Opponents brand redevelopment plan for historic bell foundry a ‘travesty’

Controversial plans could see the former home of Britain’s oldest manufacturing company – a foundry that produced some of the world’s most famous bells – redeveloped to include an on-site hotel.

The Whitechapel Bell Foundry was established in East London in 1570 and is famed for making Big Ben and the Liberty Bell, the symbol of American independence.

But in 2017, owners Alan and Kathryn Hughes announced the closure of their Whitechapel Road foundry due to a “downturn in orders” and moved the operation elsewhere in the UK.

Now, a contentious planning application to turn part of the site into a 108-bed hotel is due to go before Tower Hamlets Council on Thursday.

New York Commemoration Bell
New York Commemoration Bell

The proposals, submitted by Raycliff Whitechapel LLP, an Oldham-based limited liability partnership, also seek to refurbish part of the Grade II* listed foundry to create new workshops and a cafe.

While the plans have been recommended for approval, 780 objections and two petitions against the scheme have been lodged with the council. Six representations were submitted supporting the proposals.

Ehtasham Haque, a Tower Hamlets councillor and spokesperson for the Save The Whitechapel Bell Foundry campaign, said plans to build a hotel on the site were a “travesty”.

“(If the plans are approved) we will continue to protest against them and will go for a judicial review (of the decision),” Mr Haque said.

“The alternative plan is that we can keep it as a full foundry. We don’t need a hotel here. We could and would preserve the whole site.”

Queen visits east London
Queen visits east London

The redevelopment would see an unlisted 1980s extension to the rear of the site demolished and replaced with a hotel along Plumbers Row and Fieldgate Street.

Part of the listed foundry building would be refurbished to provide new workshops and a cafe, which will serve as a “living museum” and provide “long-term public access through the site”, a council report on the application said.

The foundry’s former owners said they both supported the plans, according to the council report.

Meanwhile, the UK Historic Buildings Preservation Trust (UKHBPT) is leading an alternative campaign to save the site with the aim of restarting foundry manufacturing.

Royal visit to Whitechapel Bell Foundry.
Royal visit to Whitechapel Bell Foundry.

But the council report claimed UKHBPT had not “engaged formally” with the local authority on its alternative scheme.

Historic England said it believed the proposals would provide a “high degree” of heritage benefits through repair, restoration and public access.

The foundry is listed in the Guinness World Records as the oldest manufacturing firm in Britain and moved to the Whitechapel Road site in 1738.

Its most famous creation was Big Ben, the bell in Elizabeth Tower at the Palace of Westminster.