Whitechapel Bell Foundry

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The entrance to the Whitechapel Bell Foundry on Whitechapel Rd

The Whitechapel Bell Foundry is a bell foundry in Whitechapel in the London Borough of Tower Hamlets, and is the oldest manufacturing company in Great Britain.[1] The foundry's main business is the bellfounding and manufacture of church bells and their fittings and accessories, although it also provides single tolling bells, carillon bells and handbells. The foundry is notable for being the original manufacturer of the Liberty Bell, a famous symbol of United States independence. The foundry's premises are a Grade II* listed building.


The company dates back to 1570. The present premises on Whitechapel Road and Plumbers Row dates from 1670 and was formerly a coaching inn called "The Artichoke" which ceased trading in 1738. The following year, the Whitechapel Bell Foundry moved in and occupied the site to the present day.[2]

Notable bells[edit]

The Liberty Bell

In 1752 the foundry cast the Liberty Bell, which was commissioned to celebrate the 50th anniversary of William Penn's 1701 Charter of Privileges, Pennsylvania's original constitution. As a result of damage sustained during its stormy passage across the Atlantic, the bell cracked in 1846 when it was first rung to mark the birthday of George Washington. Since 2003, the bell has been housed at the Liberty Bell Center near Independence Hall.[2]

Big Ben, which tolls the hour at the Palace of Westminster, was cast in 1858 and rung for the first time on 31 May 1859. "Big Ben" weighs 13½ tons and is the largest bell ever cast at the foundry.[2] This bell also cracked because too heavy a hammer was initially used. The crack and the subsequent retuning gives Big Ben its present distinctive tone. A profile template of Big Ben surrounds the entrance door of the Whitechapel Foundry, while the original moulding gauge is retained near the furnaces.[3]

Big Ben

Whitechapel supplied the peal of 10 bells (later augmented to 12) for Guildford Cathedral in Surrey[4] in the years following the Second World War, recast and augmented the bells of Canterbury Cathedral to a peal of 14 in 1981,[5] and for the National Cathedral in Washington DC in 1962.[6]

The foundry produced "Great Tom" at Lincoln Cathedral,[7] the "Clock Bells" at St Paul's Cathedral, the bells of Westminster Abbey and the 13 bells located at Liverpool's Anglican cathedral which are notable for being the heaviest change-ringing peal of bells in the world, and where the bellfounder Albert Hughes is commemorated in a stained glass window in the nave.[8]

Many churches across the world have bells cast by the Whitechapel Bell Foundry, including: Armenian Church, Chennai; St Dunstan's, Mayfield; St Dunstan's, Stepney; St Mary-le-Bow, Cheapside; St. Michael's Church, Charleston; St Michael's, Beckwithshaw; Church of St Thomas the Apostle, Killinghall; St Stephen's Anglican Church, Newtown and St Philip's Church.[9]

The Whitechapel Bell Foundry designed the Olympic Bell seen at the opening ceremony for the London 2012 Olympic Games, although it was not cast on the premises. The furnaces at Whitechapel could not provide the 23 tons of molten metal required to make the bell, so it was manufactured at a factory in the Netherlands which normally produces ship's propellers.[10]

The Foundry also cast the Royal Jubilee Bells used on the lead barge for the Thames Diamond Jubilee Pageant in June 2012,[11] which now hang in the church of St James Garlickhythe. Thomas Mears II cast the bell for Herne Bay Clock Tower in 1837.[12]

Master founders[edit]

The bells of St Bees Priory shown in the "up" position. Cast by Charles & George Mears in 1857

The names on this list are those that are cast into the surface of Whitechapel bells of different dates. Prior to Robert Mot, in 1574, the sign of three bells was often cast to indicate that it was a Whitechapel (or Aldgate) bell.[13][14]

  • 1420 Robert Chamberlain of Aldgate
  • 1426 William Chamberlain
  • 1456 John Daniel
  • 1470 John Daniel's Successor
  • 1487 IW
  • 1500–1515 Thomas Bullisdon
  • 1506–1522 William Culverden
  • 1523 Thomas Lawrence
  • 1538 John Owen
  • 1553 Thomas Kempe
  • 1574 Robert Mot
  • 1606 Joseph Carter
  • 1610 William Carter
  • 1616 Thomas Bartlet
  • 1632 John Clifton
  • 1640 Anthony Bartlet
  • 1675 James Bartlet
  • 1700 Richard Phelps
  • 1735 Phelps and Lester
  • 1738 Thomas Lester
  • 1752 Lester and Pack
  • 1769 Lester, Pack and Chapman
  • 1776 Pack and Chapman
  • 1781 Chapman and Mears
  • 1784 William Mears
  • 1787 William and Thomas Mears
  • 1791 Thomas Mears I
  • 1805 Mears and Son
  • 1810 Thomas Mears II
  • 1844 Charles and George Mears
  • 1861 George Mears and Co
  • 1865 Mears and Stainbank
  • 1873 Robert Stainbank
  • 1884 Alfred Lawson
  • 1904 Arthur Hughes
  • 1916 Albert Hughes
  • 1945 Albert and William Hughes
  • 1950 Albert, William and Douglas Hughes
  • 1964 William and Douglas Hughes
  • 1972 William, Douglas and Alan Hughes
  • 1993 Douglas and Alan Hughes
  • 1997 Alan and Kathryn Hughes


The Robert Stainbank tenor bell from Todmorden Unitarian Church, West Yorkshire, during overhaul in 2014. The bell was cast in 1868.
  1. ^ "500 Years of History" Whitechapel Bell Foundry website, accessed 26 December 2013.
  2. ^ a b c Winn, p. 201.
  3. ^ Whitechapel Bell Foundry The Story of Big Ben accessed 21 May 2007
  4. ^ "Bell Ringing", Guildford Cathedral website, accessed 26 December 2013.
  5. ^ "Bells of Canterbury Cathedral", Canterbury Cathedral website, accessed 26 December 2013.
  6. ^ Dove's guide.
  7. ^ Pickford, Chris. "Great Bells of Britain". Retrieved 3 November 2014. 
  8. ^ Winn, p. 202.
  9. ^ "TOWER OF ST. PHILIPS, CHURCH HILL, SYDNEY.". Construction and Local Government Journal (NSW : 1913 - 1930). NSW: National Library of Australia. 9 February 1927. p. 13. Retrieved 12 December 2013. 
  10. ^ "London 2012: Olympic bell made in Holland", The Telegraph (online edition), 20 April 2012, accessed 26 December 2013.
  11. ^ "Thank you one and all: the people who helped make the Jubilee happen". Daily Telegraph. 10 June 2012. 
  12. ^ Bundock, Mike (2000). Herne Bay Clock Tower: A descriptive history. Herne Bay: Pierhead Publications. ISBN 978-0-9538977-0-4, page 20
  13. ^ Whitechapel Bell foundry Identifying bells accessed 21 May 2007
  14. ^ John Rennie - Bells that tolled across the world accessed 21 May 2007


  • Foreman, Lewis; Foreman, Susan (2005). London: A Musical Gazetteer. London: Yale University Press. ISBN 978-0-300-10402-8. 
  • Winn, Christopher (2007). I Never Knew That About London. London: Ebury Press. ISBN 978-0-09-194319-6. 

External links[edit]

Coordinates: 51°31′1″N 0°4′2″W / 51.51694°N 0.06722°W / 51.51694; -0.06722