Boutique hotel planned for Britain’s oldest bell foundry

UK: Plans for a 100-bedroom hotel at The Whitechapel Bell Foundry has prompted campaigners to consider legal action to have the permission reversed.

The plans, by New York-based investment company Raycliff Capital, are supported by the foundry’s former owner, Alan Hughes. Hughes closed the works in 2017.

Raycliff intend to keep the original foundry building intact, instead using the space to make castings for artistic sculptures. Visitors would be able to watch on-going work through a glass wall in the site’s cafe.

A luxury hotel, which will include a bell-theme throughout the property, is planned for the building’s extension and surrounding grounds.

The approval by Tower Hamlets Council to convert the site into a boutique hotel has since been met with a community-led campaign to save the foundry.

The campaign is supported by high-profile figures such as Sir Antony Gormley, and the director of the Victoria and Albert Museum, Dr. Tristram Hunt.

The Whitechapel Bell Foundry, in east London, is listed in the Guinness World Records as the country’s oldest manufacturing firm, having produced Big Ben, the bells of St Mary-le-Bow, and the Liberty Bell in Pennsylvania.

Clare Wood, director of the UK Historic Building Preservation Trust, 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. The heart and soul of the building – and its reason for being – will be gone. Instead of being a revitalised placed 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”.

According to Hughes, the campaigners have “misled the public” in its desire to resort the site to its original use as a bell factory, stating that a modern, hi-tech manufacturing company is wanted to be run off-site instead.

A member of the Tower Hamlets Council, Ehtasham Haque, said that the campaigners were considering legal action.

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