APRIL 2017

UK’s oldest manufacturing company has cast its final tower bells at its Whitechapel Road site

Britain’s oldest manufacturing company cast its last batch of tower bells on 22nd March at the East London premises it has occupied since 1738. Having been established in the Whitechapel area since 1570, the company has produced some of the world’s most famous bells including Big Ben, the original Liberty Bell and the peal of bells which rang on the Herald Barge for the Queen’s Diamond Jubilee River Pageant.

The foundry has been owned by the Hughes family since 1904. After years of struggling against economic pressures and the high cost of maintaining the listed premises, current directors, Alan and Kathryn Hughes, have taken the decision to sell the premises and to redistribute the business in order to ensure the continuation of its products into the future. Both in the UK and worldwide, the demand for church bells has declined year on year while the costs of employment and keeping up with manufacturing legislation and insurances have continued to rise. The buildings are in need of extensive upgrading, with estimated costs upwards of £8m.

Alan Hughes said “It was with a heavy heart that we decided last November that we would have to end bell production at the Whitechapel site. Current commercial reality meant that a viable business could not be continued in its present form operating from a location which has really been unsuitable for the industrial process of bell making for many years. In recent years the area in which we are located has changed from commercial use to almost entirely residential use. New developments now in the process of being built adjacent to our site will give us neighbours who would find difficulties with our industrial output and noise. A much changed road network adjacent to the buildings makes it almost impossible for large vehicles to access our premises for loading and unloading”.

Our buildings. We have taken a difficult decision in deciding to sell the site, but we are very pleased that the protection of its features will be assured by its Grade II* Listing and that the sale has been made to a buyer who is committed to respecting this historic status and bringing the buildings back into good repair.

Our products. The continuation of the Whitechapel Bell Foundry name and the unique sound and shape of our bells are assured for the future. Whitechapel tower bells will in future be cast by Westley Group Ltd.

Whites of Appleton Ltd, Church Bell Hangers, a company with whom the Whitechapel Bell Foundry has worked closely for 197 years, has purchased the pattern equipment to continue making Whitechapel components. Whites have also purchased a new tuning machine which, with continuing expert consultancy from Whitechapel, will enable them to offer a high standard of tuning to Church bells.

Whitechapel musical handbells and the supplies of supporting music and accessories will be available to purchase from Bells of Whitechapel Ltd, along with the entire range of Whitechapel presentation bells, door bells, bracket bells and ships bells, all of which will continue to be cast and finished in London.

Our records. The bell foundry archives are contracted to the London Metropolitan Archives, where they will be conserved and catalogued. They will remain the property of the Whitechapel Bell Foundry Ltd, and will be made available to the public for research, which was not possible whilst they were at the Whitechapel premises.

Our artefacts. We are particularly pleased that the very last tower bell to be cast at the Whitechapel site is for the Museum of London, to which the foundry is donating many artefacts including old machinery, items to provide a display about bell manufacture and items that the foundry has in its possession pertaining to the making of Big Ben. This will ensure a lasting legacy for the public to visit and enjoy when the museum moves to its new home in Smithfield.


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December 1999:
Items For Sale
The 2014 Ringing Roadshow
Whitechapel Becomes Malmark UK Representative
New Online Shop
The Olympic Bell
All The Bells
The Diamond Jubilee, a Royal Visit, and a Summer of Bells
Ovingham - Church of St. Mary the Virgin
Ecclesfield - Church of St. Mary
Whitechapel in the Snow
The Whitechapel Trophy
Wolsey's Bells
Royal Visit
Three Recent Installations (Stanion, Londal Castle, Harefield)
The 2008 Ringing Roadshow
Big Ben - the 150th Anniversary
Quebec: Holy Trinity
Government Seeks Whitechapel Help
New Cathedral Ring for Alabama
WBF Wins Best Family Business Award
Whitechapel and A Passion for Churches
Report on 2005 Ringing Roadshow
Three Decades of Charlie Smith
Ringing at the Royal Northern
100 Years of the Hughes Family at WBF
Lord Mayor Opens WBF Shop Extension
Report on Ringing Roadshow, 2003
Ringing Roadshow, 2003
New York: The 9-11 Bell Dedication
The 1881 Libel Case
Casting the 9-11 Bell
Another Liberty Bell
A Big Wheel
Open Day 2001 (with photos)
Historic Finds at the Foundry
Open Day 2000 (with photos)
Masham and the Millennium

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