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UK’s Oldest Foundry Forged Liberty Bell and Big Ben—Now the Public is Fighting a Boutique Hotel to Save Whitechapel


A group of activists and artists have come together to launch a major key in the workings of a venture capital firm’s takeover of a historic London foundry.

Plans to turn the site into a boutique hotel with offices for “creatives” and a cafe and restaurant have drawn the ire of artists, former foundry artisans, community organizers and heritage conservationists.

No Swan No Fine, CC license

Before the Pilgrims landed on Plymouth Rock, bells were being forged at Whitechapel.

Opened in 1570, the Whitechapel Bell Foundry in London’s East End, cast bells for 450 years, many of which still ring atop Big Ben, and another with a famous crack in a Philadelphia museum.

Behind Georgian brick walls amid factories and docks, Whitechapel workers poured molten bronze into London clay molds and tuned the bells by scraping the metal inside before shipping them to the entire English-speaking world, of which 900 in Canada, 500 in Australia, and 600 in the US They still play every day.

The details of the financial struggles of four generations of Whitechapel Foundry owners, the pain they endured when the demand for bells evaporated after World War II, the debts that piled up as a gentrified London increasingly invaded the East End, as well as everything. one might wish to learn about the bells, they are brilliantly captured by Hettie O’Brien in the long-read section of The Guardian.

State Library of New South Wales

O’Brien details how a Whitechapel foundry worker, a bell craftsman named Nigel Taylor, took her through the Whitechapel neighborhood while explaining that London used to be divided into districts that were determined by the range of audible sound coming from the bells of a private individual. Church. This is the source of the fable that every true London Cockney was raised to the sound of “Bow bells”, in reference to Church of St. Mary-le-Bow in Cheapside.

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Taylor is part of the coalition to prevent this piece of London heritage from becoming a boutique hotel, organized by a special group of activists who not only want to see the building preserved in its current, dreary and wonderful state, but also the activities inside. of him remain also.

A plan in motion

Reform the heritage, a UK charity that organized the public effort to block hotel development plans at the foundry, specializes in supporting communities by restoring and rejuvenating heritage buildings at risk of decay or demolition.

The details are long and involve many different characters, but here is a summary:

  • The owner of the fourth-generation foundry closes the sale of the foundry privately to a man named Goldstein.
  • Goldstein sells it to Raycliff Capital, who plans to turn it into a boutique hotel and workspace / restaurant.
  • Stephan Clarke, Conservationist, Accountant, and President of Re-Form understands that Foundry is closing and is making an offer.
  • Upon learning that the foundry has already been sold for redevelopment, Clarke develops a new heritage-based plan, involving the bespoke use of the foundry’s infrastructure for art projects alongside two former employees, to be funded from a possible grant from the National Lottery Fund and private contributions.
  • A proposal is formed, gathering 10,000 signatures, including various celebrities, and sent to the Secretary of State for Housing, Communities and Local Government, Robert Jenrick.
  • Hearing that there was organized resistance to his development plans, Raycliff included a promise to create a miniature bell foundry, where visitors can see how the bells would have been cast in the previous incarnation of Whitechapel.

In December 2018, Raycliff presented his plans to the councilors of Tower Hamlet. A year later, in a deeply divided chamber, before the protesters and shear tension, the vote for approval was split 3 to 3, and the Council President held the runoff vote, which he cast in favor of Raycliff.

Reform and reborn

Mramoeba, CC license

However, the story did not end there, as after activists sent a letter to Jenrick, asking him to stay the ruling, he did just that, until “a public investigation could be conducted,” according to O’Brien.

This erupted into a war of words. Clarke was particularly upset that Raycliff and the former owner of the foundry had sold it without putting it up for public auction. This is due to the British legal requirements for the development of old buildings.

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If, as required by law, the development will substantially alter or damage a building with a designated historic value, the project cannot be carried out unless one of two stipulations is met: either the development must generate significant public benefits, or the site it is too far. be usable, and there are no charitable funds or grants available.

The final decision on whether the 450-year-old Whitechapel Bell Foundry will continue to cast bells will be made by Secretary Jenrick, and if he rules in Raycliff’s favor, Clarke told The Guardian that Re-Form and his artistic partner Factum will launch a new bell foundry in London to implement the same plan they had for Whitechapel.

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To do this, they have already registered the trademark “London Bell Foundry” and will soon launch a bell in a foundry in Gloucestershire in collaboration with contemporary English artist Grayson Perry.

For readers interested in pursuing the decision, they will find it in the Honorable Robert Jenrick’s book. page on the UK government website, scheduled to be announced in the coming weeks.

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