The oldest bell foundry in the world will close its doors in May 2017, the Whitechapel Bell Foundry has confirmed.
Since the company was founded in 1570, the Bell Foundry in Whitechapel has cast some of the world’s most famous bells, including Philadelphia’s Liberty Bell in 1752 and Westminster’s Big Ben in 1858.
The foundry moved to its current premises in Whitechapel in 1738, nearly 170 years after the business was first established. But in May 2017 “its activities will cease at the Whitechapel Road site,” a company spokesperson said. While the Whitechapel Bell Foundry “intends to complete work on all projects presently in hand during the coming months,” the company “will not be entering into new contracts for the time being whilst discussions regarding the future direction, ownership, and location are ongoing.”
Orders for new bells have been on the rise recently, partly prompted by the table bells featured in Downton Abbey and the foundry’s diversification into online sales for Victorian-style doorbells. But small-scale production cannot compensate for long term decline in the demand for large-scale church bells.
Owners Alan and Kathryn Hughes said they had a “heavy heart” at the thought of closing the family-run company, which has been in the same hands since 1904.
“We have made this decision with a heavy heart, but in response to the changing realities of running a business of this kind. The Bell Foundry in Whitechapel has changed hands many times, but it has always been a family business,” Alan Hughes stated.
The current owners are hoping that the work of the foundry will continue elsewhere and under new ownership. But if they are unable to sell the business, it is set to close by summer next year.
Depending on the scale of the task, producing bells can take as long as 11 years from initial inquiry to installation.
The Whitechapel Bell Foundry has been recognised by the Guinness Book of World Records as the oldest manufacturing firm in Great Britain, after the company was formed during the reign of Elizabeth I.
Photographs taken by Evo Flash, available for use under the Creative Commons License.