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31/44 Architects wins approval for contentious Whitechapel Bell Foundry revamp


31/44 Architects has won consent by the slimmest of margins for controversial plans to revamp the site of a Grade II-listed bell foundry in east London, including a boutique hotel

Tower Hamlets Council received more than 750 objections to the proposals to redevelop the historic Whitechapel Bell Foundry building. 

The foundry in Whitechapel Road was set up in 1740 and was famous for producing bells including Big Ben and the Liberty Bell in Philadelphia. The site continued to be used for making bells until its owners sold up to US developer Raycliffe in 2017.

Yet, despite the opposition, the council’s development committee narrowly voted the scheme through, with the chair casting the deciding vote.

The plan contains an investment in ‘light-touch’ restoration work to the historic building and ‘small-scale bell casting’ onsite by foundry company Westerly Group.

It 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 hotel with a restaurant and bar.

Historic England praised the design, telling Tower Hamlets that it ‘safeguards the significance of the listed building’ and delivers ‘a high degree of heritage benefits’.

But the proposal has been strongly opposed by the UK Historic Buildings Preservation Trust (UKHBPT), an industrial heritage trust founded by Prince Charles. The trust has previously sought to buy the building off Raycliffe and reopen a ‘working bell foundry’.

Responding to the planning decision, the trust said it was ‘deeply saddened’ and ‘remain[s] unconvinced that the pastiche designs for the historic element will be anything but a short-term sop’.

UKHBPT chief executive Clare Wood said: ‘The committee seems to have been swayed by the developer’s sketches of a small imitation bell workshop as part of a themed coffee shop space, their decision seemingly based on a few unrealistic visualisations.’

She added: ‘Instead of being a revitalised place of pilgrimage of global interest and a huge boost to the local economy, it will be another boutique hotel of no interest to anyone but its transient clientele.’

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
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  


Readers' comments (3)

  • I wonder if Historic England has noticed that bells are housed in bell towers, not stuck outside them on the end of a stick, and this looks like a rather clumsy gesture to the history of the building.

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  • For Whom The Bell Tolls!

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  • Maybe it's not a bell tower, but a nod to the manufacturing cranes used to lift the bells...

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