Historic England (1)

I have been involved in a discussion on twitter as to whether or not Historic England is justified in supporting the transformation of the Whitechapel Bell Foundry into a boutique hotel. The argument is that the use of buildings has, and does, change over time. Why not just accept that the bell foundry was past its sell-by date and that it’s better now to adapt it for a smart new swimming pool and cappuccinos ?

The problem is that the Bell Foundry was a remarkable and wonderful survival. It was preserved in the 1970s when the GLC recognised its significance to historic archaeology. If it was important in the 1970s, how much more remarkable is it – or was it – that it had survived until 2017 in full working order, still functioning as a bell foundry with all its working practices and equipment. If it’s not the mandate of Historic England to protect it, why not ? They fought to protect Middleport Pottery. They should be fighting to protect the Bell Foundry, too.

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6 thoughts on “Historic England (1)

  1. it’s a tricky one, isn’t it, with strong arguments on both sides. On balance I feel that the Foundry ought to be maintained in its historic form, since a boutique hotel could be built anywhere.

  2. edward chaney says:

    ‘Ere, ere (Charles)… and besides we don’t want to offend the neigbouring mosque with a swimming pool. I’d be surprised if there weren’t useful records of ongoing support in what was the heir to the GLC hIstoric buildings division, my employer in the early 1990s, the London Region of English Heritage, presumably now in Historic England’s archive and still in the public domain…

  3. The GLC Historic Buildings Division in the 1970s saw itself as a fifth column within the GLC. Lots of interesting people started their career there (Frank Kelsall, Malcolm Airs etc.) Alec Forshaw’s autobiography ‘1970s London: Discovering the Capital’ gives an engaging portrait of it. Someone is writing a PhD on it.

    • Yes, they were extremely knowledgeable specialists in issues of historic conservation and building construction, so will have seen the interest in the Bell Foundry in a way that their successors in Historic England have not.

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