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Whitechapel Bell Foundry
Makers of Big Ben and the Americas Liberty Bell

The makers of Big Ben - The Whitechapel Bell Foundry

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 was recognised as the oldest manufacturing company 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. It moved to Whitechapel in 1738 and finally cast its last bell on 22nd of March 2017 when it sold the business to Whites of Appleton. On it's closure it donated many documents and artefacts to the Museum of London. I had a tour of the foundry during non working hours in August 2007 and found it to be much smaller than I had imagined. Most things were done as they had been for centuries. The only modern additions I could see were the furnaces and the electronic tuning sounders. I wish I had heard about the closure in time to have another tour.
The 2007 photo album can be viewed here >>

Tower of London Bethnal Green (1) Mile End Whitechapel Victoria Park Isle of Dogs Spitalfields

Big Ben - London’s famous time check

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.When this was discovered, the correct hammer was fitted and Big Ben was rotated slightly to provide a fresh undamaged striking point. 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 Liberty Bell

The Liberty Bell was ordered in 1745 by the Pennsylvania Provincial AssemThe Liberty Bellbly for use in the Pennsylvania State House (Independence Hall) in Philadelphia. It was delivered in September 1753 via the ship Hibernia. In 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. 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.

The article on the closure of the foundry (taken from their website)

I copied this article from the foundry’s website and you should be able to find any information regarding the closure of the foundry in April 2017 and the future of the buildings here:

Britain’s oldest manufacturing company cast its last batch of tower bells on 22nd March at the East London premises it has occupied since 1738. Having been established in the Whitechapel area since 1570, the company has produced some of the world’s most famous bells including Big Ben, the original Liberty Bell and the peal of bells which rang on the Herald Barge for the Queen’s Diamond Jubilee River Pageant.

The foundry has been owned by the Hughes family since 1904. After years of struggling against economic pressures and the high cost of maintaining the listed premises, current directors, Alan and Kathryn Hughes, have taken the decision to sell the premises and to redistribute the business in order to ensure the continuation of its products into the future. Both in the UK and worldwide, the demand for church bells has declined year on year while the costs of employment and keeping up with manufacturing legislation and insurances have continued to rise. The buildings are in need of extensive upgrading, with estimated costs upwards of £8 million..

Alan Hughes said “It was with a heavy heart that we decided last November that we would have to end bell production at the Whitechapel site. Current commercial reality meant that a viable business could not be continued in its present form operating from a location which has really been unsuitable for the industrial process of bell making for many years. In recent years the area in which we are located has changed from commercial use to almost entirely residential use. New developments now in the process of being built adjacent to our site will give us neighbours who would find difficulties with our industrial output and noise. A much changed road network adjacent to the buildings makes it almost impossible for large vehicles to access our premises for loading and unloading”.

Our buildings. We have taken a difficult decision in deciding to sell the site, but we are very pleased that the protection of its features will be assured by its Grade II* Listing and that the sale has been made to a buyer who is committed to respecting this historic status and bringing the buildings back into good repair.

Our products. The continuation of the Whitechapel Bell Foundry name and the unique sound and shape of our bells are assured for the future. Whitechapel tower bells will in future be cast by Westley Group Ltd.

Whites of Appleton Ltd, Church Bell Hangers, a company with whom the Whitechapel Bell Foundry has worked closely for 197 years, has purchased the pattern equipment to continue making Whitechapel components. Whites have also purchased a new tuning machine which, with continuing expert consultancy from Whitechapel, will enable them to offer a high standard of tuning to Church bells.

Whitechapel musical handbells and the supplies of supporting music and accessories will be available to purchase from Bells of Whitechapel Ltd, along with the entire range of Whitechapel presentation bells, door bells, bracket bells and ships bells, all of which will continue to be cast and finished in London.

Our records. The bell foundry archives are contracted to the London Metropolitan Archives, where they will bThe Whitechapel Bell Foundrye conserved and catalogued. They will remain the property of the Whitechapel Bell Foundry Ltd, and will be made available to the public for research, which was not possible whilst they were at the Whitechapel premises.

Our artefacts. We are particularly pleased that the very last tower bell to be cast at the Whitechapel site is for the Museum of London, to which the foundry is donating many artefacts including old machinery, items to provide a display about bell manufacture and items that the foundry has in its possession pertaining to the making of Big Ben. This will ensure a lasting legacy for the public to visit and enjoy when the museum moves to its new home in Smithfield.

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