Save the Whitechapel Bell Foundry!
Like most we can be old-school when it's the best thing to be done and similarly, cutting-edge for the same reason and so we're not ones to unnecessarily stand in the way of progress. The Whitechapel Bell Foundry closed in 2017, with its last owner, Alan Hughes, declaring that it was no longer viable to make a living making church bells, and that the old buildings were no longer suitable for their use. The growth of residential property around them, he also said, “will give us neighbours who would find difficulties with our industrial output and noise”. This is a contentious point given the company had been in these premises since 1738 and long before gentrification took hold.
Hughes sold its premises to a property developer who immediately resold it – for a profit rumoured to be at least 50% – to the New York-based venture capitalists Raycliff Capital. They want to build a hotel next to it, demolishing a 1980s extension in the process. They propose to respect the foundry’s manufacturing history by inviting the Midlands-based company Westley to make small replica bells in its older buildings, and offering space to the AB Fine Art Foundry. Artists and creatives will, they say, work in the warren of rooms made singular and wonderful from housing centuries of craft.Tourists and schoolchildren will be able to visit the site and see exhibits on bell making.
There could of course be much worse plans – someone might want to convert the whole site to luxury homes, for example – but they are not equal to the unique significance of the Whitechapel Bell Foundry. This is not any factory, nor any bell foundry, but the oldest and most famous in the world. Backed by luminaries including Antony Gormley and the Victoria and Albert Museum’s director Tristram Hunt, an alternative proposal has been put forward by the United Kingdom Historic Building Preservation Trust (UKHBPT) and the Factum Foundation, a conservation organisation best known for its three-dimensional digital recreation of the tomb of the Egyptian pharaoh Seti I. They want to keep the entire site in its original use, the physically impressive and skilled business of working molten metal into large but highly tuned musical instruments. The same premises, they say, can be used to make the ambitious works beloved of contemporary sculptors.
If you're a Londoner then why not join the demonstration tonight at 6pm at Tower Hamlets Town Hall, Mulberry Place, 5 Clove Crescent, E14 2BG.