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The Bell Foundry & The Mulberry Tree

September 7, 2018
by the gentle author

Towards the end of the last century, Tower Hamlets decided to identify the different neighbourhoods in the borough with cherished symbols representing the fundamental identity of each place. For Bethnal Green, they chose a leaf of the Bethnal Green Mulberry and, for Stepney, they chose a bell from the Whitechapel Bell Foundry.

Those with sharp eyes may still spot these symbols upon signs today, yet incredibly the Bethnal Green Mulberry and the Whitechapel Bell Foundry are both in real danger of destruction at this moment.

Detail of signage in Mulberry St at the rear of the Whitechapel Bell Foundry

Just like those big game hunters who line their walls with animal trophies and claim they are protecting wildlife, the would-be developers of the Whitechapel Bell Foundry are claiming they are preserving it when in fact they are killing it dead. Anyone with a shred of intelligence knows that a bell-themed boutique hotel where bells are polished in the lobby is not an actual working bell foundry.

Meanwhile, a sustainable proposal exists to reopen it as a proper working foundry, reconfigured for the twenty-first century and beyond, through the marriage of old and new technology. This is led by the United Kingdom Historic Building Preservation Trust, an independent charity under the founding patronage of His Royal Highness, The Prince of Wales, in partnership with Factum Foundation, a global leader in the use of technology for the preservation of cultural heritage and manufacturer of sculptures for some of the world’s most famous artists.

Raycliff, the developers, are taking an enormous commercial a risk in pursuing their boutique hotel proposal when it is questionable whether permission for change of use will ever be granted for the building as long as a viable future for the Whitechapel Bell Foundry exists as a foundry.

A public consultation on Raycliff’s plans to turn the Whitechapel Bell Foundry into an upmarket Shoreditch-House-type hotel is being held next Thursday 13th September (4-8pm) and Saturday 15th September (10-2pm) at the foundry in Whitechapel Rd.

Read more here

Hope for the Whitechapel Bell Foundry

Detail of signage in Centre St, E2

The fate of the Bethnal Green Mulberry will be decided at Tower Hamlets Council Strategic Development Meeting at the Town Hall, Mulberry Place, E14 at 6:30pm on Thursday September 20th. All are welcome to attend.

The ancient Bethnal Green Mulberry is believed to have been planted by Bishop Bonnar in the sixteenth century in the grounds of the former London Chest Hospital which were previously the grounds of the Bishop’s Palace. It is almost certainly the oldest tree in the East End.

Recently the Bethnal Green Mulberry, which already has a Tree Protection Order on it, been reclassified as a ‘veteran’ tree which gives it extra protection under planning law but whether this will be enough to save it remains to be seen.

Crest Nicholson, developers of the site, want to dig up the Mulberry and move it which according Julian Forbes-Laird, Expert Witness in Arborculture and editor of the British Standard in tree conservation, will almost certainly kill it. Meanwhile, the Crest Nicholson proposal is overblown, with too many storeys, too little social housing and includes grotesque heritage-style additions to the listed London Chest Hospital building, making it resemble the Grand Budapest Hotel.

Over nine thousand people have signed the petition asking Crest Nicholson to move their proposed block of luxury flats and spare the Bethnal Green Mulberry. Click here to sign the petition

Read more here about the Bethnal Green Mulberry

Here We Go Round The Bethnal Green Mulberry

A Plea For The Bethnal Green Mulberry

The Bethnal Green Mulberry

A Letter to Crest Nicholson

A Reply From Crest Nicholson

The Reckoning With Crest Nicholson

The Haggerston Mulberry

The Dalston Mulberry

The Whitechapel Mulberry

The Mile End Mulberry

The Stoke Newington Mulberry

The Spitalfields Mulberry

The Oldest Mulberry in Britain

Three Ancient Mulberry Trees

A Brief History of London Mulberries

7 Responses leave one →
  1. September 7, 2018

    I have no wish to halt progress, but hope, fervently hope, that both of these daft ideas are kicked into touch.

    In so many places developers ride rough-shod over people’s lives. At least your recent Lord Mayor has been ousted! Please don’t let him be re-elected.

  2. September 7, 2018

    Well, if the Prince of Wales’ charity cannot swing it for the Bell Foundry, what hope is there for a mere group of locals, albeit a vociferous one? Has anyone made a direct plea to Charles?

  3. christopher long permalink
    September 7, 2018

    thanks for keeping the spotlight on what’s happening. i will be at the public consultation on thursday.

  4. September 7, 2018

    It’s amazing how many developers and councils use photographs of local ‘character’ on the boards surrounding re-developments. In Soho, most of the red light/bohemian district is boarded up, with images of Soho in the sixties. They recognise why the tourists come to the area, for that slightly seedy look where artists mingles with the sex workers. I certainly don’t want women to be exploited, but many good things are steamrollered for quick profit. The character lost forever. Then you go down Tin Pan Alley – the same thing. Murals of various guitar heroes adorn the boarded up music shops, the history being cleaned off of what will soon be mere facades. A new ‘music centre’ is planned – where music was doing just fine. Another historic area that has survived in it’s real; state since the birth of rock ‘n roll ruined. I feel so glad I was about in the 80’s to go in the old cafes and music venues, the old clubs and cheap italian restaurants filled with formica. The new breed of course don’t know any of this, so don’t mourn. For that they are lucky too I guess.

  5. Paul Loften permalink
    September 7, 2018

    Destroying living history in the Mulberry on one hand and brushing aside the crafts which have sustained past generations and give hope to the future on the other is not something that can be ignored. I remember the old Mullbery tree from my days at Parmiters school in the 1960’s that was just across the road from the Chest Hospital. On occassions we would eat our lunch on the bench in the large hospital grounds and I remember walking over to it and thinking what the tree had seen a lot in its long life. Som years later I got to know a doctor who worked there for many years and saved many Londoners lives. Both of these sites have a history of serving Londoners but this history counts for nothing to those whose only interest is quick profit

  6. Laura Williamson permalink
    September 7, 2018

    The strange, quirky, fascinating and often useful things ( such as the Bell Foundry) which make London London are being destroyed at seemingly an ever faster pace.

    When they have their soulless rich persons theme park, where noone who actually does the job of feeding and taking care of the place can possibly afford to live, they may realise what they have done.

    So many thanks to the GA and all others who are fighting to stop this destruction

  7. September 7, 2018

    Both petitions already signed. I am filled with sadness at the thought of yet two more historical and much loved East End landmarks being airbrushed out of existence.
    Why on earth was the London Chest Hospital sold in the first place? It was a beacon of good practice for cardiac and respiratory care.
    Let us hope Tower Hamlets Council take notice of the vast public opposition to the removal of the beautiful mulberry tree and that the Whitechapel Boutique Hotel plans are overturned.

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