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31/44 Architects submits plans for contentious Whitechapel Bell Foundry scheme

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31/44 Architects has submitted its final designs for the contentious redevelopment of a Grade II-listed East End bell foundry

The Whitechapel Bell Foundry had been based on Whitechapel Road since 1740 but closed in 2017. Now US developer Raycliffe has applied for permission to turn the building into a ‘mixed-use arts and production facility’ and boutique hotel.

The scheme, currently under consideration by Tower Hamlets Council, would see £7 million invested in ‘light-touch’ restoration work to the historic building, including ‘small-scale bell casting’ on site run by foundry company Westley Group.

The project also includes new public spaces and a café, workspace and artists’ studios, while the 1980s building behind the foundry will be redeveloped to provide a 108-room hotel with a restaurant and bar.

But the proposals face opposition from the UK Historic Building Preservation Trust (UKHBPT) which launched a bid to prevent the plans from going ahead, outlined in a report titled Saved by the Bell.

The trust, an industrial heritage charity founded by Prince Charles, wants to buy the building off Raycliffe and reopen it as a ‘working bell foundry’ specialising in casting bells and art casting.

In 2017, fourth-generation bell-founder Alan Hughes and his wife Kathryn sold the Whitechapel Road foundry, the birthplace of famous bells such as Big Ben at the Palace of Westminster and Philadelphia’s Liberty Bell, after struggling with rising costs and declining demand.

The Hughes family, which continues to run the Whitechapel Bell Foundry company from other sites, has argued previously that the trust is wrong to claim the foundry will be ‘revitalised’ by its rival proposals.

31/44, which is based just off Whitechapel Road, said that over the building’s 300-year history on the site, it had become lost in the ‘wider cityscape’ of the street.

According to the practice, the six-storey new-build, which incorporates a bellcote on the roof, will serve as a ‘signpost to the historic building’.

Director Will Burges said the project had been a ‘complex undertaking’ requiring significant research into the history of the site and that, as local architects, they were aware of their ‘responsiblity’ to the building.

‘The project that has emerged, following 18 months of development and consultation, is complex and has been assembled with great care – from selecting and bringing together our project partners through to considering the detailed making of the building,’ Burgess said.

‘We find ourselves as the architects of a public foundry and arts facility in a listed building, as well as for a significant new hotel development next door. Both buildings are, in different ways, focused on sustaining the heritage and legacy of this globally significant site.’

Westley Group chairman Tom Westley added: ‘We have a long history with the Whitechapel Bell Foundry and are still producing bells under license from the Hughes family, so we are delighted to be involved in this exciting new future.

‘Our involvement reflects our passion for education; we want to use this opportunity to train a new generation of apprentices in the art of founding.’

TheBellFoundry 008 Proposed Section   Historic Building

TheBellFoundry 008 Proposed Section Historic Building

Project data

Address 32 Whitechapel Rd, London E1 1EW
Site area 2,372m²
Existing internal 1,064m²
Additional internal 6,208 m²
Value Undisclosed
Schedule A planning decision due in April
Client Raycliff
Architect 31/44 Architects
Structural engineer Alan Baxter Associates
M&E consultant Milieu Consult
Main contractor n/a
Quantity surveyor Quantem
Project manager Equals
Images 31/44 Architects / AVR  

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