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Painting the Whitechapel Bell Foundry Workers

The Whitechapel Bell Foundry sadly closed on 12 June 2017 after nearly 450 years of bell making and 250 of those years were spent at the Grade II listed building in Whitechapel. The foundry was Britain's oldest manufacturing company at the time it closed. I visited the foundry in May 2017 and spoke to some of the workers who had worked at the foundry their whole working lives and were understandably upset that it was closing. Several workers' family backgrounds were intertwined with the foundry's history, their fathers and grandfathers having worked there also. I recently painted a picture of the workers on their lunch break as a record of that memory (see below). The painting is acrylic paint on fine art paper.

Bell foundry workers painting by Julie Price

The foundry has made many famous bells including the original Liberty Bell which was cast in 1752 to celebrate the 50th anniversary of William Penn's 1701 Charter of Privileges, Pennsylvania's original constitution. The ship carrying the bell had to sail through severe storms causing damage to the bell during transit and when it was first rung it cracked. The bell was repaired several times and in 1846 it cracked again when it rung to celebrate George Washington's birthday. The bell is now stored at the Liberty Bell Center near Independence Hall.

Liberty bell information that was in a display case in the entrance to the foundry

In 1858 Big Ben was cast, this bell weighs 13.5 tons and is the largest bell ever to be cast at the foundry. This bell also cracked due to too heavy a hammer originally being used. The crack was repaired and the bell fixed. A profile template of Big Ben is displayed over the entrance door to the foundry (see below).

Big Ben profile template over door to the entrance

The foundry designed the Olympic Bell which was used at the opening ceremony for the London 2012 Olympic Games and it now hangs in the Queen Elizabeth park but is not rung because it is too loud and would disturb local residents. That same year the foundry cast the Royal Jubilee Bells which were used on the lead barge for the Thames Diamond Jubilee Pageant (these bells now hang in the church of St James Garlickhythe).

On 22 March 2018 the foundry cast its last ever bell for the Museum of London and also gave them historical artefacts from its premises. The manufacturing patents for the Whitechapel bells were sold to the bell hanging company Whites of Appleton, Oxfordshire.

I took the photos below when I visited the working foundry.

There has been a campaign to stop the foundry being turned into a boutique hotel and I am pleased to say that the Secretary of State suspended planning permission for these controversial plans. The public inquiry into the future of the Whitechapel Bell Foundry has been postponed until the autumn due to the coronavirus outbreak. I for one am rooting for the bell foundry to be saved!

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