In order to help explain the proposals and address some of the points raised at the public consultation, we’ve set out below a project summary and responses to some of the common queries. If your question has not been answered here, please contact us using the details provided.
Raycliff purchased the former Whitechapel Bell Foundry in 2017, following the Hughes family’s decision to close their business on the current site and move it elsewhere. Bell making uses and workshops will be reintroduced on the Grade II* listed Old Foundry site, alongside artists’ studios/maker space, workspace for small creative businesses, and café/bar use with interpretation and display space that will be open to anyone. A 100-bed hotel and other workspace is proposed on a non-historic site at the rear, part of which dates from 1979/80, the remaining part already has planning permission for a 34-bed hotel and office and residential uses.
Why the Whitechapel Bell business relocated
Demand for bells has been steadily declining for decades and was insufficient to sustain across the whole site in Whitechapel. The building needs substantial investment (running into millions) to carry out the necessary upgrades and urgent repairs to facilitate any use. Even if it was upgraded, the profits from the bell business were insufficient to cover the costs associated with the day to day operations, obtain the insurances and environmental permits required – and maintain this for any length of time. The location was also not best suited for the demands of the business. It was becoming increasingly difficult to operate a heavy industrial use in a residential context. The Hughes family (who owned the site for 100 years and continue to own Whitechapel Bell Foundry Ltd) delayed the difficult decision to sell for many years and tried their best to make the business work. However, the only realistic option was to sell the site and relocate their business. In doing this, they are able to continue production on a smaller scale and protect the legacy and skills of traditional UK bell making.
The future of bell making on site and partnerships
People in their feedback to us said they wanted to be able to share in the site’s history, to see and understand how founding is done, and to experience the atmosphere and energy of the incredible historic buildings.
As a result, we have partnered with those who know best to deliver that. We have continued to engage with the Hughes family and are also working alongside the Westley Group – one of the largest and most successful industrial founding companies in the UK (who are also licensed by the Hughes family to produce Whitechapel Tower Bells, thereby maintaining the historic link) – and the AB Fine Art Foundry, a local Tower Hamlets business with an international reputation.
Working together, they will provide the expertise that offers a continuation of founding on this important historic site. More than this, they will educate and train a whole new generation of practitioners in this ancient skill.
The Old Foundry will look to the future too. Anatole Notes, based in Bethnal Green, will manage artists’ workshops and workspace on-site (including flexible affordable space for the creative industries).
Other partnerships being explored
We are still discussing how the Whitechapel Gallery could curate an artists’ residency programme and/or facilitate art events, helping to discover the next generation of talent from the East End. This has already started – Raycliff hosted the Whitechapel Gallery’s ‘Nocturnal Creatures’ event on the Former Bell Foundry site on 21 July. It was a free festival open to all, bringing together performance, video, sculpture and sound. Raycliff also hosted on 5-6 October Russian collective VASYA RUN. The event was organised by the Whitechapel Gallery, approximately 220 people attended the event at the former Whitechapel Bell Foundry over the two nights. Raycliff is optimistic that other similar events can be hosted in the future.
What are the proposed uses for the Historic Foundry?
A light touch, heritage-led approach is proposed with minimal intervention to the listed building. The main change is focused on a new stair core in a part of the building adapted in the 1960s, which will significantly aid the current poor circulation. This will barely be perceptible from the external street views. Modern partitions and other detracting elements will be removed inside the building.
A viable foundry will be re-established within the historic spaces. This will be delivered and managed by AB Fine Art Foundry and the 200-year-old Westley Group, which has a trusted relationship with Whitechapel Bell Foundry and is now licensed by the Hughes to produce large scale Whitechapel tower bells. It is proposed to retain and refurbish the Grade II* listed Whitechapel Bell Foundry (Historic Foundry) to accommodate:
- Reintroduction of a modern foundry | This will be delivered and managed by AB Fine Art Foundry and the 200 year old Westley Group. AB Fine Art has been based in the former Spratt’s Dog Biscuit Factory in LBTH (at 1 Fawe St in Bow) since the company was founded in 1992. It one of Europe’s leading fine art foundries, with a particular specialism in bronze casting. AB will use the Bell Foundry site in conjunction with its existing site in LBTH, to produce smaller scale art works and deliver opportunities for educational tours and lectures. The Westley’s have a long standing and trusted relationship with Whitechapel Bell Foundry. They were selected by the Hughes family to continue the production of large scale Whitechapel tower bells under licence. They will now make Whitechapel Bell Foundry their London home, continuing the production and sale of small scale bells and maintaining the historical and authentic link to Whitechapel bells. It will provide both foundries an opportunity to showcase their work, while breathing new life into the Bell Foundry to facilitate its sustainable future.
- Artists and maker workshops | To reinforce the ongoing industrious culture on site there will be a number of artist and maker workshops, intended for creative tenants. These occupy spaces that were previously used as workshops and will require very little work to adapt them. Raycliff has been working with the Studiomakers initiative, led by Outset Contemporary Art Fund to help provide expertise to deliver the workshops. A Partnership has also been entered into with Anatole Notes who provide affordable creative workspace with a focus on artists studios across a growing number of London sites, including studios in Bethnal Green in LBTH. Anatole Notes will be responsible for managing and operating the Bell Foundry workshops in the long term. The initiative will be focused on the delivery of affordable spaces for the creative industries, aspiring to have critically engaged artists and makers, some who are museum level/world class, alongside supporting emerging talent. The resident creative community will be encouraged to engage with the foundry facility and add to the culture of production. Their work will be distributed across the public spaces of the building. Studios will be visitable for events and open days.
- Workspace for small creative businesses | The operators of Anatole Notes will also be managing and securing individual tenancies for the workspaces, mainly within the front range, which are not suitable for messy activities with more typical ‘desk based’ work envisaged. These spaces will also include space at and below market rents that will be exclusively available to practitioners in the creative sectors. This will include the wide range of creative industry professionals such as young architect practices; graphic designers; jewellery makers; metal worker; companies associated with community engagement; journalists; and arts education etc. The size of the existing rooms and layout of the listed building define the office spaces, which by their nature will offer a range of flexible spaces for small businesses to meet the specific identified demand within Whitechapel. Occupiers will be actively encouraged to use local supplier chains to further boost the local economy.
- Café | The café will be accessible and open for anyone to use and will be brought forward in partnership with The Major Food Group (MFG). A new glazed screen will separate the cafe space from the working foundry – an opportunity to watch the activity in the foundry whilst having a coffee or eating lunch (ensuring safety and comfort from the sometimes hazardous activity within). It will also have an interpretation space with archive material and authentic mouldings, originating from the original Bell Foundry. The café will be opened for use for events in the evenings. It is envisaged that there will be a mix of private events alongside other public events accessible to all. It is anticipated that the café will provide for approximately 50 covers (subject to final design).
What are the proposed uses for the new development site?
The part of the site that currently houses a non listed 1980s building and a car park/servicing area will accommodate:
- A new 108 room hotel with ancillary members and guest space | This is partially located on the land that has an extant planning permission for a 4 storey, 34 room hotel block and 5 storey residential/office use. Raycliff has entered into negotiations with a responsible and reputable hotel operator that has delivered respectful schemes within important listed buildings, including in LBTH. The hotel will be a quality offer, equivalent to around 4/5 stars rating. The members and guests areas will be located on the upper floors, and will provide approximately 60-80 covers. It is expected that these will be run by the hotel operator, or by MFG in conjunction with the primary hotel use.
- Restaurant and bars at ground floor | The publicly accessible bar and restaurant uses at ground and mezzanine level of the hotel will be run by MFG, the same operators as the Historic Foundry café. It will be informally organised and will accessible to anyone, not just hotel visitors. It can be used in conjunction with the historic spaces next door – through a link adjacent to the reception area. It also provides a space where anyone in the community can socialise and/or have informal business meetings, or work independently on a laptop. An ongoing programme of artist events, talks and exhibitions can be planned within these spaces to tie into the cultural programming in the Historic Foundry. Approximately 170-210 covers will be provided at ground and mezzanine level.
- Workspace | Additional floorspace will be provided at ground floor and first floor level on an area of the site that already has permission for a 5 storey building for office use and 9 residential flats above.
What are the other uses/ancillary programme proposals?
- Interpretation space | The café and other public areas on the ground floor in the Historic Foundry will act as a ‘living museum’ that will be further enhanced through the reintroduction of loose equipment including dies, cast iron copes and moulds and other decorative presses. Items owned by the Westley’s and/or the Hughes (currently stored in Stoke) have been documented by the team with many planned to be returned to the site. Raycliff has also purchased many of the original bells, (including the main carillon in the courtyard), and may commission new ones. These will be placed back on site in an authentic interpretive way to enhance and add to the unique experience of visiting, whilst ensuring the building’s important history and its character can be appreciated by new generations. As part of the interpretive story the large casting pit within the Old Foundry will be opened up so that you can look down into the ground and see the space where the Liberty Bell was cast, along with other significant bells. Display and historic items from the old shop front remain in the possession of the Whitechapel Bell Foundry Ltd, as do many paintings and photographs. Items belonging to the Hughes family, which are held privately are also still in existence. The Hughes have generously stated that some of this material still under their ownership can be returned to site, including the artefacts, photos and plans that were within the interpretation space within the front range. All of these areas will be free to visit during normal working hours. A detailed strategy is being developed to help assess how the interpretation and ‘curation’ of the spaces can best be achieved overall and in the context of the historic and atmospheric interiors without eroding their character.
- Ancillary shop | An ancillary foundry shop will be located in the front of the Historic Foundry building (within the former interpretation space that was used by the Hughes to display bell foundry historical information). The shop will sell small hand bells made by the Hughes. It will also provide the opportunity to sell other works created on site within the foundry, including other bells, and art works made by AB and the wider resident artistic community.
- Ancillary education | Education programmes are inherent in the existing operations of AB, the Westleys and the operators of Anatole Notes. There is a strong commitment from all of these parties to devise suitable learning opportunities for members of the public, other professionals and school children in association with the businesses and activity on site. AB Fine Art regularly host lectures and tours of their existing foundry in Tower Hamlets. They will continue this and expand on these operations at The Bell Foundry. The Westley Group also assisted in establishing the newly opened only dedicated teaching foundry at the University of Wolverhampton. They aspire to use the space within the foundry to enhance these programmes. It is initially conceived that the mezzanine over looking the foundry and/or the room in the front range, along Whitechapel Road may provide spaces for school children to watch a film and learn about Whitechapel Bell Foundry and other artistic/manufacturing techniques. However, the reality is that a wide range of spaces within the foundry will be able to be used flexibly to accommodate this as an ancillary part of both the B2 foundry and B1 workshop and workspace uses. A programme of events will be developed that will engage with the history of the site, current modern founding techniques and the activities of the resident artists. The occupants will draw from their expertise and knowledge of the founding industry and the arts/creative scene in the East End. It is envisaged that the operators on board will run the workshops and
programmable spaces, and at times bring in other local partners like Studiomakers and Whitechapel Gallery who already have an association with the site.
What are the main proposed changes to the Old Foundry?
- The main external change is focused on a new stair core in the Old Stables/Hayloft, which was heavily adapted in the 1960s. This will significantly aid the current poor circulation and facilitate disabled access to the upper storeys. This change will barely be perceptible from the external street views and will involve the reinstatement of the roof, which would only require a marginal adaptation to its profile with a slight increase in height to match the eave line of the existing adjacent buildings. The structure will be freestanding so that it does not impact on the historic fabric. It will reflect the existing industrial vernacular, with materials matching those existing, with brick upstand and lead upstand flashing. The industrial aesthetic of the proposed link building extension will also echo across the courtyard.
- The original configuration of the Old Foundry will be reinstated, thorough the removal a mould-drying kiln that was added in the 1960s. This will facilitate a larger area for the reinstated foundry use. A glazed screen will be inserted between the foundry and café area to facilitate public engagement.
- A non-original mezzanine within the Carpenters Loft within the Old Foundry will be adapted so it can be put to better use. This will involve the removal of the existing modern structure and replacement with a new independently supported mezzanine aligned to adjacent floor levels. It is envisaged that this will be able to accommodate school groups during the day and will have a multifunctional use in the evenings, being able to be used for dining and events.
- Modern partitions and other detracting elements will be removed across the Front Range and Foundry spaces. In a number of cases, the removal of modern partitions will restore original spatial volumes, including non-original stud wall in front range (also facilitating removal of a modern stair to 2 Fieldgate Street at ground and 2nd floor of 32-34 Whitechapel Road). Structural repairs and strengthening to floors and walls will be made where necessary.
- The roof across the whole Historic Foundry will be repaired and sensitively adapted. The guttering and rainwater systems will be improved. Windows will be refurbished with removal of poor quality secondary glazing and new minor secondary glazing to some windows.
- A new entrance will be opened up to the public with direct access into the historic foundry spaces. This will also create a more active frontage and improve the street scene along Plumbers Row. Hand painted signage is also proposed on the face of the building – the final details are to be resolved and will be subject to a separate advertisement application.
- The buildings and frontage to Whitechapel Road will be lightly refurbished. With other repair works to the front façade carried out to help restore and maintain its appearance. The interior of the Front Range will have a very light touch refurbishment, retaining the majority of the existing finishes, while upgrading services and fire protection and removing modern detracting elements. No redecoration is proposed to the Old Foundry – these surfaces will be dry brushed and a pallet of historically appropriate decorative finishes applied based on historic paint analysis. The Bell Foundry green that is synonymous with the site will be retained.
- All existing redundant services throughout building will be removed | natural ventilation is proposed and where new services are required), will generally be concealed in voids in the Front Range and exposed to ceilings to the Foundry buildings, consistent to historical detailing.
What happened to the foundry equipment?
A schedule of important listed foundry items was agreed between the Hughes’s, London Borough of Tower Hamlets and Historic England at the time of the sale. These remain within the building and will be retained in situ in the new scheme. Raycliff also bought many bells and other equipment that were available at auction – these will be reinstated in the spaces in the Old Foundry. Through the partnership with the Hughes’s, there is an opportunity to bring back original mouldings, dies and casts, as well as the original artefacts that were in the small museum space that was housed in the foundry.
Former employees and new jobs created
There were 23 staff employed by Whitechapel Bell Foundry Ltd at the time of the site sale in November 2016. Of these 23, only five were directly employed in the moulding and casting of bells and only two employees lived locally. Most of the staff with specialist skills are now employed elsewhere in the bell industry, with many working closer to their homes, whilst seven members of the staff chose to retire. In contrast, the proposal will generate a significant number of new jobs, including reintroducing skilled labour jobs alongside service sector jobs associated with the hotel. Raycliff is fully committed to delivering local employment during construction and in the end uses as part of this, in accordance with London Borough of Tower Hamlets polices. We are also looking at how apprenticeships in the bell industry can be developed to ensure the traditions and specialist skill set prospers and can be passed on to the next generation.
Are Whitechapel Bells still made?
Yes. The Hughes’s still own Whitechapel Bell Foundry Ltd which continues as a company, and which crucially retains ownership of all pattern equipment and tooling for the manufacture of tower bells, musical handbells, clock bells and small presentation bells, as well as the company’s extensive archives. The Westley Group, based in Stoke on Trent, continues the manufacture of Whitechapel tower bells under licence, and Bells of Whitechapel Ltd continue the production and maintenance of musical handbells and small bells under a similar agreement. The archives are being conserved at the London Metropolitan Archives at the expense of Whitechapel Bell Foundry Ltd to allow public access to the collection.
Consultation undertaken on the proposals
There have been a number of positive meetings with officers at London Borough of Tower Hamlets, Historic England, and a wider range of other key statutory amenity societies and groups. These discussions are on-going. They will continue to help shape the development prior to its submission as a planning and listed building application. A public consultation has also taken place in June and September 2018. Feedback has been reviewed by the project team and has fed into the design process where possible.
Relationship with UKHBPT
Meetings have been held with the charity UKHBPT. They have no ownership rights. Nonetheless, they have some interesting and ambitious ideas – the principles are not vastly different to Raycliff’s plans for the Old Foundry, except, Raycliff is working with the Whitechapel Bell Foundry Ltd owners and linked companies in the UK bell industry. It is also forming other local partnerships relevant to Whitechapel and Tower Hamlets.
Fundamentally, any future plan must be viable and sustainable and be able to carry out the significant works that are required to repair the building, as well as maintain and invest in its upkeep indefinitely. Aside from the fact that UKHBPT has no legal right to implement its plans, it has not supplied any financial information on how it would hope to support its suggested ideas, apart from through sponsorship and donations. This is not a sustainable business model to purchase the land, undertake the vital building maintenance and buy the equipment required. Neither would it provide any guarantee that this important building and the uses presented could be maintained in the long term without ongoing subsidy. This could jeopardise the building’s future.
If you would like to ask a question that is not covered, or would generally like to be kept informed about the development of the proposals, please email email@example.com or call 0800 298 7040.