By good fortune, I was able to tag along on one of the RA Friends’ Tours, which was booked in long before news of its impending closure. We were taken round by Mark, the foundry manager, who gave a very good sense of the Foundry’s long history, tracing its origin back to Robert Chamberlain’s Foundry which was established in Aldgate in 1420, then to Robert Mot who had premises in Essex Court in Whitechapel in 1572. He spoke with the passion of long accumulated expertise in the manufacture of bells – the system of recruitment and the specialist craft skills which have been trained up generation after generation and are soon to end:-
These are the bells in the inner courtyard which chime every quarter:-
Then we went into the mould shop, the first of the large spaces at the back, full of the required machinery, hand tools and residue of the process of moulding:-
You can see lot numbers are already attached for the impending sale.
Beyond is the sand foundry, with the moulding guage used for Big Ben hung up casually on the wall:-
At the back is the big engineering shop, constructed relatively recently by James Strike, but looking as if it has been used intensively:-
Then, finally, one climbs up two sets of narrow staircases to the carpentry shop perched at the top:-
As much as the spaces themselves, I liked the vignettes of the work itself:-
And the machinery involved:-
By May, all this will have gone: the only company in continuous business since the sixteenth century.