Re: Preserve the Bell Foundry (APP/E5900/V/20/3245430 & 32)
I am writing in support of the current planning application for the forthcoming public inquiry about the future of the Whitechapel Bell Foundry building. The applications’ proposals will not only bring the production of famous Whitechapel Bell Foundry® bells back to their iconic home after a 3 year absence, this mixed use scheme will also provide jobs for the local community and secure the future of the listed building.
I welcome the light refurbishment, which retains the listed building intact, with only very minor alterations. The café and display spaces will give free daily public access to the historic spaces for the first time, and an opportunity to witness the casting techniques in the foundry that was associated with the creation of Big Ben and the original Liberty Bell. Dedicated spaces will offer future generations an opportunity to learn about the history and heritage of bell founding. It will also accommodate creative workspaces and workshops, many of which will be at subsidised rents for the benefit of local artists, makers, and other creatives and businesses. The new hotel to be erected to the rear of the listed building will not impinge on any part of the historic Foundry and will provide much-needed local employment opportunities.
I note the London Borough of Tower Hamlets Council and Historic England have already given their approval for the proposed scheme.
Overall, I welcome the reuse of this listed building that will benefit local school children, the wider Whitechapel community and bring back the famous Whitechapel Bell Foundry® bells. I therefore urge the Secretary of State to grant consent.
The current owners, Raycliff, in partnership with AB Fine Art Foundry and the Westley Group (licensed by Whitechapel Bell Foundry Ltd, (“WBF Ltd”), have agreed to reinstate a bell and art foundry in the space of the former historic Foundry. This will focus on the production of smaller bells, including hand bells, using the same innovative casting techniques for the tower bells, but without creating the environmental issues that would arise from a full-scale bell foundry in Central London.
In addition to the reinstated foundry, the listed building will be lightly refurbished and reoccupied to accommodate a public café allowing (for the first time) public access to the historic building and offering a place to engage with the historic craft. Display spaces will be created throughout the public spaces using bells and other equipment from the original Bell Foundry. In addition, learning spaces to be constructed will enable new generations to learn about bell founding and the significance of the former Whitechapel Bell Foundry site.
The site on which new construction will take place, which is not listed or historically significant and is separate and apart from the historic Foundry, comprises a building from the 1980s and a vacant car park. This site will accommodate a hotel, public restaurant and bar spaces and additional workspace. Part of this site already has planning permission for a hotel mixed use scheme.
The development scheme will generate over 180 jobs, including local employment.
The application was called in by the Government. Despite support from the Government’s statutory bodies, Historic England and the London Borough of Tower Hamlets, Raycliff’s plans, therefore, and the continued viability of the original Foundry building, remain in peril.
Please fill in the form to urge the Secretary of State to approve the plans. We will send it to the planning inspector and add your name to our petition in support of the scheme.
Whitechapel Bell Foundry Ltd ceased manufacturing at the Whitechapel Road site in 2017. This was sadly inevitable with the decline in the demand for bells, along with excessive ongoing costs and a lack of funds to maintain and service the listed building and environmental constraints. The building was sold, and the company relocated to protect its future. Whitechapel Bell Foundry® bells are still being produced today.
Whitechapel Bells are still being produced today by foundries in the UK licensed by WBF Ltd. The famous company that made Big Ben and the original Liberty Bell still own all the pattern equipment and tooling for the manufacturing of tower bells, musical handbells, clock bells and small presentation bells as well as the company’s extensive archives. Its famous bells continue to be made through the Westley Group in Stoke on Trent, Bells of Whitechapel Ltd in Bromley, Kent and Whitechapel Handbells in Dartford, Kent.
Raycliff, in partnership with the Westley Group, plan to bring back the founding and production of the famous Whitechapel Bell Foundry® bells in conjunction with their other sites, with displays and interpretive spaces as part of a unique mixed-use refurbishment of the historic listed building. The traditional and proprietary art of WBF Ltd bell making will return, now with public access. Raycliff and the Westley Group will work alongside AB Fine Art, an internationally renowned art foundry already based in Tower Hamlets. Together they will form a unique combination, breathing exciting new life into the foundry once again. But unlike before, the public will also be able to witness the making process inside the characterful industrial spaces.
Once refurbished, the listed building will include a café, display and interpretative spaces, learning spaces, and workspaces for local artists and the creative industries. More specifically this refurbishment project means:
All of these benefits are tied into a s106 legal agreement, meaning that Raycliff will be legally bound to deliver them.
Education programmes are inherent in the existing operations of the AB Fine Art Foundry and the Westley Group. There is a strong commitment from these parties to devise suitable learning opportunities for members of the public, other professionals and school children on site.
AB Fine Art regularly host lectures and tours of their existing foundry in Tower Hamlets. They will continue this and expand on these operations at The Bell Foundry. The Westley Group also assisted in establishing the newly opened and only dedicated teaching foundry at the University of Wolverhampton. They aspire to use the space within the foundry to enhance these programmes.
The refurbished listed building will include space for school children to watch historic films and learn about the Whitechapel Bell Foundry plus other artistic/manufacturing techniques. A programme of events will be developed that will engage with the history of the site, current modern founding techniques and the activities of the resident artists.
There were 24 staff employed by Whitechapel Bell Foundry Ltd prior to its ceasing manufacture at the Whitechapel Road site. Of these, a handful were directly employed in the moulding and casting of bells, and only two employees lived locally. Most of the staff with specialist skills are now employed elsewhere in the bell industry, with many working closer to their homes, whilst seven members of the staff chose to retire.
The new proposal will generate 180 new jobs, including skilled labour jobs alongside service sector jobs associated with the hotel. Raycliff are fully committed to delivering local employment during construction. Raycliff are also looking at how apprenticeships in the bell industry can be developed to ensure the traditions and specialist skill set prospers and can be passed on to the next generation. These commitments are enshrined in the s106 legal agreement for the site.
The new café will be accessible and open for public access throughout the daytime. The spaces will be only very lightly refurbished to retain the character and atmosphere of the bell foundry. A new glazed screen will separate the cafe space from the working foundry – an opportunity to watch the activity in the foundry whilst having a coffee or eating lunch (ensuring safety and comfort from the sometimes hazardous activity within).
The cafe will also have an interpretation space with archive material and authentic mouldings from the original Bell Foundry. The café will be available for events in the evenings. It is envisaged that there will be a mix of private events alongside other public events accessible to all.
The café and other public areas on the ground floor in the Historic Foundry will act as a living interpretation space, enhanced through the display of loose equipment such as dies, cast iron copes and moulds and decorative presses. These will be placed back on site to ensure the building’s important history and its character can be appreciated by new generations. We are taking advice from historic building consultants on the best way to approach this.
The family that previously ran the site (for over 100 years) have generously offered to allow some of historic items from the old shop front, which remain in their possession, to be returned to the site, including artefacts, photos and plans.
As part of the interpretive story, the large casting pit within the Old Foundry will be opened up so that visitors will be able to look down into the ground and see the space where the original Liberty Bell was cast.
Most of the areas of the old Foundry will be free to visit during normal working hours. A strategy is being developed for the interpretation and ‘curation’ of the historic and atmospheric interiors without eroding their character.
A foundry shop will be located in the front of the Historic Foundry building. The shop will sell the famous Whitechapel Bell Foundry® bells. It will also provide the opportunity to sell other works created on site within the foundry, including art works made by AB Fine Art and the wider resident artistic community.
In order to make the restored building safe and accessible for the public and workers, the following changes are proposed:
To the rear of the original listed building are an unlisted and architecturally undistinguished extension and a car park/servicing area. Historic England have confirmed these are of no historical significance. They are unnecessary to the functioning of the refurbished Foundry and will be regenerated to accommodate: