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
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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