In October 2020, a public inquiry was under way to consider whether planning consent should be given for the conversion of London’s Whitechapel Bell Foundry into a ‘boutique’ hotel. An alternative proposal has been developed by those who wish to see Britain’s oldest single-purpose industrial building – where Big Ben, the Liberty Bell, and the Bow Bells were cast – continue to cast bells. The manufactory had been in near-continuous production since 1570, moving into the Whitechapel premises in 1739. The Museum of London now has the final bell made, just before the foundry closed on 12 June 2017.
By contrast, John Taylor & Co of Loughborough is a mere stripling, having been founded in 1859. It is for now, though, the last major bell foundry still working in Britain, continuing to add to its tally of more than 25,000 bells cast during its 161-year history. In 2009, the foundry nearly suffered the same fate as Whitechapel, having gone into receivership, but the Loughborough Bellfoundry Trust (LBT) was set up to hold the Grade II*- listed foundry buildings, archives, and museum collections in perpetuity, and above all to sustain the foundry’s historic manufacturing processes and the skills of its staff.
It is the proud claim of the LBT that Taylor bells hang in thousands of parish churches and in nearly every cathedral in England – bells that ring out for national celebrations, coronations, and jubilees, as well as for services, weddings, christenings, funerals, and tolling the hours.
The LBT has ambitious aims to make the Loughborough site ‘the global heart for the art and craft of bells’, and it is currently raising the £5 million it needs to repair the Victorian casting hall and workshop where bells are created, improve access to the site for visitors, repair the tuning shop where the craft of bell-tuning was developed in the1890s, and engage with young people and learners to pass on a love of bells and the skills of bell-making.
For now, many churches and cathedrals remain closed and the bells of Britain have largely fallen silent, except for those with mechanical chimes or clock-winding mechanisms. We will know that the world is returning to normal when we can once again enjoy the sound of all those Taylor bells.
Further information: www.loughboroughbellfoundry.org
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