Public Inquiry on the future of the Whitechapel Bell Foundry

6 – 28 October 2020
Online event through Microsoft Teams

Final decision: 13 May 2021

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On 6 October 2020 a planning inquiry commenced regarding the Whitechapel Bell Foundry, 32-34 Whitechapel Road, 2 Fieldgate Street and land to the rear (planning application reference numbers PA/19/00008 and PA/19/00009). All the documentation relating to the inquiry on the Tower Hamlet Council’s website was available here.

Your support and participation are needed more than ever: this is the chance make your voice heard and prevent the Whitechapel Bell Foundry from becoming a boutique-hotel based on the model of Soho House. The caterer identified by Raycliff (who will occupy a significant part of the historic building if the planning decision is upheld) is the Major Food Group who run 22 themed-restaurants in the US and were responsible for the controversial redesign of the Landmark protected restaurant in the Seagram building in New York, described as ‘one of the greatest modernist buildings ever built’.

As Edgar Bronfman Jr, former Chief Executive of the Seagram Company said:
"What is at stake here is whether ownership trumps preservation, whether deception triumphs over transparency and whether the wealth, power and influence of a building's proprietors can trample both the fundamental integrity of a historic space and the commission created to protect and preserve such spaces.’’


Public Inquiry 
  • The public inquiry began on 6 October with evidence given by the applicant's architect on the proposed designs and planning proposal. This was followed by a site visit to the foundry by the inspector on 7 October.
  • On the 8 and 9 October, the public inquiry heard evidence from the applicant, Raycliff Whitechapel LLP.
  • On the 13 October, evidence was heard from Historic England and Tower Hamlets Council.
  • The 14, 15 and 16 October were for Re-Form Heritage and their team to put forward evidence for their alternative approach to bring about a viable future for the site as a working bell foundry. Re-Form Heritage and the Factum Foundation along with their planning consultants Lichfields and their expert heritage advisor Dr Nigel Barker-Mills, explained how the site could be owned and occupied.
  • After a break, the inquiry reconvened on the 27 October for the public to be given the opportunity to read out their submitted statements and/or to address the Inspector. People who wished to ask further questions, make a written statement or speak on 27 October could contact the Government's Planning Inspectorate to do so.
  • The 28 October was for closing speeches by the respective QCs, with a formal decision on the planning application anticipated to be made in 2021. Click here to access our closing statement, on behalf of Ruppert Warren QC and Matthew Dale-Harris
  • On inquiry sitting days (6-9 October, 13-16 October and 27-28 October, it was possible to follow the proceedings on Microsoft Teams.
The announcement
“Sadly we were too late. It is tragic that our planning system allows you to shut down the business activity, lock the doors for 4 years and then achieve a change of use especially when the business activity is your 400 year-old heritage.”
Stephen Clarke, Re-Form Heritage 

On 14 May 2021, the Rt Hon Robert Jenrick MP, the Secretary of State for Housing, Communities and Local Government, granted consent permitting development of a hotel on the site of the historic Whitechapel Bell Foundry. 

It is with great sadness that we announce the outcome of the Planning Inquiry around the Church Bell Foundry in Whitechapel. Our sadness is really focused on the values that lie behind the decision. Consent has been granted to turn London´s oldest company, founded in 1570 and working until 2017, into a hotel, several restaurants, bars and a private members club.

We fought to demonstrate that a bell foundry is viable when technology and craft skills work in tandem with artists and innovative thinkers to shape a city that cares about more the money.

Rethinking the metrics of value can be dismissed as naïve. Curiosity, inventiveness and renegotiating the relationship between art, science, technology and sharing things that facilitate an enjoyment of human communication should be valued more than an increasingly virtual notion of financial value.

Over four years of fighting, we have built a movement of like-minded people. With the help of Grayson Perry and other artists, we are now going to demonstrate how new markets for bells will celebrate the vital role they play within the public imagination. Grayson’s Post-Covid Bell is in production and will be the evidence of what can be achieved. It will also sound a death knell for one of the greatest examples of living heritage, that preserved the skills of bell making in Whitechapel for almost 500 years.

Factum Foundation would like to thank everyone who has done so much to support the revitalisation of the foundry. These include local people, the mosque, craftsmen, artists, former employees of the bell foundry and many others for whom the sound of bells matter.

We believe the Secretary of State made the wrong decision. Our task is now to demonstrate the viability of our approach. The future of bells lies in the synaesthetic nature of digital technologies, the artistic desire to merge shape, sound and materiality and a growing awareness that the quality and sustainability of life is in our hands.

We will post regular updates about Grayson Perry’s Post-Covid Bell and we will announce new projects that will both revitalise bell making and preserve traditional bell-making skills.

We welcome your continued support as much as we have done over the last years.

The future of the London Bell Foundry starts now. 

Adam Lowe
Founder of Factum Foundation



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