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BELLS THAT TOLLED ACROSS THE WORLD
by John Rennie



IT seems extraordinary that when the Pennsylvania Assembly voted to commission the Liberty Bell, back in 1751, that they sent halfway round the world - to Whitechapel - to get the instrument cast. But a look at the history of this extraordinary company shows why they went so far.

The Guinness Book of Records actually lists the Whitechapel Bell Foundry as Britain's oldest manufacturing company, having been established during the reign of Queen Elizabeth I, back in 1570. But shortly after the foundry celebrated its quartercentenary in 1970, bell historian George Elphick discovered an even older link. The foundry could now boast an unbroken chain of master founders at Aldgate and Whitechapel, right back to 1420. Astonishingly too, we have all their names (see 'Master founders at Whitechapel' below) with the exception of two founders in the late 1500s..

When the foundry was built it stood - like so many of the dirty industries of the day - in green fields outside the walls of the City. The distinctive buildings in Whitechapel Road date from 1670, just four years after the Great Fire of London, and were probably built to replace older buildings lost in the blaze. .

The structure was originally built as a coaching inn, the Artichoke. But in the early 1700s, the then master founder, Thomas Lester, bought the building. His business was undergoing a time of rapid expansion. In the wake of the Great Fire, new churches were being built all over the capital, and the demand for bells would have risen too. .

It's remarkable that the edifice remains. During the Blitz, many of the surrounding buildings, including the Church of St Mary Whitechapel, were destroyed by German bombs. During World War II the foundry switched from bells to making castings for the Ministry of War. With war over, they got back to business, replacing bells lost in air raids and the subsequent fires, one of the most famous being the bells of St Mary le Bow and St Clement Danes - both immortalised in the nursery rhyme Oranges and Lemons..

In fact, the story of the Whitechapel bell Foundry is inextricably entwined with the famous buildings and events of our history. They made the Liberty Bell in Philadelphia, the Great Bell of Montreal and, dearest to Londoners, Big Ben. Cast in 1858, this is the biggest bell Whitechapel ever made. 9ft in diameter, 7ft6in high and weighting more than 13 tons, it needed three furnaces to melt the metal and, once the mould was filled, it took 20 days for the bell to solidify and cool..

Transporting the bell the few miles from the foundry to the Houses of Parliament was a major event. Traffic stopped as the bell, mounted on a trolley drawn by 16 brightly beribboned horses, made its way over London Bridge, along Borough Road, and over Westminster Bridge. The streets had been decorated for the occasion and enthusiastic crowds cheered the bell along the route..

Ironically, just as with the Liberty Bell, Big Ben is equally famous for being cracked. Finely tuned and cast from the brittle alloy that gives bells their fine tone, Big Ben needed careful treatment. But Edmund Denison, who had commissioned the bell from Whitechapel, thought he new better. Fitting an oversized hammer, he managed to crack Big Ben within two months. The hammer was changed but the crack remains - and gives the distinctive, slightly off-key, tone that we hear today from ....

The chimes of Big Ben
HEAR BIG BEN CHIME


Master founders at Whitechapel
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 Bell foundry Craftsmen of Whitechapel tune
VISIT THE WHITECHAPEL BELL FOUNDRY
the 9/11 Bell presented to Trinity Church New York


Westminster Abbey Link
LISTEN TO THE CHIMING BELLS OF WESTMINSTER ABBEY

Visit the Cutty Sark site

The above article (16/09/02) is reproduced with thanks to 'Eastend Life' and Author John Rennie




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