Monday, 5 December 2016

Send Not To Ask For Whom The Bell Tolls... tolls, very sadly, for the Whitechapel Bell Foundry. Another bleak moment in this annus horribilis.
I love the sound of church bells - Saturday afternoons, hearing them pealing for the new brides leaving the church door, Sunday morning, bidding the faithful to worship ...even Friday evenings, when the Kirby Muxloe ringers practised for what seemed like hours on end, perfecting their English change-ringing, based on mathematics as much as musicality.
...and I love all the other bells too, the clanging bell in the school playground, marking the end of the lunch hour and the return to lessons, the ting! of the bell on the shop counter, calling assistance from someone in the back office, the tinkling of the handbell summoning the lady's maid to attend to her mistress in Downton, and pretty jingle bells everywhere in the Christmas Season.
But this week, news of the closure of England's Oldest Bell Foundry, which has been operating from this site since 1670 - the manufacturing company officially being established in 1570, but work dates back to 1420, - nigh on SIX  HUNDRED YEARS.
You can read the full story here to by Gentle Author, the lovely writer of the Spitalfields Life Blog.
This is such a sad state of affairs - here on this site have been cast some of the iconic bells of our nation - nay, of the world
Big Ben [as any fule kno, Big Ben is the bell, not the tower in which is is housed] 
The sound of these chimes booming out over Westminster is synonymous with the Mother of Parliaments. Somehow hearing them on the BBC at midnight always conveys a sense of security for me!
Similarly, the Liberty Bell, in Philadelphia - an equally important symbol for our friends across the Pond.

The Queen recognises the work of this ancient company, and has visited on more than one occasion.

In 2012, a set of Royal Jubilee Bells were made here, and were carried down the Thames on a barge at the start of the river pageant. Now they are in St James Garlickhythe [now that's a fun name for a church!!]

The 9-11 bell, a gift from the City of London, to the people of New York, following the Twin Towers destruction in 2001 now hangs in St Paul's New York, very close to the site of the atrocity. The Bishop Of London at the time described it as 'The Bell of Hope'

Here were cast , after WW2, the replacement bells for St Mary Le Bow and St Clement Danes [known everywhere from the nursery rhyme Oranges and Lemons] They have sent bells all over the USA and Canada, and to Russia...

The WBF designed the bell rung at the start of the 2012 London Olympics. Here is a portion of the programme from the opening ceremony
"Bells ring out the changes of our days. They call us to wake, to pray, to work, to arms, to feast and, in times of crisis, to come together. Almost everyone in Britain lives within a sonic parish.. Anyone born within hearing of the Bells of St Mary Le Bow in Cheapside, London, has the right to call themselves ‘cockney’... Above all, bells are the sound of freedom and peace. Throughout World War II all of Britain's bell towers were stilled, to be rung only in case of emergency. They hung in dusty silence until the day came when they could ring in the peace."

I appreciate that the site is so close to the City, 'prime real estate' as they say. But it seems a dreadful shame that this listed building, where so many wonderful bells have been created should have to give way to commercial pressures.

I think I shall console myself by re-reading one of my favourite detective stories, which involves change-ringing - Dorothy L Sayers 'Nine Tailors'. 
 "Nine tellers mark a man." In olden times at funerals the church bell was tolled three times for a child, six times for a woman and nine times for a man. The tolls were called tellers. Hence, "Nine tellers mark a man"; that is, nine tolls of the bell denoted that a man and not a woman or child was being buried. Through facetiousness or error this may have been corrupted into "Nine tailors make a man."

A final quote from Lord Peter Wimsey
They have neither speech nor mouth, but their voice goes out to all nations

The bells of Whitechapel will be sorely missed [the BBC have recently asked for ideas about news stories in 2016 which have not been well covered. I have emailed them and suggested the WBF]


  1. Hello, I have never commented on your blog before but found this such a moving piece. My husband's friend went on a tour of the Whitechapel Foundry a month ago and we knew of it's sad demise. Thank you for highlighting this, what an amazing history this place has. I really enjoy reading your blog by the way, always something different, always interesting. Bless you. Sue

    1. Thanks for your kind comments about the blog. I suspect many people are going to be saddened about the WBF demise.

  2. Angela, St Paul's Anglican Church in Maryborough, Qld has a set of bells from there. From Wikipedia:The next substantial addition to the church was in 1887 when a large free standing bell tower was erected near the church. The structure, with nine bells cast by Mears White Chapel Bell Founders of London, cost £3500 which was donated by ET Aldridge at whose suggestion the tower was constructed in memory of his wife, Maria. According to the National Trust of Queensland, the bell tower is believed to house the only full peal of bells in Queensland.
    This is half and hour's drive from me.
    Cheers, Karen near Gympie.

    1. Wow! this is wonderful to read of Whitechapel Bells pealing in Australia. Thank you so much for telling us about these

  3. Angela, I am shocked and stunned that you have made a spelling mistake. The Molesworth phrase is correctly spelled "as any fule kno", not "as any fule know". As any fule kno, great literature should be respected and the English language, as expertly written by Nigel, is sacred. I will now go and lie down in a darkened room to get over my outrage. 😝

    1. Oops, I didn't spot the predictive text had auto corrected kno to know. I must be more diligent about proofreading. Thanks for mentioning it. Duly corrected!

    2. PS hope you have recovered by now!

  4. That is extremely sad. Is it relocating elsewhere or shutting forever. Utterly fascinating to read. I had no idea. In year 2, we do a lesson in music on church bells being used to communicate a message and we compare it to the idea of a muezzin in a minaret of a mosque. Always a great discussion and the children always enjoy the Maths music investigation on trying to find as many orders and combinations of ringing 4bells as they can. They like watching a video on some camponologists and often gasp at the bell size!

  5. Thank you so much for sharing this, a very moving and eloquent entry :)


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