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Not only did they cast the thirteen and a half ton Big Ben in 1858, (Big Ben is the bell, not the Great Clock Tower that houses it) but they were also responsible for the famous American Liberty Bell in 1752. This small foundry in the East End of London has been casting bells for hundreds of years and is recognised as the oldest manufacturing company still in production in Britain. It was founded in 1570 during the reign of Queen Elizabeth 1st. but links to the foundry have been traced back as far as 1420. I took a trip round the foundry in August 2007 and found it to be much smaller than I had imagined. Most things still seem to be done as they have for centuries. The only modern additions I could see were the furnaces and the electronic tuning sounders.
Probably the most famous bell to be cast at the Whitechapel Bell Foundry is Big Ben; the one that chimes from the Great Clock tower at Westminster. It has an unmistakable tone. You can tell it apart from any other bell once you have heard it.
The reason for this totally individual sound is that the bell cracked when first installed! Apparently the wrong type of hammer was installed which caused a small crack to appear and slightly altered the tone of the bell.
There are two theories as to how the bell got it’s name. The first is that it was named after the prize fighter Benjamin Caunt, who had in 1857 lasted sixty rounds of a drawn contest in his final appearance at the age of 42. As Caunt at one period scaled 17 stone, his nickname was Big Ben
The second story is that parliament had a special sitting to decide on a suitable name for the great hour bell. During the course of the debate, and amid the many suggestions that were made, Chief Lord of the Woods and Forests, Sir Benjamin Hall, a large and ponderous man known affectionately in the House as "Big Ben", rose and gave an impressively long speech on the subject and so it was put forward by others that it should be named after him.
The bell was ordered in 1745 by the Pennsylvania Provincial Assembly for use in the Pennsylvania State House (Independence Hall) in Philadelphia. It was delivered in September 1753 via the ship Hibernia. The following March, the bell was hung from temporary scaffolding in the square outside the State House. To the dismay of onlookers, the bell was dropped, and cracked while it was being put up. Isaac Norris, speaker of the Pennsylvania Assembly, wrote "I had the mortification to hear that it was cracked by the foolishness of one of our fellow Americans as it was hung up to try the sound."
While a replacement from Whitechapel was ordered, the bell was rebuilt by John Pass and John Stow of Philadelphia, whose surnames appear inscribed on the bell. Pass and Stow added copper to the composition of the alloy used to cast the bell, and the tone of the new bell proved unsatisfactory. The two recast the bell yet again, restoring the correct balance of metal, and this third bell was hung in the steeple of the State House in June 1753.
It is not certain when the second crack appeared (the first after the recasting), but the bell was repaired in February 1846. The method of repair, known as stop drilling, required drilling along the hairline crack so that the sides of the fracture would not reverberate.
On February 22, 1846, the bell was tolled for several hours in the tower of Independence Hall in honour of George Washington's birthday. When the bell was rung, the crack grew from the top of the repaired crack to the crown of the bell, rendering the bell unusable. Contrary to popular belief, the large crevice that currently exists in the Liberty Bell is a repair from the expansions, and not the crack itself.
There is much more history attached to this bell which I am sure you will be able to find by doing a quick search of the web.
You will find the Whitechapel Bell Foundry in Whitechapel Road on the left, just past the East London Mosque going towards Aldgate. There is a shop at the back where souvenirs and books can be purchased. You can also book tours of the foundry on weekends.
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