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Save Our Bell Foundry

November 10, 2019
by the gentle author

Raising the NOT FOR SALE sign on the Whitechapel Bell Foundry

Bells are a universal symbol of hope and freedom. Our Whitechapel Bell Foundry is the most famous bell foundry in the world. This is where they cast the Liberty Bell which became the symbol of American independence in the eighteenth century, of the anti-slavery campaigners in the nineteenth century and the civil rights movement in the twentieth century. This is where they cast the Bow Bells which were broadcast by the BBC to occupied Europe during World War II as a symbol of freedom and resistance to fascism. This is where they cast Big Ben, the voice of Britain.

The list of bells cast here over the centuries and exported around the world is endless. Bells are still in demand and will always be in demand. Consequently, it would be an unthinkable act of vandalism if the Whitechapel Bell Foundry, its traditions and skills should be sacrificed for a bell-themed boutique hotel and private members club as developers Raycliff Capital are threatening to do.

Photographer Andrew Baker was there yesterday as protestors rallied at the East London Mosque before marching out in the rain, ringing handbells, to pin a NOT FOR SALE sign on the Whitechapel Bell Foundry.

Next Thursday 14th November, Tower Hamlets Development Committee meet to consider the planning application by the developers for Change of Use from bell foundry to boutique hotel.

The planning regulations for Change of Use for industrial premises are precise. Firstly, the owner must prove that the previous use is no longer viable. There is no evidence of this with the Whitechapel Bell Foundry. Secondly, the owner must prove that no-one wanted to buy the premises and continue the previous use. In this case, UK Historic Building Preservation Trust offered to buy the foundry to run it as a working foundry before the sale went through to Raycliff. Thirdly, the owner must market the property for a year seeking a company to continue the previous use. Raycliff have not done this.

Tower Hamlets Planning Committee’s legal responsibility is to decide the Optimum Viable Use for the foundry. By its nature, there can be only one Optimum Viable Use. So, while a boutique hotel might be viable, it is obvious that the Optimum Viable Use for the Whitechapel Bell Foundry is as a foundry.

It is disappointing that Historic England have chosen to support the boutique hotel proposal on the basis that a working foundry is no longer viable, without evidence to back this up. Even more disappointing is that Tower Hamlets Councillor Puru Miah’s Freedom of Information request, seeking all correspondence between Historic England and the developers, cannot be fulfilled before the planning meeting when the councillors will make their decision based upon Historic England’s flawed judgement.

Readers will recall how we collected more than two thousand signatures from residents of the borough back in August to trigger a debate at full council on the motion that Tower Hamlets Council adopt it as their policy to save the Whitechapel Bell Foundry as a working foundry. How unfortunate that the council ignored the wishes of those residents by refusing to have that debate.

Saturday’s protest was to have been held in Altab Ali Park in Whitechapel where rallies are frequently held. How unfortunate that the council which owns the park refused permission for the rally.

Mayor of Tower Hamlets, John Biggs, said in council in September that he was open to meet with UK Historic Building Preservation Trust to hear the full details of their business plan for their scheme to buy the foundry, re-equip it for the twenty-first century and re-open it – as they did with such success at Middleport Pottery in Stoke. How unfortunate that he has been unable to find any space in his schedule for this in recent weeks.

Are these the actions of a council which seeks to preserve the living heritage of the borough that the Whitechapel Bell Foundry represents?

More than 21,000 people have signed an international petition to Save the Whitechapel Bell Foundry. 780 letters of objection to the boutique hotel proposal have been submitted to the council, with only 6 in favour of it.

Within Tower Hamlets, people have met in mosques and churches, in a campaign that has brought together diverse communities for the first time in a shared desire to save our collective cultural heritage. As someone said to me at one of these campaign meetings, ‘If they can take the Whitechapel Bell Foundry from us, they can take anything.’

I hope that all those who rang bells at yesterday’s protest will ring them again from 6pm on Thursday 14th November outside Tower Hamlets Town Hall, Mulberry Place, 5 Clove Crescent, E14 2BG to demonstrate the strength of feeling on this subject prior to the council meeting. The more who can attend this public meeting the better.

Robert  Oliver, holding the bell made by his father, the Oliver family worked at the foundry for 250 years

Photographs copyright © Andrew Baker

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

16 Responses leave one →
  1. Jill Wilson permalink
    November 10, 2019

    Brilliantly put GA!

    I hope the council will feel suitably ashamed of themselves on Thursday…

  2. November 10, 2019

    Due Diligence has clearly not been applied to important aspects of this planning application.
    Like many other supporters I am so disappointed by Historic England’s decision not to preserve something unique and of tremendous historic interest.
    As for Mayor John Biggs not finding time for a meeting…….surely he could have given up a lunch break on one of his busy days? His disinterest is yet another bad omen.

  3. November 10, 2019

    Appalled, but sadly not surprised, at the action (and inaction) of Tower Hamlets council. The way that the rich and diverse community of Whitechapel have been united and galvanised by this cause is the only upside.

    London is not a theme park. Destroying piecemeal the things like the Bell Foundry that make it live and breathe, that fuel the distinct, historic character of the place, as well as being intrinsically wrong, will backfire. A city saturated with twee boutique hotels, invariably staffed by low paid workers who can’t afford to live anywhere near, is a dead and rotting place.

    Thanks and good wishes to all campaigners.


  4. Jill Wilson permalink
    November 10, 2019

    Quite agreed!

    Historic England and the Mayor should be feeling extra ashamed of themselves!!

  5. November 10, 2019

    I have American friends who are fascinated by the English tradition of bells who would want to visit as tourists; properly marketed the sheer tourist volume would make it viable as well as the continued need for church bells to be repaired and recast.

  6. mlaiuppa permalink
    November 10, 2019

    “The planning regulations for Change of Use for industrial premises are precise. Firstly, the owner must prove that the previous use is no longer viable. There is no evidence of this with the Whitechapel Bell Foundry. Secondly, the owner must prove that no-one wanted to buy the premises and continue the previous use. In this case, UK Historic Building Preservation Trust offered to buy the foundry to run it as a working foundry before the sale went through to Raycliff. Thirdly, the owner must market the property for a year seeking a company to continue the previous use. Raycliff have not done this.”

    That is grounds for a lawsuit. You need to band together, find a lawyer and tie this up in the courts. There also needs to be a lot of media on it. It needs to be televised and in major papers.

    Both Raycliff and Tower Hamlets should not be shown in a good light. Seems to me there may be grounds for collusion between the two due to ignoring due process and planning regulations.

    Mayor of Tower Hamlets, John Biggs needs to lose his place. If this is an elected position you need to find someone to run against him and win. Likewise anyone else on the council that seems to be in collusion with Biggs and Raycliff. Make a “hit list” of those who you plan to challenge for the next election. Then follow through and recruit and run your own candidates to challenge every single one of them. You need to let every person on Tower Hamlets know that their position will be challenged at the next election and all of you will make sure that they lose to that challenger.

    That is what gets the attention of these people.

    If these are appointed positions, you need to go higher, to whoever is doing the appointments and let them know that *they* are going to lose their position at the next election. Then make it happen.

    You’re fighting money and you don’t have any. But you have manpower. You have 2,000 people that signed your petition. That is 2,000 voters. 780 letters of support. That is 780 people. You have 21,000 people around the world that would be willing to contribute to a fund to support your candidates in an election bid to take over the Tower Hamlets Council. You likely could generate even more. There are some things money can’t buy. Votes is one of them. You can use that power to amplify your voices. “If you do this, you will not win your next election. We will see to it.” But in order to have the power of persuasion, they will have to be convinced that you mean what you say and can actually do it. Without the follow-through, it is an empty threat. They need to believe so that the next time you rally for your cause, they have reason to fear what you will do to them if their vote displeases you. The message must be sent to the developers. Hands off or you’ll be sorry.

    Controlling the Tower Hamlet Council is job one.

    You might also look into undercutting Raycliff. They aren’t funding this project themselves. They will need bank loans. Banks have all sorts of depositors. Convince some of the big ones to move banks because that bank is loaning to Raycliff and the bank will notice. Send the word to all of the residents of White Chapel. This is the bank funding Raycliff. If you use this bank, move your funds to a competitor and tell that bank why you are taking your business elsewhere. If you can cut off Raycliff’s loans, they’ll hurt. Then you can try to get vendors and suppliers to shun Raycliff. If you do business with Raycliff, the residents of White Chapel will no longer patronize your business. If you have union workers convince those unions not to work on Raycliff’s project. The list goes on. Make it really painful so that not only Raycliff feels it but that all of the others wishing to do the same think twice before invoking your ire and taking you on. As unpleasant as it is, make yourself into an enemy no one wants. Until you can send the “hands off, look elsewhere” message to all with eyes on your community, you will be fighting this fight over and over.

    How goes the Mulberry tree?

  7. November 10, 2019

    Shameful attitude by the council.

  8. Nicola Johnson permalink
    November 10, 2019

    I’m with you one hundred per cent GA. I hope Tower Hamlets will listen.

  9. Stephen Swift permalink
    November 10, 2019

    Laws are laws! Rules are rules! The Council obviously wants to wave through the hotel development. It’s excellent that the campaigners are using the rules to keep the Council’s feet to the fire! More power to your collective elbows!

  10. G.E. Stinson permalink
    November 10, 2019

    thank you for sharing this story. it is very inspiring that you and many others are willing to fight to preserve the bell foundry. much support and respect to those folks who are trying save the wonderful old buildings, businesses, and culture of their community.

  11. Jill Wilson permalink
    November 10, 2019

    Wow – powerful and inspiring words from mlaiuppa…

  12. Mary G permalink
    November 10, 2019

    I agree wholeheartedly with the all the comments.
    Tower Hamlets Council should be utterly ashamed of themselves. This is yet another example of politicians ignoring the fact that they are there to do the bidding of the electorate, and in this case the electorate has spoken loud and clear.
    It is blatantly obvious that there are deals being made behind closed doors by amongst others, the council and Historic England.
    I think if Tower Hamlet Council approves this development then a a judicial review is needed.

  13. November 10, 2019

    If Tower Hamlets Councillors are stupid enough to approve the scheme I hope you will initiate crowdfunding to finance a Judicial Review. There’s a very good case to be made since, as you so eloquently state, proper procedures have not been followed in this case.

  14. November 11, 2019

    I Hope They Win!! Good Luck!!!??????

  15. November 14, 2019

    Thought I’d left a supportive comment yesterday, but all good luck & just sorry that I can’t get to Town Hall this evening, bests

  16. Allan permalink
    January 26, 2020

    I was very sad to learn of the closure of the Whitechapel Bell Foundry, and angered by the indifference of the council to its fate. Shame on them.

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