Whitechapel Bell Foundry

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I'd come down with a streaming cold and should have been tucked up at home.  But,  the Whitechapel Bell Foundry tour had been booked weeks ago, and I was determined not to miss out.  Oh the irony.... I had lost my voice and was surrounded by the chattiest bunch; a group of overly enthusiastic bell ringers from Canterbury.  Now, I love the sound of the church bells ringing on a Wednesday evening as I stroll home from work.  But, I can't profess an unbridled passion for bells.   It was the building which had stopped me dead in my tracks one lunchtime, luring me in.  I had a hunch,original fixtures and fittings might be lurking in workshops, ripe for photographing.  So there I was quietly dying at the back one Saturday afternoon, willing the end, so I could take to my bed. The WBF has existed on these premises since 1570, during the reign of Elizabeth I.  It is listed in the Guinness Book of Records as being Britain's oldest manufacturing business.  What immediately struck me, was how on earth they manage to make such huge objects, constricted by small premises ( a third of an acre) and an old listed building.  For example, steel sheets at floor level conceal pits used for the really giant bells to be cast in.  We are talking Big Ben scale here.  Upstairs in the attic, lengths of wood have to be sawn at a diagonal angle, there just isn't the room to do it any other way.

I noted that day, a common theme linking most of the artesan craftsman I have met through the blog....... there isn't much time for sentimentality.  They are phenomenally busy, and don't indulge the past much.  Most establishments are keen to have their old bells melted down, then reused in the new bells, for the sake of posterity.  I rather like the thrifty notion of fashioning something old into something new, like a family piece of jewellery.  In most cases, the metal just isn't good enough to be saved though, and only a small percentage is used in the new bell.

If I'm honest, it was the small handbells which dazzled me more than anything else I saw that day.  We'd climbed into the carpentery workshops, and there they were up in the attic, brass twinkling in the corner.   Sets descending in size, bridle leather handles, embossed with their corresponding note.  Polished to within an inch of their lives, ready to chime into action.  As I suspected, they did make a very pretty photograph......

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Love the boot scraper. 

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This hall of fame shows that some of the bell foundry carpenters didn't exactly live to a ripe old age...........

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I told you the bell ringers were keen as mustard, this lady even has the earrings to prove it!

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Note the framed cat on the right hand side.......... 

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