History | May 15, 2021 6:00 am

A London Foundry Cast the Liberty Bell and Big Ben. It’s Turning Into a Boutique Hotel.

A very different future for Whitechapel Bell Foundry

Big Ben
You might not know this foundry's name, but its work certainly rings a bell.
Marcin Nowak/Unsplash

The history of the Whitechapel Bell Foundry stretches back in time for centuries. It’s the place where a pair of national symbols — the Liberty Bell and Big Ben — were made. A 2020 article at The Guardian notes that the foundry was first established in the 16th century and has been in its present home since sometime in the 1740s. Sadly, the foundry ceased operations in 2017, and now it seems that its destiny involves a very different direction.

Specifically, it’s set to become a boutique hotel with 103 rooms. At The Art Newspaper, Gareth Harris reports that an American investor recently received a go-ahead from the British government to build a luxury hotel on the site. Harris’s report notes that the hotel “will include a modern foundry in some form.”

Reaction to the plan from numerous quarters of British society involved outrage aplenty. Cultural historian Charles Saumarez Smith, writing in Apollo, declared that “[t]his feels like one of those moments in the history of planning law which is symbolic above and beyond the specifics of the case.”

He went on to critique the government, especially various symbolic displays of patriotism from politicians. “They are happy to use British history for their own purposes, but when a decision comes about protection and preservation of a living monument of the past, instead they support an American vulture capitalist,” Saumarez Smith wrote.

Another article at The Guardian offers an expansive look at the controversy and the fortunes of the global market for bells. The idea of turning a building once iconic in an industry that has faded into a residential space is a familiar one — but given the history of this particular space, it’s not hard to see why the outrage over the future of the foundry has struck a chord with so many people.