Whitechapel Bell Foundry (112)

Every time someone puts something online about the Whitechapel Bell Foundry, I can’t help but notice that there is a massive amount of public interest in its fate.

You only have to look at its current state to see that we are shamefully neglecting a historic building:-

The question is, what is to be done about it ?

The agent handling its letting/sale has provided assurances that many people are interested in taking it on, but the terms of any lease will require reinstating some level of foundry, which may not make it straightforward for a conventional tenant. A hedge fund is not necessarily going to want to cohabit with a working foundry. Meanwhile, it is deteriorating.

What is sad is that there is already a well worked-out business plan for it to be turned into a modern version of a historic foundry, using new technology as well as traditional crafts skills. The Planning Inspector dismissed this proposal, preferring the idea of it becoming a hotel. But the hotel proposal is now dead. It surely needs someone – maybe Historic England or the World Monuments Fund – to broker a deal with the current owner to get it back into a working condition, if necessary using the necessary legislation, in order to protect what is left of something which, in its way, is an extraordinarily important piece of living history.


6 thoughts on “Whitechapel Bell Foundry (112)

  1. Mariana Cook says:

    Hi Charles,

    It would be wonderful if you could save the Bell Foundry and I know you have tried every which way. I woke this morning thinking about it as soon as I saw your blog and I remembered hearing bells ringing in towns to announce the time of day or a grand event on the Vineyard when I was a child….

    Maybe there are people of our generation who remember the olden days when there was less noise pollution and quiet in the streets so when a bell rang out or a fire engine blasted or ambulance approached, it was striking. Nowadays we are inured to sound.

    The purpose of the bell is to make sound and serve as a beacon. We tend to be visual people and interested in the making of things, but the bell’s purpose and function historically relates first to sound. Often bells were so high up in a steeple, most never saw the whole bell. It would be marvelous if a permanent exhibition could be mounted in the Bell Foundry which not only displays different bells made for various purposes of different materials which the viewer could “sound” at will and also read a label of where that sound could/would have been heard. –– in addition to the making of the bell and the look of the bell and the how of its making and place. In my parents’ and definitely my grandparents’ generation, well to do people owned watches but many relied on church bells to tell them it was time to wake, go to work, eat and sleep. The sound of the town bell was and perhaps in some small places may still be an active sensory experience each day–– not a visual one.

    So… I was just wondering if presenting sound as “history” might contribute to the cause…

    I admit to not reading your posts religiously and you may have already done this a lot.

    Much love to you and R,


    • Dear Mariana, You are quite right – I have tended to concentrate on the Foundry in terms of historic working practices and not on the potency of church bells. But I think it is their sound and symbolism which has made the Bell Foundry such a big issue, because, as you say, they did not just make bells for churches in London, but all over the world. I feel that someone somewhere ought be able to create a positive solution for the Foundry – as likely to be someone in the US as in the UK, which is why I feel the World Monuments Fund might be the right group to move things forward. There is certainly a lot of support in New York. Charles

  2. Good morning Charles, I have strong family links with the area and I have worked in Education for my entire career. I can see how the modern interpretation of the foundry plus a living museum, creative and educational space, would be such an asset to the area and the community. I wrote to the mayor of Tower Hamlets and to Historic England. I have received a: ” Yeah, thanks,” email from the first and holding email from the second. Who else do I need to be campaining to please?
    On the Spitalfields Life blog, folk were equally willing to act, mobilise and protest. We simply cannot allow this to happen without a fight. Thanks in advance. Although I no longer live in London, I’m passionate about its history so am quite happy to jump on a train to wave a placard, shout loudly and generally be awkward about this.

    • Dear Chris, Thank you. I think one of the problems seems to be that however strong public feeling is, the authorities have somehow closed ranks in support of the now defunct hotel scheme which makes them unwilling or psychologically unable to acknowledge that there might be a more interesting and more creative way forward for the building, which uses new technology to reinvent traditional craft skills, as was proposed by Factum Foundation. Charles

      • Thank you Charles,
        I will see who else needs an email rant from me. I have also written to the London Bell Foundry’s contact email address but there doesn’t seem to be a way of joining, throwing money at campaigning etc. unless I have missed it? Additionally, the Factum Foundation link on one page gave a 404 “page not found” error.
        The premises seem to be available to rent so the current owner doesn’t want to start developing yet. I’m sure all other avenues of support have been pursued but, there is always hope, I truly believe that.

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