Whitechapel Bell Foundry cast the Liberty Bell, Big Ben, and many more bells of note.
One of the world’s oldest operating metalcasting businesses, indeed one of the oldest manufacturers of any type, will cease operations next spring. Whitechapel Bell Foundry Ltd., in London, last week it plans to close in May 2017.
Whitechapel Bell Foundry is as famous for its products — including the Liberty Bell, Big Ben, and bells for St. Paul’s Cathedral and Westminster Abbey — as for its longevity. While it has been in business since 1570, it has operated at its location in the East End of London since 1738.
“We have made this decision with a heavy heart, but in response to the changing realities of running a business of this kind,” owner Alan Hughes said. “The Bell Foundry in Whitechapel has changed hands many times, but it has always been a family business. My own family has owned the foundry since 1904, but other families have run the firm through its history … ”
“The company intends to complete work on all projects presently in hand during the coming months,” according to the posted announcement. “It will not be entering into new contracts for the time being whilst discussions with the company's staff and other interested parties regarding the future direction, ownership, and location of the company are ongoing.”
The Whitechapel Bell Foundry in the East End of London will close in May 2017, after nearly 450 years of operation.
Whitechapel Bell Foundry was established in 1570. Guinness World Records lists it as Great Britain's oldest manufacturing company.
Casting bells has been done for thousands of years, including very large bells in Eastern Asia. In Great Britain, large bells for churches and monasteries were described by St. Bede in his Ecclesiastical History of the English People. By the late Middle Ages, bell foundries became some of the first permanent manufacturing businesses in that country.
Having already been casting metal for 168 years, Whitechapel Bell Foundry moved to its present location in 1738.
The Liberty Bell was cast at the Whitechapel Bell Foundry in 1752, to hang in the then-new state house at Philadelphia (later renamed Independence Hall.) It was damaged during shipment, and cracked upon being rung. Pennsylvania foundrymen (“Pass and Stow”) recast it, but the faults reoccurred in subsequent decades of use.
Bell foundries are as much craft as manufacturing businesses, as each product must be designed and formed, with molds produced by hand, to achieve the expected tone and volume of the finished bell.
In addition to monumental bells, Whitechapel Bell Foundry produces an extensive range of hand bells, small bells, clock bells, and turret bells.
Once a bell’s design has been determined, and molds have been created for the inner and outer dimensions, the two forms are cast separately. Then, once cooled, the two sections are clamped together and the cavity between them is filled with more metal.
Typically, bells are cast in a high-copper bronze alloy, referred to as “bell metal.”
Bell foundries continue to demonstrate many of the techniques and skills used by foundries for hundreds of years, including forming and ladle pouring.
The cooled castings are finished and tuned using tools and methods proven over centuries.
In addition to many other famous bells, in 2002 Whitechapel Bell Foundry cast new bells for Trinity Church in New York City, which had been damaged on September 11, 2001.
Whitechapel Bell Foundry was pleased to host may royal visitors over the decades, including King George V and Queen Mary in 1919.
Queen Elizabeth II watched the mold filling process in 2009.
Whitechapel Bell Foundry’s current owner plans to cease operations in May 2017, though the statement suggests inquiries that might continue the long tradition would be considered.
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This gallery was originally published on Foundry, a companion site of IndustryWeek and part of Penton's Manufacturing & Supply Chain group.
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