The Gentle Author on the Whitechapel Bell Foundry

How you can save the Whitechapel Bell Foundry

In the East End, we are proud to have the Whitechapel Bell Foundry, the most famous bell foundry in the world. Dating from 1570, it is also Britain’s longest established business – although there is evidence that bells have been made in Whitechapel since 1363.

This was where Big Ben was cast, also the Liberty Bell, which became a focus for anti-slavery campaigners in America in the nineteenth century and, in our own time, the bell in the 9/11 commemorative garden in Manhattan was cast in Whitechapel.

It was a national tragedy in 2017 when the building was sold, the staff lost their jobs and the equipment was auctioned off. In June that year, the foundry changed hands, sold first by bell founders Alan & Kathryn Hughes for £5.1 million to East End property developer Vince Goldstein who resold it on the same day to Raycliff Capital, the company of the American plutocrat Bippy Siegal, for £7.9 million. Subsequently, Raycliff have acquired two additional sites at the rear of the bell foundry and plan to redevelop the entire location as an upmarket boutique hotelwith the foundry itself becoming a restaurant.

Now, the developers have submitted their application to Tower Hamlets council for a change of use from foundry to hotel and local residents get to have their say. Would you rather have the Whitechapel Bell Foundry converted into an upmarket hotel or would you rather it was a foundry, continuing a tradition of casting bells in Whitechapel that dates back to 1363?

A choice has to be made and Tower Hamlets council must establish which is the ‘optimum viable use’ – this is a term in planning law, which means the ideal purpose for a building. Since the Whitechapel Bell Foundry was built as a foundry and worked as a foundry for centuries, it is self-evident that this is the optimum viable use, not a boutique hotel.

United Kingdom Historic Building Preservation Trust (an independent charity under the founding patronage of His Royal Highness, The Prince of Wales) have announced a partnership with Factum Foundation (a global leader in the use of technology for the preservation of heritage and maker of sculptures for some of the world’s most famous artists). Together, they have the resources to save the Whitechapel Bell Foundry by buying the buildings off the developer at market value and re-open them as a foundry, re-equipped with up-to-date machinery, for the production of bells and art casting.

Unfortunately, recognising that there is a viable alternative to their boutique hotel proposal, Raycliff Capital have
appropriated the language of their rivals by claiming they are actually ‘reinstating a foundry,’ meaning that bell polishing will happen in the lobby of their hotel sometimes. The reality is they are reducing the foundry use by nearly 90%. In spite of this attempt to muddy the waters, I think the difference between a boutique hotel and a bell foundry is quite obvious.

You can help save the Whitechapel Bell Foundry as a living foundry for future generations by submitting an objection to the boutique hotel proposal to Tower Hamlets council.

Please take a moment to write your letter of objection. The more objections we can lodge the better, so please spread the word to your family and friends.

Use your own words and add your own personal reasons for opposing the development. Any letters which simply duplicate the same wording will count only as one objection.

1. Quote the application reference: PA/19/00008/A1

2. Give your full name and postal address. You do not need to be a resident of Tower Hamlets or of the United Kingdom to register a comment but unless you give your postal address your objection will be discounted.

3. Be sure to state clearly that you are OBJECTING to Raycliff Capital’s application.

4. Point out the ‘OPTIMUM VIABLE USE’ for the Whitechapel Bell Foundry is as a foundry not a boutique hotel.

5. Emphasise that you want it to continue as a foundry and there is a viable proposal to deliver this.

6. Request the council refuse Raycliff Capital’s application for change of use from foundry to hotel.

You can write an email to:
you can send a letter to:
Town Planning, Town Hall, Mulberry Place, 5 Clove Crescent, London, E14 2BG

The Gentle Author has a plethora of stories, history and images about life in Spitafields and writes a post every day. You can read them at
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Images © and courtesy of Charlotte Dew, Curator & Consultant, Museums /Galleries