There is a certain irony in the fact that, after more than a year since the developers were given permission by the Department for Levelling Up to turn the Whitechapel Bell Foundry into a boutique hotel, absolutely nothing has happened and the site has been left to decay. Yet, at the same time, the company which was established to take it on and keep it running as a bell foundry has produced its first artist-designed bell which will take centre stage at this year’s Royal Academy Summer Exhibition, available to ring every hour in memory of those who lost their lives from COVID (Grayson Perry’s memorial Covid Bell to go on show at Royal Academy’s Summer Exhibition (theartnewspaper.com).
There does seem to be a terrible weakness in the planning system that a single planning officer in Historic England can recommend giving permission to the Bell Foundry being turned into a hotel and then whatever happens subsequently, whatever objections come from all over the world, there seems to be no way of turning the clock back.
Yet, now the market for boutique hotels in London has changed. The developer has lost interest. Mayor Biggs who was passionately opposed to all forms of historic preservation has been voted out. I hope that Grayson Perry’s bell will be a reminder of what has been lost: not just the oldest place of manufacture in the United Kingdom; but somewhere which could have been a good model of community-based regeneration. Perhaps Mayor Rahman can intervene. Or Michael Gove.