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The Disappointment Of Historic England

October 31, 2019
by the gentle author

Historic England had no objection to Smithfield General Market being demolished, now it is to become the new home to the Museum of London

Historic England were fine with the Marquis of Lansdowne being demolished, now it is being restored as part of the Geoffrye Museum’s renovations

Historic England are advocating the redevelopment of the Whitechapel Bell Foundry into a bell-themed boutique hotel


In recent years the government’s heritage agency, Historic England, has been on the wrong side of too many important planning battles in London. Of course, there are also cases where it has behaved laudably, notably in the listing of the eighteenth-century weaver’s houses in Club Row and in objecting to Sainsburys’ tower in Whitechapel that would have overshadowed the seventeenth-century Trinity Green Almshouses.

Yet these examples of Historic England doing its job properly make its failures to fulfil its declared responsibilities – ‘to protect, champion and save places that define who we are’ – appear especially capricious.

Perhaps most disappointing is Historic England’s advocacy of the redevelopment of the historic Whitechapel Bell Foundry into a boutique hotel. On the HE website there is a declaration dated 15th July 2019, announcing ‘We are supportive of the plans that the new owners of the Whitechapel Bell Foundry have submitted.’ This is justified by two statements, ‘Recognising there is no longer a market for large bells’ and ‘it closed as it was uneconomic to continue.’

What is astonishing about this is that Historic England has no remit to comment on business viability and there is no evidence that the Whitechapel Bell Foundry is no longer viable as a working foundry. They are simply restating the developer’s case.

No mention or recognition is made by Historic England of the viable proposal to reopen the Whitechapel Bell Foundry put forward by the UK Historic Building Preservation Trust in partnership with Factum Foundation, which would preserve the living heritage of the foundry for generations to come.

Most disappointing of all is that Raycliff, the would-be developers of the foundry into a hotel, paid Historic England for an ‘enhanced service.’ It begs the question of how much money Historic England received for their advocacy of the Raycliff scheme, conveniently restating the developer’s case without evidence.

On 14th November, Tower Hamlets Council Development Committee are due to make a decision on the developer’s planning application for change of use from bell foundry into boutique hotel and the opinion of Historic England will pay a major part in this judgement.

Meanwhile, Tower Hamlets Councillor Puru Miah has submitted a Freedom of Information request to Historic England requesting all communications with Raycliff and asking how much Historic England received for their ‘enhanced  service.’ Until this information is forthcoming, I do not see how the planning meeting can go ahead or any just decision on the Whitechapel Bell Foundry is possible.

Here is the text of the letter –


FAO Duncan Wilson

Historic England

10th October 2019


Dear Historic England

Re. Freedom of Information Request: The Whitechapel Bell Foundry, 32-34 Whitechapel Road E1 1DY

Under the Freedom of Information Act 2000 I would like to request the following information:

Confirm whether Raycliff and other owners of the site received advice from Historic England under the Enhanced Advisory Service Scheme for the redevelopment of the Whitechapel Bell Foundry site since January 2016, details of all the fee agreements and service advice by Historic England, amount of fees paid to date for the advice received, the date of the advice given, and the content of the advice given.

A full copy of the pre-application advice that Historic England has provided for this site in 2016, as referred to in your letter dated 1st March 2019 to the London Borough of Tower Hamlets, your ref. P01028757

What evidence have you to support the demise statement that a single-use foundry is not viable, referred to in your letter of 1st March 2019 Ref. P01028757, please provide evidence of how this assessment has been reached.

What advice or discussions have you had with UKHBPT since 2016 (not referred to in your letter of 1st March).

Provide all correspondence between Raycliff and Historic England since the first contact

With Regards,

Cllr Puru Miah

Mile End

London Borough of Tower Hamlets



You may also like to read about

A Bell-Themed Boutique Hotel?

Nigel Taylor, Tower Bell Manager

Benjamin Kipling, Bell Tuner

Four Hundred Years at the Whitechapel Bell Foundry

Pearl Binder at Whitechapel Bell Foundry

Dorothy Rendell at Whitechapel Bell Foundry

Hope for The Whitechapel Bell Foundry

A Petition to Save the Bell Foundry

Save the Whitechapel Bell Foundry

So Long, Whitechapel Bell Foundry

Fourteen Short Poems About The Whitechapel Bell Foundry

23 Responses leave one →
  1. Jill Wilson permalink
    October 31, 2019

    Hmmmmm… ‘enhanced services’ …is that what it is called these days?

  2. October 31, 2019

    Excellent and encouraging news: keeping fighting the good fight!

  3. Remo Broglia permalink
    October 31, 2019

    Greasey palms more like !

  4. October 31, 2019

    They ruined a couple of heritage events for us this summer, we trade at history shows and they made us jump through a number of hoops which were utterly pointless and messed up the entire show to the point that we don’t think it will run again.

  5. Paul permalink
    October 31, 2019

    I was quite proud of the foundry , and still in shock upset its closed , boutique hotel just a poncy name for charging more .rayfair? More like unfair

  6. October 31, 2019

    It is essential that ‘Historic England’ is abolished and the sooner the better. It is a nonfunctional organisation and a considerable was of public money.

  7. Caroline Bottomley permalink
    October 31, 2019

    Thanks for putting a magnifying glass over what’s happening here .
    Well done Cllr Puru Miah for puttting in the FOI letter.
    I agree, those questions are entirely pertinent to the planning debate.

  8. Mary-Ann Tait permalink
    October 31, 2019

    Very well done Councillor Miah. I hope the FOI request shines a light on this outrageous development proposal and highlights further the very shameful neglect to heritage by HE.

  9. October 31, 2019

    Indeed, I smell money hungry rats.

  10. Peter Smith permalink
    October 31, 2019

    Thank you for keeping this under the spotlight and well done Cllr Puru Miah.

  11. Alison Homewood permalink
    October 31, 2019

    Thank you, gentle author. If this FOI request shows inappropriate behaviour on behalf of Historic England then I lol forward to the dismissal – perhaps prosecution of the guilty parties and a reversal of the plans to destroy the Bell Foundry. I also dearly hope that Historic England is dissolved and a new heritage body that actually CARES about genuinely protecting our remaining heritage is put in its place, one that is much more willing to list historical buildings upfront – maybe even adopting the new policy towards Organ Donation, exceptions only.

  12. October 31, 2019

    Nothing, but nothing, surprises me about Historic England any more. I do not advocate its abolition: we need such an organisation, but it desperately needs reform. In recent times some of its decisions have been bizarre, inconsistent and in some cases perverse.

    PS Thank you for sending your splendid Facadism book. You have shamed architectural critics who have generally seemed content to ignore the effects of this philistine practice.

  13. Chris Glen permalink
    October 31, 2019

    That blog raises a whole host of questions…the most worrying one is, as you say, the restating of the developers’ case! I have a nasty feeling that this will not have been the only occasion on which Historic England has done this. The FOI request letter is a good one – will be interesting to see what comes back.

  14. Paul Loften permalink
    October 31, 2019

    This is very interesting. I look forward to their reply as to how they reached an opinion that the repair and supply of large bells in no longer viable. Bells are in daily use in churches throughout the world. The clapper strikes against the metal and brass is a soft metal that gets worn very easily. Brass and Bronze is 3 on the Mohs scale which would rank it as one of the softest metals . The clapper strikes in one spot over the years and I would say that once the spot has worn the bell is no longer viable and needs to be replaced. There are churches with bells in daily use all over the world, how many I don’t know but probably hundreds of thousands but very few foundries that can supply and repair them. I would say that exactly the opposite is the case and that there is a huge market.
    Once the craft of making and repairing the bells has gone and the equipment and skills have vanished it would be impossible to replace.

  15. October 31, 2019

    Well done for keeping this under the spotlight

  16. Su C permalink
    October 31, 2019

    This particular issue breaks my heart. Thank you to all who are fighting to preserve this fascinating heritage business, and for working to unearth (what appears to be) corrupt motivations.

  17. October 31, 2019

    Historic Tossers

  18. October 31, 2019

    What Paul Loften ably said, really. We are a small East Anglian market town with some venerable church bells. I know the Tower Captain and she has often talked about them being sent to Whitechapel for maintenance. One at least was originally cast there.

    Thanks to Cllr Miah for their actions.

  19. Robin permalink
    November 1, 2019

    Dear GA & Cllr Miah:

    Is there anything we citizens can do at the moment?

    GA, you write “Until this information is forthcoming, I do not see how the planning meeting can go ahead or any just decision on the Whitechapel Bell Foundry is possible.”

    Is there a way to support this view publicly? Write to the Tower Hamlets Council Development Committee that it must delay until the information is forthcoming?

  20. November 3, 2019

    Keep up the good fight, and for highlighting what we need to be made aware of.

  21. Tom permalink
    November 4, 2019

    Historic England’s decisions are not difficult to understand if you read planning policy and the conservation principles.

  22. Colin Eastaugh permalink
    November 5, 2019

    Correspondence with Historic England concerning the Whitechapel Bell Foundry:

    “The ‘Enhanced Advisory Services’ Historic England have provided for this case is our Extended Pre-Application Advice, you can read more about our other Enhance Advisory Services here. Historic England provide a pre application service for any proposals that would lead to an application for which we would be a statutory consultee. As the Bell Foundry is Grade II* Listed it meets this criteria and is eligible for our pre application service, the proposed scheme is also over 1000m2 in a conservation area- a criteria which would also meet our remit.”

    Looking at the Historic England website, it certainly seems to be keen to work with property developers.

  23. Christopher Walker permalink
    September 9, 2020

    “Historic England were fine with the Marquis of Lansdowne being demolished, now it is being restored as part of the Geoffrye Museum’s renovations…”

    I work in Hoxton, and walk past this pub every day on my way to work. I would be interested to know if the author of this article has followed up this claim that the pub is being ‘restored’, as in reality the pub has been completely ruined as part of the development and is now little more than a pastiche with stuck on mouldings and plywood stallrisers…

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