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The Fate Of The Whitechapel Bell Foundry

November 15, 2019
by the gentle author

Geoffrey Chaucer wrote of bell casting to the east of the City of London when he lived above the gatehouse in Aldgate and the earliest record of bell founding in Whitechapel is 1360. Yet last night a decision was made by Tower Hamlets Council which could draw this noble foundry history to an end after seven centuries in this place.

I arrived at the Town Hall for the meeting to decide the fate of the Whitechapel Bell Foundry with a sense of foreboding and unfortunately this was not dispelled. It was obvious something was amiss when the international petition of over 20,000 people to save the foundry, another of over 2000 residents of the borough and 780 letters of objection to the hotel proposal were passed over by the planning officer in the blink of an eye. Instead, careful attention was paid to the points raised in the five letters of support received for the bell-themed boutique hotel proposal for the foundry.

The emphasis throughout was on how the hotel scheme guaranteed the preservation of the listed eighteenth-century buildings, while the most significant heritage asset – that of the foundry usage itself – was dismissed as having being extinguished when it shut two years ago. As if a theatre is no longer a theatre when a play is not being performed.

Bippy Siegel, the New York plutocrat who bought the foundry to redevelop it as a hotel, sat in the council chamber presiding as his silver-tongued minions played their roles to deliver his desired outcome. Bippy recently bought a stake in the Soho House chain and this Whitechapel development with its rooftop swimming pool has all the characteristics of a Soho House property.

In Bippy’s first proposal, the foundry buildings were to become restaurants and bars. But when this attracted public objections and UK Historic Building Preservation Trust published their alternative proposal for a revitalised foundry, he amended his scheme to include some of the elements of the UKHBPT scheme. His second application deliberately played down the boutique hotel and played up ‘re-instating the foundry.’ In this version, the new hotel is separate at the back of the site and the front buildings become creative workshops with a coffee shop overlooking a small foundry.

Yet Councillor Leema Qureshi spoke for many when she said, ‘I am not convinced by the benefits of the Raycliff scheme. The history is going to be wiped out.’

Bearing in mind UKHBPT’s award-winning track record at Middleport Pottery which has led the regeneration of Stoke, she asked if Bippy’s company, Raycliff, had undertaken any projects of this nature before. The council adviser informed her that this question was not relevant to the application in front of them, but I believe the answer is that Raycliff are solely in the hotel, restaurant and hospitality business.

It would not be hard for Raycliff – once their hotel tower is built – to revert to their original plan of absorbing the foundry buildings into the hotel, using these spaces for bars, restaurants and a private members’ club. And by then, it will be too late for anyone to object and the opportunity of continuation of real foundry usage in Whitechapel will be gone forever.

Some attention was paid by the councillors to the UKHBPT/Factum Foundation scheme to continue a proper working foundry and it was queried why they had not submitted their own planning application if there were really serious. Yet UKHBPT/FF want to continue the previous use and therefore require no planning permission.

The debate over the issue of Optimum Viable Use grew rather convoluted, starting from the unproven position that the previous use was no longer viable because the foundry shut in 2017 and concluding that Raycliff’s proposal is the Optimum Viable Use because it is ready to go and it protects the building.

Yet Councillor Dan Tomlinson made the most important statement of the evening when he said, ‘If we approve this now and we don’t give attention to the people who are proposing an alternative scheme, then we have missed that opportunity forever.’

It was like watching the execution of an innocent man where everyone agreed that – bearing in mind the lack of evidence – the most prudent option was to execute him anyway because the noose was ready and it ensured there could be no future harm.

They voted three against and three in favour, with the chairman using his casting vote to approve it. Then the council chamber broke up in disorder.

In fact, while the Planning Consent had been voted on and approved, the Listed Building Consent had not been voted on by the committee. In the uproar, Chairman Abdul Mukit had a brief discussion with the council advisor about whether they should assume the result was the same for both the Planning Consent and the Listed Building Consent. Astonishingly, they agreed to do so without this vote even taking place.

I walked to the station with Nigel Taylor who worked at the Whitechapel Bell Foundry for forty years. ‘It does not end here,’ he declared to me in exasperation, before running for his train.

Campaigners at the Town Hall photographed by Sarah Ainslie

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50 Responses leave one →
  1. nightsmusic permalink
    November 15, 2019

    So angry and so heartbroken to hear this. I am however, not really surprised unfortunately. Always in search of the almighty dollar, the powers that be are willing to wipe our history from the earth if it will put another penny in their pocket. 🙁

  2. November 15, 2019

    Just hideous. Carnage, Betrayal. Don’t know how those TH councillors sleep at night. Hope it does not end here. What a tale of neglect, inc governmental pride.

    So sad.

  3. November 15, 2019

    So sad. Money buys people and votes. Shame on those who have approved this deal. Valerie

  4. Jill Wilson permalink
    November 15, 2019

    Your analogy of the innocent man being executed because the noose was ready is spot on.

    The fight goes on…

  5. November 15, 2019

    How sad. All you would expect from a council run by Big!
    Fight on!

  6. Lee Cooper permalink
    November 15, 2019

    I would like to thank everyone involved for their passion and time in trying to save this historic part of London history -too many buildings have been lost to the heartless developers where their world is governed by money and greed – good luck in the fight to save The Whitechapel Bell Foundry.


  7. Jeanette Hollick permalink
    November 15, 2019

    This is a shameful disgrace and I hope it doesn’t end here.

  8. Anne Candler permalink
    November 15, 2019

    This morning was the first time I read the email’The Fate of the Whitechapel Bell Foundry, having seen earlier and wondered why it was there.
    Utter disbelief and shock to think ANYONE would want to get rid of this landmark.

    This place on the corner there, I passed for years on my way to work and home again, all hours of the night, but this was the landmark for me.

    Come on all you Healers out there, and all the Love we can All muster from the Universe to save this meaningful, historical little corner of London.

  9. Greg Tingey permalink
    November 15, 2019

    That is so obviously a corrupt stsitch-up.
    I wonder who recieved some nice brown envelopes?

    Judicial Review?
    Planning Appeal?

    LOTS more publicity

  10. November 15, 2019

    Disgraceful. What are the possibilities for an appeal? I’m more than happy to donate if funds are needed.

  11. November 15, 2019

    WTF? Can this be right? Or legal?

  12. Eve McBride permalink
    November 15, 2019

    This is a travesty – shame on Tower Hamlets for allowing this one through and for ignoring the public concensus of opinion and the passion to try and save this unique piece of Whitechapel’s history. How can five letters of support compete against more than 2,000 objections?! Something is very wrong here.

  13. November 15, 2019

    Shameful casting vote.
    Money and greed have won for the moment. The “noose” may be ready ….but it hasn’t been tightened. The fight goes on….we are all behind you GA.

  14. Mike Shingleton permalink
    November 15, 2019

    Utterly shameful. I grew up in the North-East at the time of John Poulson and T Dan Smith and their corrupt vision of ‘progress’.

    I hope it is for that – and only that – I doubt the honesty of Tower Hamlets Councillors who have approved this ‘development’.

  15. November 15, 2019

    I think we must see this as a minor setback but not final. The TH chair of planning must be the most unpopular person in London and beyond today. We need to regroup and fight this decision tenaciously. As a member of the Islington Society committee I will make sure we will support you. As someone who has taught in schools close the foundry and director of Collaborative Learning I will update our history resource on the Whitechapel Road next week. As a erstwhile bellringer who came to the foundry to see our cracked bell recast when I was seventeen I will look forward to coming back to see the bells cast again in the Whitechapel Foundry.

  16. November 15, 2019

    I am so sorry , I had hopes. Please, don’t give up. As we say in Spain, ¡ánimo!

  17. November 15, 2019

    This is a historic landmark for not only Londoners, but the whole of the United Kingdom. We must save the bell foundary at what ever cost. Preservation is key, so future generations can not only appreciate this integral part of the East End, but how the company played a pivotal role with regards to many famous bell chimes in London and further a field.

  18. simon permalink
    November 15, 2019

    “As if a theatre is no longer a theatre when a play is not being performed”. perfect summary of the sad, sad situation. it’s all about the money

  19. November 15, 2019

    Gutted but waiting for the next steps and racking my brains re who to write to. I think highlighting the alarming conduct of the meeting yesterday, somehow and somewhere, has to be done.

    Thanks to those councillors supporting the campaign who actually behaved democratically.

  20. Buzz St Clair McCarthy permalink
    November 15, 2019

    I’m shocked and disappointed that this magnificent piece of British heritage is to be lost.

  21. shirley moodie permalink
    November 15, 2019

    this is SO heart-breaking! The foundry is vital to our nation’s heritage and to it’s community’s history.

    The current generation seems unable to wake up and realise the carnage that they are bringing to their past, and thus the losses to their own future.
    It seems too late to fix the damage. We live in an age of shallow-minded celebrities, buffoons and blind stupidity.

    Is there no review or further challenge possible?

  22. Pat permalink
    November 15, 2019

    I am horrified that these people should even consider destroying this wonderful London History.

  23. Janice P permalink
    November 15, 2019

    Hopefully not a total fait accompli. Great, thorough account. Makes me very sad but I won’t lose hope.

  24. Dain Keating permalink
    November 15, 2019

    Something is very wrong here – shame on Tower Hamlets. Although really no surprise…… Is there anything that can be done? Am nowhere near Whitechapel to physically help, but happy to donate towards a fighting fund.

  25. Linda Granfield permalink
    November 15, 2019

    Shaking my head at this report .

    It’s enough to make me think Joseph Merceron rose from the grave to guide these vision-less people, to take his share of the takings passed about?

    Make that ‘Save the Whitechapel Bell Foundry’ logo into a FLAG that will flap noisily from every East End window, and in the faces of those who build their own ugly future.


  26. Garrick Davis permalink
    November 15, 2019

    Such a gut wrenching, blinkered response to an inspiring, informative, grassroots campaign to save this business and landmark.

    Another shortsighted and shameful example of the processes which keep skilled craftsmen and
    women endangered.

  27. Su C. permalink
    November 15, 2019

    I had hopes to wake this morning to find the Foundry saved. Thank you all for your efforts. I can’t understand how they can agree a vote that was never cast stands. Criminal.

    How do they sleep?

  28. November 15, 2019

    Grimness personified. Thank you for your detailed writing, campaigning and for bringing this to our attention.

  29. Mary G permalink
    November 15, 2019

    A complete whitewash! This outcome was fixed from the very start and there has been many a political palm greased during the process.
    THIS NEEDS A JUDICIAL REVIEW (always assuming the judiciary are not in the pockets of big business as well).
    Now is the time to start shedding light on the corruption and those responsible in this sordid mess. The corruption goes right to the top of Government, as Historic England is merely a department of the Department for Culture, Media and Sport. Very interesting reading to be had on the Historic England website in the document “Conduct Guidance for Historic England Commissioners” under “Rules We Follow”. Seems they do not practice what they preach. Let us see who will be appointed as Secretary of State for this Government Dept post-election and then perhaps we need to inundate his/her email box with complaints.
    In the meantime perhaps GA would name the councillors responsible for approving the Raycliff application so the good folk of Tower Hamlets can demand some accountability, and perhaps bear in mind the councillors’ voting preferences when they seek re-election.
    Does anyone know any TV producers, as uncovering the truth would be very interesting and very much in the public interest?
    Pperhaps we could flog off the Tower of London to the highest bidder, after all, it is no longer being used as a prison! Bippy Siegal would be first in the queue!

  30. Charlotte H. permalink
    November 15, 2019

    Sadness. I have loved reading about the Bell Foundry’s work. I have cheered on the work done by you and others to save this heritage craft and building. Kudos to you all; your determination has been inspiring, and thus your work has not been in vain. Perhaps this latest decision will prove but one battle lost that will lead to future victories.

  31. Daphne Steele permalink
    November 15, 2019

    What more can I add to all the above, as they express everything that I and so many others feel, especially I regret to say regarding brown envelopes. Councillors are elected to serve the borough not destroy something that is not only the heritage of Tower Hamlets but of London and the whole country, and replace it with totally unnecessary eyesore.
    We have to keep fighting and not lie down and accept this- hopefully plans are being drawn up for further action especially legal. I am keeping my bell to hand !!!

  32. Amanda permalink
    November 15, 2019

    When/if the ‘members only ‘club opens, may be interesting to look at the members list.

    “Mialuppa ‘wrote an excellent strategy on yesterday’s post for keeping up the next stages of the battle.

  33. Michael Guida permalink
    November 15, 2019

    Oh, that’s rubbish. Must keep on fighting.

    Who voted for and against?

  34. bob permalink
    November 15, 2019

    Stitch up……. but the first battle in a war may often be lost before the war is eventually won. Good luck to everyone for their endeavours.

  35. November 15, 2019

    Why in this country are we so much worse at preserving what is special in our heritage than, for example, the French, the Italians or the Spanish? Have we no sense of the importance of history? Must the greedy developers nearly always win? I find it sad to be growing old in a country where civilisation appears to be in decline and in which the wreckers and Philistines in local government and elsewhere have command of the field and ignore the wishes of the community they are supposed to serve.

  36. November 15, 2019

    I am so sorry to learn of this news.
    I understand that the development was only approved by the chair’s deciding vote.
    I hope the chair understands what their vote has done; its robbed the area (and London) of some very valuable history.

  37. mlaiuppa permalink
    November 15, 2019

    I’m telling you you need lawyers. Ideally pro-bono ones but with passion and some experience.

    There is obviously some corruption and graft going on here.

    But more obviously procedures were not followed. They can’t just assume a vote on the Listed Building Consent would be the same and pass on it. While I’m not familiar with the laws governing this body or the UK my gut tells me that is ILLEGAL and that alone grounds for a lawsuit.

    More importantly, as you pointed out in a previous post, many legal procedures and rules were not followed.

    It is like there was a behind the scenes deal going and this was just window dressing to an already decided outcome.

    You need lawyers, or barristers. Not sure what they are over there. But this decision needs to go to the courts and every violation of procedure needs to be brought forth.

    While that is happening, you also need to take a proactive stance and find candidates to run against and replace every member of that board that is in the pocket of the developers, especialyl the Chair. You can tell who they are from the votes of this and previous decisions. I think you’ll find it is the same people voting to hand over your heritage to developers over and over. You need to put YOUR people on the council.

    Petitions and marches are all well and good for the media but they have no impact on the people in power. As you saw, five letters in support got all of the attention while the 780 opposed were ignored. The petitions are pretty useless as it’s just pages of names. I’ve been down this road. Those are great visuals for the media when you’re interviews on the nightly news but have no impact on the decision-makers. This decision was already made. Follow the money and you’ll find connections between the developers and those on this council that consistently vote against the best interests of the community. Once you establish those connections you’ll be able to put forth that all of their decisions are tainted with bias towards the developers. Look for a quid pro quo.

    So you need some very good research but more immediately you need a lawyer/barrister to file a motion, appeal or whatever it is you do in the UK to appeal this decision and stop it from moving forward. You need to act fast. Like within 24 hours.

  38. Kate permalink
    November 15, 2019

    I’ve been dreading reading this news. This can’t be the end.

  39. November 15, 2019

    A travesty of democracy and historical and cultural vandalism. Can an appeal against the decision be lodged? It mustn’t end here….

  40. November 16, 2019

    Fight on!

  41. Richard permalink
    November 16, 2019

    Can’t help but think that councils up and down the country are filled with this level of incompetence. As if there aren’t enough exclusive hotels in London.

  42. November 16, 2019

    Sydney,Australia,1970. Green bans and the part played in saving historic Sydney from what is now known as brutalist development.
    I feel that the campaign to save the bell foundry has been too nice. Bippy Seigal doesn’t give a tinkers damn about the history,he only sees a cash flow opportunity in a city already full of such places. So he will do as he has done already ,to throw bulk money at the blockage until the way is clear.
    Here’s an article on how Sydney unionists got together to fight off several large ,well moneyed building firms to prevent the historic buildings in Sydney from being demolished and replaced with brutalist scabs of concrete.
    The Save campaign has to get ugly if they are to save thuis building and do not trust the courts et al to fight with you,money in their pocket is already speaking louder than you are.
    Where is your gofundme account? your twitter and FB campaign?
    If you do not consider them to be a viable way to fight this,look at president Trump and see how effective it is .

    Add to this , the actual wiping of political pages by twitter and FB to prevent those with a conservative political view to alter voting patterns in various countries should also indicate just how powerful the effect of social media is.
    What I see in the pictures is a step so worn over time that it has a dish worn into it, and just like the old scottish joke about the doctors door step,it has already been turned over to use the unworn side . Bippy Seigal cares not a jot about this,only the dreams of euros coming into his disneyland idea of a hotel.

  43. November 16, 2019

    A sad day indeed when a hearing fails to look at alternative plans and ends the meeting so badly. History means little to these people. Even the great bells of the city don’t chime inside these folk. All they want is the business rate.
    Historic England appear to subscribe to a theme park view of what made London.

  44. Stephen Swift permalink
    November 16, 2019

    This makes me feel angry; all the way up in Dundee, Scotland!
    It’s as if people can smell the money and are ignoring the history. Short term gain over long term cultural significance.

  45. Khalil Goddard permalink
    November 16, 2019

    Brown envelopes stuffed with cash all round then

  46. Bill Brown permalink
    November 19, 2019

    History takes second place to money. ££££££££££££££

  47. Eric Miller permalink
    November 21, 2019

    It seems like Joseph Merceron is alive and well in Tower Hamlets

  48. November 29, 2019

    I agree with mlaiuppa, Mr Billy Siegel, and the councillors will ride roughshod over protesters. It’s lawyers that is needed to look into the legality of the voting system. Prince Charles made his famous comment on ‘Carbuncles’ being built in the City of London. It was Prince Charles’ great grandfather king George V who commissioned the Peace Bell to be made at the foundry at the end of WW1. It was a great privilege for my grandfather John Ethelbert Oliver to played his handbells to King George and Queen Mary when they went to see the Peace Bell before it was taken to be hung. It was also a great honour for my great, great grandfather George a Oliver to make the mould for the magnificent Big Ben Bell and to accompany it when it was taken be hung at Westminster sitting on the plinth that carried the bell drawn by a procession of horses. It was also Charles Oliver, George’s father who was the chief bell hanger for the foundry and worked closely with Thomas Mears. All this history to be demolished by the decision of Mr Abdul Mukit. Does he know anything at all about the foundry And does Mr Siegel, an American, know that the foundry made America’s famous Liberty Bell. Maybe someone should twitter President Trump to make him aware of this travesty. Linda McArdle

  49. Colin Brooking permalink
    January 15, 2020

    Hello, an initial holding order has been placed on that Planning Permission. So it bears saying more on why a Foundry team is important for this location, rather than a Cafe Bell Museum –

    There are grounds for the conservation and renewal of the Whitechapel Bell Foundry as a
    Foundry team with an expanded remit purposed for casting tower bells, clock bells, carillon
    and diverse public and exhibition sculptural pieces. A team of skilled people in this location also suits metropolitan-wide new pieces for the expanding creative studios, in addition to the repair and maintenance of numerous tower and clock bells in City churches, and parishes beyond across Surrey, Middlesex and the South-east; for not only the bells but also numerous tower structures which carry them.

    Moreover, an important part of such a Foundry team are the makers of tower frames to carry
    a set of bells. Structurally complex in their design, in relationship to church towers and steeples for example; traditionally of timber and latterly of mild steel universal beams. Such
    a number of these extant structures are best served by Foundry specialists who are familiar with bells and their installation, during inspection, repair and maintenance as well as new frame constructions.

    Facilities provided by such a diverse Foundry team and familiarity with tower frames, their
    repair and construction goes well beyond any Cafe Bell Museum provision, that such a Planning Application ought to be refused for loss of service to such a number of metropolitan bell
    towers and the alternative conservation and renewal of the Whitechapel Bell Foundry enabled to proceed. A conservation and renewal scheme is offered by the Factum Foundation and can
    represent an important return of diverse service to metropolitan bell towers (and beyond)
    with a foundry team purposed for a larger remit to creative studios and galleries across the GLA.

  50. Cecil permalink
    March 15, 2020

    This matter should be raised initially with the Monitoring Officer, as a complaint regarding the Chair’s failure to allow discussion and a proper vote as per Local Government Act 1972. The failure of the Chair to allow listed building consent to be properly gives the developers freehand. It also, no doubt, contravenes the Localism Act 2011 and the council’s own Code of Conduct.

    The meeting should be reconvened and a proper, legal vote taken.

    The Town and Country Planning Act 1990 and the Planning and Compensation Act 2004 are clear that requisite decisions are to be taken properly.

    Also worth referring to the Local Government Association guide “Probity in Planning” which identifies procedure as it should be followed in law.

    The complaint should be made to Tower Hamlets on the basis that the Councillors appear to be operating without reference to the law and governing principles.
    There is no reason not to do this.

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