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Rallying call to save Whitechapel Bell Foundry as preservation campaign hots up

PUBLISHED: 12:21 10 September 2019 | UPDATED: 13:48 10 September 2019

East End Preservation Society's Jill Wilson handing out wood cut-outs in campaign to save bell foundry. Picture: Mike Brooke

East End Preservation Society's Jill Wilson handing out wood cut-outs in campaign to save bell foundry. Picture: Mike Brooke

Mike Brooke

The community rallied round to save the historic Whitechapel bell foundry at a packed protest meeting led by historian Dan Cruikshank and Tower Hamlets councillors.

TV's architectural historian Dan Cruikshank leading the fight to save the bell foundry. Picture: Mike BrookeTV's architectural historian Dan Cruikshank leading the fight to save the bell foundry. Picture: Mike Brooke

The protesters trying to stop developers turning the ancient site into a themed "boutique" hotel have won a breather after the council put back the planning application which had been due to be head next week.

That gives campaigners the time to force a debate at September 18's full council meeting with their 2,000-name petition calling for a viable alternative to reopen the site as a working foundry.

The council had been caught in a legal minefield because a debate would have prejudiced the planning hearing the following day.

But the protest meeting held at the East London Mosque vowed to get the council debate for a local heritage preservation order which they believe would block the hotel scheme.

Cllr Ehtasham Haque... calling for Cllr Ehtasham Haque... calling for "mass gathering to save this historic gem". Picture: Mike Brooke

Protesters and councillors are thinking of a mass demo at Whitechapel's Altab Ali Park and even calling for a council compulsory purchase order.

"A mass gathering would show our commitment to save this historic gem," Cllr Ehtasham Haque told the East London Advertiser at last night's protest meeting.

"There are alternatives to a hotel. The mayor should consider a CPO to save our heritage and preserve the bell foundry for good. The council can take a decision and respond to the petition."

The hotel application was no longer on the agenda for September 19's town hall planning panel, it is understood.

Whitechapel Bell Foundry in its heyday. Picture: East End Preservation SocWhitechapel Bell Foundry in its heyday. Picture: East End Preservation Soc

But the petition for a council debate might still be in doubt as there is a live planning application.

TV's architectural historian Dan Cruikshank told the protest meeting how the bell foundry that was started in 1570 has significance as "the longest continuous manufacturing company in the history of the world".

He added: "The idea that such an important place could be replaced by a boutique hotel on our doorstep is not appropriate.

"The bell foundry wasn't a parody or a fake—it was real, with working craftsmen, a centre of manufacturing at the heart of Whitechapel which gave identity to the whole area.

Dan Cruikshank... Dan Cruikshank... "We have duty of stewardship to fight to save the bell foundry." Picture: Mike Brooke

"We have a duty of stewardship not to let this go without fighting. The bell foundry can be made to work, given a chance."

The campaign is led by the East End Preservation Society which joined forces with the East London Mosque to promote an alternative for a working foundry and centre for artists and apprenticeships.

This alternative scheme has been drawn up by UK Historic Building Preservation Trust and the Factum Foundation.

Dr John Boran, an engineer metallurgist from Limehouse who first visited the foundry as a student at Cass College in Aldgate, believed that the equipment had been removed by the previous owners when the foundry closed in 2017 and asked if it was feasible to continue casting at Whitechapel.

Engineer and metallurgist Dr John Boran, campaigner at the packed meeting to save the bell foundry. Picture: Mike BrookeEngineer and metallurgist Dr John Boran, campaigner at the packed meeting to save the bell foundry. Picture: Mike Brooke

But the Preservation Trust which wants to buy the site from the developer is proposing to install up-to-date machinery to ensure the East End retains "one of the finest craft facilities in the world".

Bethnal Green and Bow MP Rushanara stepped into the ring last week calling on the planning authority to "think again" before agreeing to the hotel plan.

She said in a statement to the Advertiser: "The foundry is one of the East End's most treasured institutions, going back to the 16th century. We must not let it be lost forever."

Raycliff Capital which bought the foundry site after it stopped operations two years ago insists it would be "reinstated" in the hotel lobby. The hotel itself would be where the unlisted 1980s extension is, if they get the go-ahead from the council.

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