In the spotlight
PUBLISHED: 17:19 05 April 2009 | UPDATED: 14:16 05 October 2010
With production dating back to 1570, the Whitechapel Bell Foundry is recognised as Britain s oldest manufacturing company. The foundry on Whitechapel Road continues to produce large bells for churches, castles and towers around the world, as well as smal
With production dating back to 1570, the Whitechapel Bell Foundry is recognised as Britain's oldest manufacturing company.
The foundry on Whitechapel Road continues to produce large bells for churches, castles and towers around the world, as well as small music or hand bells.
But the foundry is most famous for casting Big Ben for the Houses of Parliament and the Liberty Bell in Philadelphia.
As the Queen and Duke of Edinburgh visited the family business, we decided to put one of its craftsmen in the Spotlight.
Robert Hansen, 54, has been a draftsman at the foundry for 13 years, where he designs the structure which supports bells made for churches, towers and other buildings.
Where are you from?
I was born and brought up in Cardiff. In 1980, aged 26, I moved to Upton Park, where I still live with my American wife. Back then heavy industry was closing down in Wales, where I had been working for a steel company drafting stairways and gantries.
After moving to London I worked for Sainsbury where I would draw layouts for mechanical services devices such as lifting gear and cash tubes for checkout tills.
I've always been a draftsman or mechanical engineer, but here at the bell foundry I also design and maintain our website.
I'm often in the workshop, I don't just sit here in the drawing room. The workers sometimes need me to explain my drawings when making the bell girders.
The work of a draftsman has moved on to the computer, but the reason I got this job at the mature age of 40, was because I had started out on the drawing board.
We often have to bring out some very old drawings going back centuries when making girders for very old bells. The bells can last forever but it's often the structure holding them which has deteriorated over the years.
What do you like about the East End?
I like the Whitechapel Gallery, it's useful to have a major exhibition space on the doorstep to my workplace. I sometimes pop over there in my lunch hour.
I love the network of cycle ways and canal paths. It can be quite picturesque with secret hideaways. During the summer months I often cycle into work. I join the Greenway at Plaistow and cycle up past Three Mills before following the canal to Stepney. On my way home I take the back roads along Victoria Park and the Grand Union Canal before cutting back down towards Three Mills. The route can be a bit grotty and smelly in places but you pass some nice buildings.
What don't you like about the East End?
The noise and crowding. I moved to Upton Park because it was where I could afford to buy a house at the time. That would be different with today's house prices.
Where do you go if you are out up East?
I tend to go to the West End instead to have a look at the book shops, mainly in Charing Cross Road. The East End has become a desert when it comes to book shops, it used to have some good ones.
What do you do to relax?
Watch DVDs, read books or surf the net. I like thrillers and science fiction, typical guys' stuff, not Jane Austen. I look at science fiction groups on the net and political news, which I also like.
What are you doing this weekend?
A bit of DIY, putting up shelves and pottering around at home.