Whitechapel Bell Foundry (25)

Even in Anglesey I fret, as the year comes to an end, on the fate of the Bell Foundry.

I have been helped by Charles O’Brien, the chairman of the London Advisory Committee (and, by an odd coincidence, the author of the entry on the Bell Foundry in the revised edition of Pevsner’s London East) to see that it was difficult for Historic England to intervene at the time the Bell Foundry was sold, since it was sold behind their back with no request for help.

But this does not answer the core question. What advice did they take on whether or not the Bell Foundry could be maintained as a bell foundry before they permitted (and, indeed, have encouraged) a change-of-use, as they were legally required to do ? Did they seek advice from other foundries as to whether there were ways and means of making the Bell Foundry economically viable ? Did they pay attention to the new markets for bells opening up in China ? Or did they take the word of the Hughes family only that a Bell Foundry was no longer economically viable ?

If, as is hoped, Robert Jenrick calls the planning decision in for review, this would give an opportunity for a more forensic legal examination of what advice Historic England received and sought on the opportunities for maintaining the operation intact before taking the golden shilling of a New York venture capitalist and not merely allowing, but supporting, it being turned instead into a boutique hotel.

Happy New Year !


Jonathan Miller

I haven’t been able to get out of my head the voice of Jonathan Miller in an archival interview which was re-broadcast on Saturday night – his particular tone of extraordinarily wide-ranging intellectual authority and curiosity, quizzical, successful in so many different dimensions with such ease in his youth when he was an Apostle and appeared in Beyond the Fringe and was taken on by Huw Weldon to edit Monitor, but then in later life he became oddly and totally unnecessarily peevish, as if all the blessings which had fallen into his lap were never enough to satisfy him. I liked and admired him. He sat for his portrait to Stephen Conroy, whose work he had come across while working in Glasgow, and who produced a finely pensive and brooding portrait. He’s the subject of 28 other portraits in the NPG, the first a photograph by Jane Bown in 1954, when he was only 20, and including images by Cecil Beaton and Bill Brandt, the last by Tom, his son, in 2016. So, he’s unlikely to be forgotten even if he ended up disappointed by his own achievements.



We stopped en route at St. Mary, Talyllyn, nearly all that remains of a village decimated by the Black Death, now standing remote beside the road surrounded by fields. It is maintained – beautifully – by the Friends of Friendless Churches, a place of great peacefulness:-



We went to the windswept north-west of the island, as far as can be, to see the church of St. Eilian, with its distinctive pyramidal, Romanesque tower. Of course, it was closed, but still atmospheric, with its slate tombs and shrine chapel added to the east end:-


Whitechapel Bell Foundry (24)

Anna Aslanyan, a young writer and translator, has written a melancholy account of the seeming inevitability of the loss of the Whitechapel Bell Foundry before the forces of insensitive global development, smashing up the existing use without testing or checking whether it is in some form still viable, as is legally required, and converting it into an entirely empty form of consumerism. I like the way the piece is written. I am quoted as saying what I think – that at heart Historic England doesn’t care for the relics of East London industrial development. They are focussed on the building only at the expense of the historic importance of its use, which may be a weakness in the way that Historic England is constituted.

We await Robert Jenrick’s verdict. He should call it in as a test case. Otherwise, it will go down as this generation’s Euston Arch.