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British Industrial History

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Whitechapel Bell Foundry

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Whitechapel Bell Foundry was possibly Britain's oldest manufacturing company, having been established in 1570, and remaining in continuous business until 2017.

Whitechapel Bell Foundry's business was the manufacture of bells and their associated fittings. The manufacture of large bells for change ringing peals in church towers, single tolling bells, carillon bells, and their complete range of accessories such as framework, wheels, clappers and their assembly in Church towers accounted for approximately four-fifths of the company output. The other fifth of the business lay in the manufacture of hand bells for tune and change ringing, and other small bells of many shapes and sizes.

1570 Foundry established by Robert Mot.

Two of the earliest bells from the foundry are still in use at Westminster Abbey, one dated 1583 and the other 1598.

The Foundry buildings date from 1670, four years after the Great Fire of London, and presumably replaced earlier structures lost to that conflagration. Originally built as a coaching inn called the Artichoke, the lease of the buildings was acquired by Thomas Lester - then Master Founder at Whitechapel - to accommodate the need for extra workshops and space during a time of great expansion in the craft of bell founding.

1738 The business moved from the north side of Whitechapel Road to the south side, and has remained on the site ever since, withstanding the ravages of war and development.

Whitechapel's famous bells include the original Liberty Bell (1752), the Great Bell of Montreal and, probably best known of all, Big Ben at the Palace of Westminster. Cast in 1858, this is the largest bell ever cast at Whitechapel, weighing 13½ tons. To this day, a cross-section of the bell surrounds the entrance door to the Foundry.

Worldwide export began at an early date. A set of bells was sent to St.Petersburg, Russia in 1747 and the first transatlantic change ringing peal was sent to Christ Church, Philadelphia in 1754. The bells supplied to St.Michael's, Charleston, South Carolina in 1764 have possibly the most interesting story of any set of bells and may well be the most travelled bells in history.

1782 Mears became involved in the business.

The tradition of English hand bell ringing in America was built on Whitechapel hand bells (originally for change ringing) known to have been sent from Whitechapel was given to Miss Margaret H Nicholls (later Mrs Margaret Schurcliff) by Arthur Hughes, General Manager of the Whitechapel Bell Foundry, in 1902 after she had successfully rung two hand-bell peals on a trip to England from Boston.

Whitechapel Bell Foundry's long history spans the reigns of twenty seven English monarchs, and among the royal visitors to the foundry were King George V and Queen Mary who came to witness the casting of two bells for Westminster Abbey.

1939 England's heaviest change ringing bell - the Liverpool Cathedral tenor, weighing over 4 tons - was cast by Whitechapel in 1939.

1964 Whitechapel was proud to provide the change ringing peal of 10 bells in a radial frame for the new National Cathedral in Washington DC

In 1991, the world's first peal of 16 change ringing bells was installed by Whitechapel at the Church of St.Martin in the Bull Ring, Birmingham, England.

1997 Whitechapel provided North America's first change ringing peal of 12 bells to Toronto Cathedral.

The premises are now designated as Grade II listed buildings and the frontage remains unchanged on a very busy East London road amongst many modern buildings.

Despite being such an old established company, modern improvements and innovations were always being made by Whitechapel, and these have included the design and building of radial frames for change ringing peals and new technologies in clapper and headstock design.

2017 Bell production ended at Whitechapel, the last batch of tower bells being cast on 22nd March. Whitechapel tower bells would in future be cast by Westley Group Ltd. Whites of Appleton Ltd, Church Bell Hangers purchased the pattern equipment to continue making Whitechapel components. [1]. See Westley Group Bells website.

Master Founders

See Also

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Sources of Information

  1. [1] Whitechapel Bell Foundry website
  • [2] Whitechapel Web site
  • [3] Wikipedia