I have been asked by a reader who prefers to remain anonymous to remind readers that there does already exist a fully funded alternative scheme for retaining all the craft skills of the Whitechapel Bell Foundry, which Historic England has inexplicably (or negligently) chosen to ignore.
It has been drawn up by the United Kingdom Historic Building Preservation Trust, jointly with Factum Foundation who have experience of running a foundry in Madrid and the great advantage of being very well connected with artists, so not being dependent solely on the sale of church bells for the viability of their business plan.
United Kingdom Historic Building Preservation Trust are uniquely well placed to take on the bell foundry, because they have recent experience of running a similar industrial site, Middleport Pottery, in Stoke-on-Trent, which won every prize going for the sensitivity and interest of the project, which was overseen by Ros Kerslake, now the Chief Executive of the Heritage Lottery Fund. If there are doubts about the viability of their proposals, which I know there have been, it’s worth noting that their Founding Patron is H.R.H. The Prince of Wales who has a long track record of involving himself in projects involving the development of craft skills. So, it’s hardly a fly-by-night organisation.
Factum Foundation is the charitable arm of Factum Arte, a brilliant and inventive operation based in the suburbs of Madrid which has a great deal of experience in retaining and developing historic craft skills, with the aid of new technology. I know that there are people, including the Hughes family, who think that the new technology is alien to the traditions of the Bell Foundry, but it is essential to the commercial viability of their proposals. And I should declare an interest, but not a commercial one, in that my son works for Factum Foundation and it was I who got them involved, knowing that they have the relevant skills.
So, Historic England have been, and still are, faced by a choice between, on the one hand, well-established, not-for-profit charities with the best possible experience of developing an industrial site in a creative way and, on the other hand, a rapacious New York speculator who has offered the Hughes family a small shrine to bell making, while demolishing half the site and building a hotel next door.
Which scheme has Historic England chosen to endorse ? The one from the property developer.