The Beastly East

My piece for this month’s The Critic was on the still relatively new Survey of London volumes on Whitechapel – a bit late I know, because I went to the launch last June. But I discovered that they are just as meticulous in recording recent changes in property ownership as they are those of the eighteenth century. And so I discovered who actually owns all those monster new tower blocks in Aldgate and how many times they have changed owner in the last ten years. They are nearly all offshore. One is owned by a Texan disc jockey.

This brings me to the scandal of the Whitechapel Bell Foundry which you may recall was sold in December 2016 – SEVEN YEARS AGO – to a New York venture capitalist who wanted to turn it into a boutique hotel. Well, after his plans were supported by Historic England as an example of adventurous change-of-use (change-of-use to a listed building should have been legally forbidden since there was a perfectly viable plan to keep it as a foundry) and after the planning Inspector found in favour of the scheme, Robert Jenrick gave it planning permission in spite of tweeting on the day that it was a rotten scheme until it was pointed out that he had signed the approval.

So what has happened since ? Precisely nothing. The building has been left to rot by the New York venture capitalist. The Mayor does nothing. Historic England has egg on its face.

There is still a perfectly viable plan to put it back to use. Can we please encourage the venture capitalist to return the building to its historic purpose ? The London Bell Foundry will help.


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