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

The centuries-old Whitechapel Bell Foundry, which was 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, according to the Church Times.

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. 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, and the bells would in future be sold under the name of Whitechapel by the Westley Group, a UK-based engineering and foundry group.

The UK Historic Building Preservation Trust, 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 that 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 that 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.”