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Clock ticks for future of Whitechapel bell foundry as planning inquiry opens on October 5

PUBLISHED: 18:02 29 September 2020 | UPDATED: 13:03 30 September 2020

Whitechapel bell foundry in its heyday. Picture: Charlotte Dew

Whitechapel bell foundry in its heyday. Picture: Charlotte Dew

Charlotte Dew

The long-awaited public inquiry into the future of the old Whitechapel Bell Foundry opens next week with two opposing camps fired up over controversial plans to convert it into a “boutique” hotel.

The Queen walks through foundry workshop at Whitechapel in March 2009 visit. Picture: Adrian Dennis/PA WireThe Queen walks through foundry workshop at Whitechapel in March 2009 visit. Picture: Adrian Dennis/PA Wire

Developers and protesters are facing off each other with petitions for and against to be heard during two weeks of planning hearings which start on October 5.

Conservationists led by the East End Preservation Society want to get “the oldest factory in the world” reopened as a working foundry and arts centre.

They sent a 2,000-name petition to Tower Hamlets Council last year, backed by MP Rushanara Ali, UK Historic Building Preservation Trust and the Factum Foundation with alternative proposals.

The developers, Raycliff Capital, have come back with a petition from 20 Whitechapel businesses they say support the hotel scheme.

How developers see Whitechapel foundry site of the future. Picture: RaycliffHow developers see Whitechapel foundry site of the future. Picture: Raycliff

“We want to provide evidence to dispute some of the misinformation being spread by the Re-Form opposition campaign,” the company said in a statement to the East London Advertiser.

“We have received support from 20 local businesses and have had 500 people join our campaign.”

The company has a deal with AB Fine Art and the Westley Group to run a foundry feature in the hotel and provide facilities for artisans.

But it faces a mass campaign to preserve the heritage site, led by historian Dan Cruikshank, which was launched at a public meeting last year at the East London Mosque.

Dan Cruickshank... Dan Cruickshank... "Idea that such important place could be replaced by 'boutique' hotel isn't appropriate." Picture: Mike Brooke

Their mass petition caught the town hall in a legal minefield last September because it would have triggered an open debate demanding heritage protection and compulsory purchase orders which would have prejudiced a council planning hearing the following day. Instead, the application had to be postponed, which led to the inquiry starting next week.

The bell foundry was established in 1570 and soon moved to the Whitechapel Road, “the longest continuous manufacturing company in the history of the world” until it closed in 2017, according to TV’s architectural historian Dan Cruickshank.

“The idea that such an important place could be replaced by a ‘boutique’ hotel on our doorstep isn’t appropriate,” Dan said at the time. “The bell foundry at the heart of Whitechapel gave identity to the whole area.”

The alternative scheme to the hotel is to buy the site from the developer and install up-to-date machinery to ensure Whitechapel retains “one of the finest craft facilities in the world”.

The Queen greeted by crows in Whitechapel at end of visit to bell foundry with Duke of Edinburgh in March, 2009. Picture: Adrian Dennis/PA WireThe Queen greeted by crows in Whitechapel at end of visit to bell foundry with Duke of Edinburgh in March, 2009. Picture: Adrian Dennis/PA Wire

The foundry was famous for casting Big Ben for the Houses of Parliament, Bow Bell in The City and the Liberty Bell in Philadelphia in the American colonies.

New York tycoon Bippy Siegal’s Raycliff Capital conglomerate which bought the site put forward the idea of a “reinstated” foundry attraction originally earmarked in the lobby as a tourist attraction, as reported at the time. The hotel itself would be housed in the unlisted 1980s extension—if the planning inquiry gives it the green light.


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