Last time I discussed the saving of the Whitechapel Bell Foundry in the late 1970s, someone suggested I read Alec Forshaw’s book on 1970s London: Discovering the Capital, an engaging and extremely informative book about the character of London in the 1970s in the heyday of demolition, Council redevelopment and a general lack of interest in its historic character, written by Alec Forshaw, who worked in Islington’s planning department and became its head of conservation. I have now done this. The book makes clear how attitudes began to change in the late 1970s, not least thanks to the 1978 Inner Urban Areas Act, which provided public funding to protect and preserve inner city industrial buildings. I assume that this was what it made it possible for either the GLC or Tower Hamlets to provide funding for the preservation, repair and extension of the Whitechapel Bell Foundry in 1979. I now realise that this was before English Heritage was established (it was established in 1983), so James Strike may have been employed by Tower Hamlets or the GLC or even by the Hughes themselves with grant aid.
Whatever the exact circumstances – and I hope one of my readers will know more – it is sad that such a determined effort to protect traditional manufacturing in the inner city, including, presumably, substantial public investment, is at risk of being wiped out forty years later. It is also at least possible that conditions were set on what would happen in the event of the eventual sale or closure of the Bell Foundry. Once again, I hope someone in Tower Hamlets or the GLA has checked this out.