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A Survey Of The Whitechapel Bell Foundry

June 27, 2019
by the gentle author

In 1895, when C R Ashbee of The Guild of Handicrafts in Bow learned that Trinity House wanted to demolish Christopher Wren’s Trinity Green in Whitechapel, he published a survey of the architectural and cultural history of the almshouses to draw attention to why they should be saved.

C R Ashbee’s survey became the first volume of the Survey of London which continues to this day, currently preparing a Survey of Whitechapel. True to the spirit of their founder, the Survey have now published a pamphlet about the Whitechapel Bell Foundry, coinciding with the controversy over the future of this world-famous historical institution which is central to the identity of Whitechapel.

These beautifully produced pamphlets are free and I can send you one within the United Kingdom for a nominal price of £2 postage & packing. Click here to order a free pamphlet

Copies can also be picked up Townhouse Spitalfields, Whitechapel Idea Store, Tower Hamlets Local History Library in Mile End and London Metropolitan Archive in Clerkenwell.

Until its closure in 2017, the Whitechapel Bell Foundry was a remarkable survival. The business, principally the making of church bells, had operated continuously in Whitechapel since at least the 1570s.

It has been on its present site at 32–34 Whitechapel Rd and 2 Fieldgate St, with the existing house and office buildings, since the mid 1740s. On business cards, the firm made claims to being ‘Britain’s oldest manufacturing company’ and ‘the world’s most famous bell foundry.’ The first is not readily contradicted, the second is unverifiable but plausible. It has been said that the bell foundry ‘is so connected with the history of Whitechapel that it would be impossible to move it without wanton disregard of the associations of many generations.’

But it has moved, or rather the foundry has closed. Now in 2019 there are proposals and discussions about future use of the site. This booklet arises from the Survey of London’s current work in Whitechapel, which is to be brought together in volumes 54 and 55 in the Survey of London series, set for publication in 2021.

This booklet anticipates that, engaging with present circumstances through an illustrated history followed by transcripts of interviews. Altogether it addresses the historic use of the bell foundry as intrinsic to its meaning as a collection of buildings and as a place.

Internal courtyard of the Bell Foundry in snow (photograph by Derek Kendall)



[youtube Rd6_iUF5Kbg&t=1s nolink]


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5 Responses leave one →
  1. Jill Wilson permalink
    June 27, 2019

    Looking forward to reading it!

  2. June 27, 2019

    Have placed my order.Are the tools and skills still available? Here on the Isle of Wight a new aircraft museum is opening at Sandown Airport,this will not only show what has been achieved on the Island but sadly also what skills have been lost. The Bell Foundry must be saved.

  3. June 27, 2019

    Along with the books and this booklet, the Survey has created an interactive map of Whitechapel – You can see more of our Whitechapel research there and what Whitechapel residents have added… we’d be delighted if Spitalfields Life readers wanted to add anything, too – memories, photos, their own research. Whatever you’ve got… Aileen Reid, Survey of London.

  4. Caroline Bottomley permalink
    June 27, 2019

    Me too, thanks GA, CR Ashbee and the Survey of London people x

  5. June 27, 2019

    I do hope the Tower Hamlets Planning Department have been sent a copy of this video?
    If not, any chance of showing it at the meeting when they discuss the future of The Bell Foundry?
    How can a ‘Boutique Hotel’ be of more value to the area and indeed to London …..than utilising that historic building for those working craftsmen/women and apprentices so willing to bring their amazing skills to Whitechapel?

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