Whitechapel Bell Foundry (6)

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.


14 thoughts on “Whitechapel Bell Foundry (6)

  1. Martin Hopkinson says:

    Great photographs and commentary , Charles, which only emphasises East London’s forthcoming Les Halles moment . Sad indeed was the destruction of the Euston Arch, but this is more so. The disappearance of this outstanding part of Britain’s industrial heritage will never be forgotten as a major stain on the supine attitudes of many in the ‘cultural and heritage industries’ and the failure to mount a louder campaign to save the foundry. Will our industrial , cultural, musical and art historians put their heads further above the parapet in future cases like these? The silence is deafening. Museum chiefs and senior academics in our leading institutions in which British industrial , scientific ,social history, musical and art history are studied should not be hiding under large boulders when confronted with the prospect of such a disastrous piece of vandalism

  2. Kate Woodhead says:

    Your detailed photographs will become very precious when the foundry is no more – look after them well. It seems absolutely tragic that we should lose such an important part of the history of London – who will be the buyers at the auction and what will they do with the items? Couldn’t the Museum of London buy some?

  3. Francesca Odell says:

    These are a wonderful and important set of photographs Charles. So, so sad that there will be no more. London is becoming more impoverished by the day.

  4. Zenia Squires Jamison says:

    great record, but a sad end, one of the few surviving places which puts me in touch with my ancestry in the area. If there are any campaigns I can join to stop this please let me know.

      • Sandra Hetherington says:

        I don’t live in London yet when I visit I am appalled at the scale of new building going on, destroying our heritage. I am deeply saddened. I will and do support any action deemed necessary to preserve our heritage from short sighted, greedy developers.

  5. Ian Arnold says:

    Historically an extremely important site. From the engineering point of view an education to all how heavy tasks were handled daily, and from the artists view point there are few better examples of shapes, curves, perspective, light and shade, depths of shadow in which to happily indulge.
    What is ‘English Heritage’ or their equivalent doing down there? I doubt if destroying this sort of legacy would go down well north of the border! Perhaps the site values in and around London are too artificially inflated by foreign investors?

  6. Carol Flunder says:

    So sad to see our history going, used to see the New bells waiting to be picked up to go to churches etc I used to wonder where they were off too. We on l y have two bells in our church but I some times wonder where they came from. Think they were local made in Northamptonshire I think. Sorry to see our heritage go. X

  7. Whitechapel Bell Foundry is moving its location after 250 years. There’s so much history in there and, people can now take some of it with them.

    We, at GoIndustry DoveBid, are their official auctioneers and we will be auctioning their traditional metalworking machinery equipment and tools they used to manufacture the Big Ben. In the auction lot, people can also bid on clocks and bells which can be dated back to the 17th century.

    This is the auction listing: http://www.go-dove.com/en/events?cmd=details&event=551136,561246,561243 and it includes English Church Bell (16th Century ), Turret clocks, Victorian Mahogany furniture, etc.

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