Goodbye Whitechapel Bell Foundry

The entrance first established in 1739 on Whitechapel High Street

Spitalfields Life and the Daily Mail, amongst others, have broken the news that the Whitechapel Bell Foundry is to close when the current owner, Alan Hughes, retires in May 2017.

In this blog entry I show some of the photographs I took in August 2008 when my wife and I were fortunate enough to get places on a tour of the foundry.

The Bell Foundry holds the Guiness Book of Records entry for the longest running manufacturing business in the UK, tracing its roots all the way back to the 15th century. The present site has been in use for the last 250 years. It is one of only two remaining bell foundries in the UK and it is famous for having cast both 'Big Ben' and the Liberty bell for the USA. The foundry has cast bells for many churches throughout the world and even today continues to cast new bells as well as use its specialist expertise to maintain and repair bells which have been cast many centuries before.

The foundry is such an important fixture of the Whitechapel landscape that for many years, on Saturdays when the furnaces are shut down, organised tours of the foundry have taken place. It can sometimes take up to a year to get on one of these tours and my wife was far sighted enough to put our names down for a tour and we were rewarded by a place on a tour in August 2008. If I recall correctly it was such a big deal we had a 'staycation' that summer so we could be around for it.

Below are my photographs from that tour. In those days Facebook was not the fixture it is today and blogging was also in its infancy so this is the first time I have shown these photographs on the internet.

Recently cast bells in the interior courtyard of the building.

A beautiful peal of bells set up on the interior courtyard of the building.

A bell mould on a trolley

The moulds are filled with a mixture which includes clay, straw and horse dung (if I recall correctly).

Bell moulds cooling - this can take several days before the casting can be opened.

Inside a recent casting - you can clearly see the markings which identify the maker and date.

A general view of the bell casting area - the furnaces are at the rear of the space.

Some new technology is used in the manufacture of the bells. In this case a special machine to tune the bell to the required musical frequency.

The foundry makes bells of all sizes and indeed handbells are a much prized speciality.

In addition to casting its own bells the foundry also has the specialist skills to repair and refurbish old bells. If I recall correctly some of these bells go back hundreds of years. It is really 'mind blowing' to think that modern bell makers might be working with artefacts cast many centuries before.

In addition to casting bells the foundry also has the skills to provide the specialist wooden mountings for the bells and maintains a carpentry shop for this purpose at the very top of the building.

How does one sum up a unique and magical place in the heart of Whitechapel?

Only with the fervent desire to see the building and its contents preserved as some form of museum for future generations to enjoy.