great places to visit off the beaten path.
Whether visiting their onsite museum displays or store (both open daily) or arranging a full tour of the Foundry, a visit to the Whitechapel Bell Foundry is truly unique and a part of British (and global) culture. The Foundry is Britain’s oldest manufacturing company, having been established in 1570 (during the reign of Queen Elizabeth I) and being in continuous business since that date. The history may even extend further back, as links show a foundry in Aldgate and Whitechapel back to the year 1420 (in the reign of Henry V, and 72 years before Columbus sailed for America).
Whitechapel’s famous bells include the original Liberty Bell (1752), the Great Bell of Montreal and, probably best known of all, Big Ben at the Palace of Westminster. Cast in 1858, this is the largest bell ever cast at Whitechapel, weighing 13½ tons. To this day, a cross-section of the bell surrounds the entrance door to the Foundry. The Foundry buildings date from 1670, four years after the Great Fire of London, and presumably replaced earlier structures lost to fire. Originally built as a coaching inn called the Artichoke, the lease of the buildings was acquired by Thomas Lester – then Master Founder at Whitechapel – to accomodate the need for extra workshops and space during a time of great expansion in the craft of bellfounding. The business moved there from the north side of Whitechapel Road, and has remained on the site ever since, withstanding the ravages of war and development. The premises are now designated as Grade II listed buildings. The frontage remains unchanged.
During the Blitz in the Second World War many surrounding buildings were hit and destroyed, including the Church of St. Mary, Whitechapel (the ‘white chapel’ which gave the area its name), just a few hundred feet from the Foundry. The ground where it stood is now the Altab Ali Park. During the war years, the Foundry ceased making bells, switching to manufacturing castings for the Ministry of War. In the aftermath of the war, the Foundry was very busy replacing peals lost to bombing raids and fires, including the bells of St. Mary le Bow and St. Clement Danes of ‘Oranges and Lemons’ nursery rhyme fame, in London. Cumulatively, this history makes this a fascinating place to visit. The museum displays in the foyer and the Foundry store, which sells bells and a range of Whitechapel merchandise, are open Monday to Friday, 9.00am and 5.00pm.
Tours are generally on Saturdays throughout the year and have to be pre-booked. Check their website for specific dates and times: www.whitechapelbellfoundry.co.uk To ensure your preferred date early booking is therefore advised. There is a charge of £12.00 per person (must be age 14+). The tour last approximately 90 minutes.
Located at: 32/34 Whitechapel Road, E1 1DY
Closest tube: Aldgate East