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This is it! I've given up work -retired from the rat race and am about to start on a 10 year adventure, doing all those things I've been meaning to do but never had the time to do them. I've offloaded my responsibilities and it is now my time. So follow my adventures and see whether I actually manage anything!

Monday, 6 February 2017

Whitechapel Bell Foundry

This press statement caught my eye in December:
Whitechapel Bell Foundry Ltd announces, with regret, that by May 2017 it will cease its activities at the Whitechapel Road site that it has occupied since its move there in 1738.
 The Foundry is listed in the Guiness Book of records as Britain's oldest manufacturing company, having been in continuous business since it was established in 1570. Having never been inside, I was desperate to see if I could get on one of the few remaining tours. Needless to say they were fully booked so I went along to look at the outside of the building

This is the entrance on Whitechapel Road. The building is Grade II listed and may not be altered in any way.
This is the view from round the corner and shows where the bells enter and exit the foundry.

I went inside and spoke to the receptionist and as luck would have it she had just had a cancellation on one of the tours. Definitely my lucky day.

Early one Saturday morning a couple of weeks later, I returned to join a tour. The tours can only take place at the weeekend when the foundry is not in use.Although this site has been in existence since 1738, they have discovered that there has been a bell foundry in this area since 1420, so it was with some sadness that I entered the foundry, knowing this would be the last time.

Some of the most famous bells cast here include the original Liberty Bell (Philadelphia), the Great Bell of Montreal and, of course, Big Ben at the Palace of Westminster. Big Ben is the largest bell cast at this foundry weighing over 13 tons. A cross section of the bell surrounds the entrance door.

Many, many others have been exported around the world including a set of bells to St Petersburg, Russia in 1747, St Michael's, Charleston, South Carolina in 1764. In 1964 the National Cathedral in Washington DC received a ringing peal of ten bells. In fact bells made here can be found in churches around the world. The 9/11 bell was cast on July 26th 2002 to commemorate the first anniversary of the terror attack on New York on the 11th September 2001. The bell was dedicated on 9th September 2002 at Trinity Church Wall Street.


The tour began in this tiny courtyard which is used to store the smaller finished bells before they leave the foundry. All old bells are recycled by being melted down and recast which helps to keep the cost down for the buyer. Bells are made from bronze  in exactly the same way as they have been for 600 years. The one that Alan is pointing to above is from Thailand and came in to be melted down but it was so beautiful they decided to keep it.

Inside the foundry Alan, the foundry manager explained how bells are made.

This is the loam, it is made up from sand and clay, horse manure and goats hair mixed with water.

 To strickle means using a template with a bevelled edge of a definite contour to sweep the loam into the correct shape.

Here are some of the letters used for the inscription. This is a very skilled job and the inscription is checked before any metal is poured into the mould.

The next stage is the casting. Bell metal (bronze), is an alloy of 23% tin and 77% copper melted to 1170 deg centigrade and poured into the space between the two moulds and left to cool.
When the the bell is cool, the cope is removed. The core must be dug out and the loam cleaned off before tuning the bell can begin.

The final stage is tuning the bell. The bell is placed on here and tiny fragments of the metal are scraped away from the inside until it rings true. The tuning is done by hand but nowadays is checked electronically.
The metal scrapings are not wasted but are used again as the bell metal

Lots of different kinds of bells are made in the foundry. These are cup bells which are not rung but struck.

Hand bells are also made in the foundry.

This is the largest size of hand bell they make.

At the top of the building are these memorial plaques to those workers who have died.  Most workers stay here for the whole of their working life, often alongside other members of their family. Eventhough the building has been sold these plaques will remain here due to the building being Grade II listed.

It is not yet known whether or not the foundry will continue in new premises. It is so sad that in a few months,  bells will no longer be cast in Whitechapel.


  1. How sad that its closing. No reason given? I never knew how those bells were made. I used to ring handbells many years ago.

  2. A story well told as usual. I too noticed that no reason was given for the closure - perhaps the site is more valuable for "modern" things? A sad end for a fescinating place.

  3. This post brought back to me the Edgar Allen Poe poem that mentions "the tintinnabulation of the bells." I had to look it up. :-)

  4. Wow....what an incredible tour you shared. And so old. This is just mind boggling. Too sad it will close for good.

    Now, is this the White Chapel area of Jack the Ripper?

  5. Thank you for the tour, I have heard a lot about Whitechaple bells and come across a few churchs with them. I would love to have visited the place and find it sad it is closesing down. Was there a reason for it. Nice to think the building will have to say the way it is

  6. Kind of a sad post... I always hate reading about historical areas that close... I hope they will keep the building and some samples and at least, offer tours for future generations. That was interesting learning about bell making... I hope a museum (or something) will take over the facility --if nothing else goes in its place... So glad you shared this history... I almost cried seeing all of the workers who had died through the years...


  7. I'm glad we got a chance to tour the foundry before it closed, thanks to you. You are fortunate this way -- I remember when you just happened to be in the right place at the right time and were accepted for a tour of a closed tube station!

  8. Wow ~ you find the best places to go and such wonderful information and photos ~ thanks,

    Wishing you a Happy and Peaceful Week ~ ^_^

  9. What a fascinating post, and sad that such a historic business is closing.

  10. Who would have thought bell making would be so interesting, and what a pity it is closing. I wonder from where in the world will get their bells now? China?

  11. Oh what an interesting tour! I'm so glad you were able to see this place before it is closed. Such history! It's sad to see someplace like this close its doors.

  12. What an interesting tour! I'm sad to hear they are closing business after so mnay years.

  13. What a shame it's leaving the premises. Is there any reason why?

    I went to a bell foundry in Germany several times and it was always interesting to see how it was done.

  14. How lucky you were to get inside at really the last minute ! It's such a pity that it will be closed but hopefully they make a museum out of it ?? Really very interesting to read, would have loved to see that too. The world's 3 biggest bell 22.6 tons hangs in Rovereto where my husband is coming from. His father used with 10 other men on each side pull the cords to make the bell ringing ! Now of course it works with a motor.

  15. Well, I have certainly learned something here. Nice job!

  16. Really interesting post but yes sad too. I hope they will continue the business elsewhere. I wonder what is planned for the building next.

  17. So sad. I love seeing those bells. I'm so glad you made it one of the last tours. Certainly a good bucket list tour!

  18. Such an historical place. Too bad it is closing but how nice that you managed to get a tour!

  19. I enjoyed this posting so much. I think it should be a museum. I never knew anything about a bell foundry before.

  20. What an interesting post. I hope that they find a new place to cast bells - I recall playing hand bells as a kid at school.

    Cheers - Stewart M - New Delhi, India

  21. Oh I am so sorry that this historical foundry is closing at this location -- in operation since the 1400s -- almost unimaginable to someone from the western (even newer) part of the US . But I am so glad that the building will remain.

    Congratulations on not giving up on the tour and thank you so very much for sharing it with us. This was an amazing post.


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