I have been fascinated by the extraordinary amount of ill feeling which has been generated by the decision of Historic England to throw in its lot with the plans of a New York venture capitalist to turn the Bell Foundry into an ersatz hotel, rather than help and support the plans of the United Kingdom Historic Building Trust to revive it as a working foundry.
Historic England claims that no money has so far passed hands, but it was drawn in at an early stage to give advice on the developer’s proposals and having given advice, it was presumably difficult for them not to support what was planned, however much it butchers what survives.
Let me quote, as it happens, Historic England’s own description of the historic interest of the site: ‘for the national cultural and industrial significance as the mid C18 site of a specialised industry known to have been located elsewhere in Whitechapel since the medieval period, where well-known bells including Big Ben and the Liberty Bell, Philadelphia, were cast’.
And on its architectural interest: ‘a distinctive, cohesive complex of domestic and industrial buildings spanning nearly 300 years of occupation including the dignified residence of the foundry owner at nos 32-34 Whitechapel Road, no 2 Fieldgate Street and the industrial ranges to the rear’.
If these were the reasons for listing the property, are they not also the reasons for making efforts to preserve it intact as a working foundry, not demolish half of it and turn the rest into a bogus tourist attraction ?