The discovery that Tower Hamlets is holding the hearing on July 30th. as to whether or not Raycliff Capital, a New York-based venture capitalist, should be allowed to convert the historic fabric of the Whitechapel Bell Foundry into a boutique hotel concentrates the mind.
The big problem is that Historic England supports the Raycliff proposal in spite of the fact that that their website states in large letters that ‘We protect, champion and save places that define who we are’. But not apparently a Bell Foundry which has been in Whitechapel since the sixteenth century and made the bells of St. Paul’s Cathedral.
There are probably three reasons why they have adopted this position.
The first is that they now give paid advice to developers which hopelessly compromises their independence. They can’t give paid advice to Raycliff and then tell Tower Hamlets to turn down the scheme.
Secondly, they claim that their statutory obligations are limited to the fabric of the architecture, not its use. So, they couldn’t object if St. Paul’s Cathedral is turned into a discotheque and won’t object to a Foundry being turned into a bar, in spite of the grandiosity of their mission statement about ‘protecting places that define who we are’.
The third reason is that the Commissioners are oriented towards the rural heritage, not the urban, the west end, not the east, the architecture of country houses, not the working man.
Why isn’t Martin Daunton, the Professor of Urban History at Cambridge, holding the staff to account ?
Why isn’t Neil Mendoza, the chairman of the Landmark Trust, objecting to the loss of such an important part of our industrial heritage ?
The answer is that they have probably never been.