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Whitechapel Bell Foundry may bought back from developers and reopened by royal charity

06 July 2018


The exterior of the Whitechapel Bell Foundry

The exterior of the Whitechapel Bell Foundry

THE centuries-old Whitechapel Bell Foundry, premises which were closed in 2016 and sold last year to developers for several million pounds, could be bought back by a royal building-preservation charity and reopened for their original purpose.

The Whitechapel Bell Foundry, established in 1570, was one of the oldest companies in the UK, and had occupied premises on Whitechapel Road since 1738 (News, 9 December 2016). It is the birthplace of Big Ben, Bow Bells, and the Liberty Bell, in Pennsylvania.

The company was bought by the Hughes family in 1904, and sold to developers last year by the fourth-generation directors, Alan and Kathryn Hughes, for £5.1 million. On the same day it was resold to Raycliff Whitechapel LLP for £7.9 million.

A statement from Mr Hughes in April last year said that the business could no longer manage the costs of maintenance in the current economic climate. The church bell-hangers Whites of Appleton had purchased the pattern equipment to continue making the components, he said.

The Hughes still own the company Whitechapel Foundry Ltd. Bells under the name are being made under licence by the Westley Group engineers and foundry.

The UK Historic Building Preservation Trust (UKHBPT), however, which is under the founding patronage of the Prince of Wales, has since launched a joint appeal with the Factum Foundation for Digital Technology in Conservation to save the premises.

Their proposal, Saved by the Bell!, states that the Grade II listed building has been gutted by developers, ready to be converted into a “boutique hotel or similar”. It proposes to repurchase the building from developers at market value.

“As the new owner commences a public consultation process, which would seek to secure a change of use, this document sets out a different future for the building which would see the continuation of a viable foundry, with the resultant employment, skills-retention, life, and vitality,” it states.

“Bells have been made here since 1571, and London should not countenance the loss of such a valuable national and international asset.”

This would mean bringing the foundry into the 21st century, the document says. It proposes that bell-casting techniques be updated to include 3D printing, water-jet and laser cutters, acoustic recording, white-light scanning, and “multispectral” photography. The foundry would also offer apprenticeships and training programmes, school outreach projects, and exhibits.

If a repurchase is achieved, the renovation is likely to be a costly process, the former tower bell production manager at the foundry, Nigel Taylor, says. He plans to return.

“We will need to totally re-equip the premises, but this presents the opportunity to obtain modern equipment and to employ state-of-the-art moulding and casting techniques which produce a consistently higher quality than that attained with the traditional methods. Before this happens, the poor condition of the fabric of the existing buildings needs to be addressed. . .

“There is ample space for a shop to sell products manufactured on the premises. The offices can be adapted for website design, internet sales, social media, computer-based work, and a communications department to advertise the revitalised foundry and its services.”

The plans remain speculative, however. A Q&A produced by the Whitechapel Foundry Ltd states that, since the UKHBPT has no ownership rights, it has no legal right to implement the plans, even if the capital was raised. “This is not a sustainable business model to purchase the land, undertake the vital building maintenance, and buy the equipment required,” it suggests.

Other projects and partnerships are being explored by the Whitechapel Foundry Ltd.

For more information, visit thebellfoundry.co.uk/faqs or ukhbpt.org/whitechapel/information

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