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Campaign launched to stop Whitechapel Bell Foundry being turned into a hotel

PUBLISHED: 10:03 11 February 2019 | UPDATED: 12:52 12 February 2019

The Queen during a visit to Whitechapel Bell Foundry in 2009. Pic: Adrian Dennis/PA Wire]

The Queen during a visit to Whitechapel Bell Foundry in 2009. Pic: Adrian Dennis/PA Wire]

PA Wire/PA Photos

Some of the British art worlds biggest names have today spoken out against an American business mogul's plan to turn the historic Whitechapel Bell Foundry into a hotel.

How the planned hotel could look. Picture: 31/44 ArchitectsHow the planned hotel could look. Picture: 31/44 Architects

An application to transform the building where Big Ben and Philadelphia’s Liberty Bell were made into a 108-bed boutique hotel with museum, artist space and workshop was submitted to Tower Hamlets Council last week.

But campaigners and politicians, backed by V&A director Dr Tristram Hunt, Sir Antony Gormley and BBC art historian Dan Cruickshank, have branded US businessman Bippy Siegal’s idea “unthinkable”.

They are supporting a rival bid by the United Kingdom Historic Building Preservation Trust (UKHBP), which wants to buy back the site at market price and maintain it as a full working foundry.

The campaign is lobbying politicians and encouraging residents to object to the application.

Whitechapel Bell Foundry dates back to 1570 and closed in 2017. Pic: Isabel InfantesWhitechapel Bell Foundry dates back to 1570 and closed in 2017. Pic: Isabel Infantes

Dr Hunt said the foundry must be kept to “enrich the cultural presence and attract national, regional and international interest” in the area.

“The re-established Whitechapel Bell Foundry would add significantly to the creative offer in East London,” he added.

“As the V&A East establishes a presence at Stratford, we would welcome the opportunity to promote the Whitechapel-based art and bell foundry. Combining traditional skills with innovative technology and the offer of apprenticeship and further training in this specialised field.”

Mr Cruickshank said: “The Whitechapel Foundry is a landmark. Bells cast at the foundry have sounded in cities around the world for hundreds of years. The existing buildings deserve the highest level of protection.”

The foundry opened in 1570 and was Britain’s oldest manufacturing business until its closure two years ago when fourth-generation bell founder Alan Hughes and his wife Kathryn sold the site to US developer Raycliff.

The family, who have backed the hotel plan, continue to make Whitechapel Bells at a site outside of London.

31/44 Architects, the firm behind the new scheme, insist that a workshop, public cafe and artist spaces will occupy the Grade II-listed original foundry building and a six-storey hotel with a restaurant will lie on the 1980s extension at the back of the site.

Industrial company the Westley Group and Poplar-based AB Fine Art have also come on board to ensure there is still a small working foundry on site, which will produce hand bells.

Will Burges from 31/44 Architects said: “The project that has emerged is complex and has been assembled with great care. We find ourselves as the architects of a public foundry and arts facility in a listed building as well as for a significant new hotel development next door. Both buildings are focused on sustaining heritage and legacy of this globally significant site.”

Raycliff founder Bippy Siegal added: “We all feel a strong responsibility to deliver a plan which sustains these amazing buildings and continues the atmosphere of craft and creation held in the foundry for so many years.”

But campaigners argue that 90 per cent of the foundry business will disappear if the plans are approved.

UKHBP trustee Stephen Clarke said: “We are stepping up our campaign to keep the foundry as it should be. We have a viable and profitable plan to keep a working foundry on the site.

“It’s unthinkable that 90 per cent of this historic business could disappear and be replaced by a hotel.”

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