing and that the sale has been made to a buyer who is committed to respecting this historic status and bringing the buildings back into good repair." See link to their full announcement here. Raycliff Capital is the company who purchased the bell foundry.
The foundry closed on 12 June 2018 after nearly 450 years of bell making and 250 years at its Whitechapel site. Once the building had been sold the final bell cast was given to the Museum of London along with other artifacts used in the manufacturing process.
Shortly before the Foundry closed I visited the workers who were on their lunch break. They had worked at the Bell Foundry their whole working lives and many of their father's and their father's fathers had worked there too. It was a very sad occasion for them all as not only would their jobs be lost, their family's history connected to the foundry would come to an end too. They said that they would have liked to have been asked if they wanted to purchase the foundry but they were not given the chance. The foundry is a lot more than a manufacturing hub to these men, they are skilled in a unique trade which is part of their individual family histories.
The Liberty Bell (above) was presented at the Bell Foundry on 6 July 1976 by Her Majesty Queen Elizabeth II on behalf of the British people to the United States of America on the occasion of their 200th anniversary.
The cast for the Big Ben bell above.
Plans of the present day foundry above and the changing plans through the centuries below.
Raycliff Capital have released their plans setting out the future development of the site showing that they wish to turn it into a bell themed boutique hotel (see vision picture below).
The East End Preservation Society presented a petition to Tower Hamlets Council, Mayor of London and the Minister of Culture, Media and Sport objecting to the change of use of the foundry. If you wish to object please:
(1) sign the petition, click here
(2) you can also send a letter of objection, via email quoting application reference PA/19/00008/A1.
1. use your own words and add your own personal reasons for opposing the development
2. Give your full name and postal address. You do not need to be a resident of Tower Hamlets or the UK to register a comment but unless you give your postal address your objection will not be registered.
3. Be sure to state clearly that you are OBJECTING to Raycliff Capital’s application.
4. Point out the ‘OPTIMUM VIABLE USE’ for the Whitechapel Bell Foundry is as a foundry not a boutique hotel.
5. Emphasise that you want it to continue as a foundry and there is a viable proposal to deliver this.
6. Ask the council refuse Raycliff Capital’s application for change of use from foundry to hotel.
If you prefer to send a letter the address is Town Planning, Town Hall, Mulberry Place, 5 Clove Crescent, London, E14 2BG. Please pass this information to your friends and family, the more people who object, the better chance we have of saving the Whitechapel Bell Foundry. Thank you!