The theme of John Donne’s poem, “For Whom the Bell Tolls,” is that every death effects everyone – we are all mankind and we are diminished by the passing of another. Over the weekend, it was announced that a much respected firm that dates back to 1570 is closing its doors: not exactly a human death, but an historical passing which does indeed diminish all of us.
The Whitechapel Bell Foundry is the oldest manufacturing company in England. It has virtually made the most prominent bells worldwide for approximately the last 500 years. It has been located on the same site on Whitechapel Road in East London for 250 years.
Some have argued that the history of this company goes back to 1420 (Henry V Era), but this has been debated. What is not up for debate are the distinguished bells that Whitechapel has produced — The Liberty Bell (1752), pictured above, and Big Ben (1858), pictured below. The latter has the distinction of being the largest bell ever cast at Whitechapel – 13 and a half tons.
So what has led to the firm’s demise? Basically, it is lack of demand. The owners, Alan and Kathryn Hughes, are hoping to sell the business – perhaps by moving to a new location and instituting greater cost savings Whitechapel can survive.
Another element in Whitechapel’s deteriorating fortunes is the decline in the art of change ringing – i.e., ringing a set of tuned church bells in a sequential manner. This practice began in the 17th century and is quite pleasurable to hear. The coordinated peals are much too complicated to describe here, but it is quite an art.
If you want to read more about the intricacies of change ringing, check out the 1934 Dorothy L. Sayers novel, “The Nine Tailors,” where change ringing plays an essential role in a murder mystery.
For more specifics on Whitechapel, check out their website. They have a gift shop online which offers very affordable small bells if you are interested in purchasing souvenirs from this iconic company.
Martin Oaks would like to thank all of our readers and encourage you to share any memories you may have from seeing Whitechapel Foundry’s handiwork. If you have any questions or comments, please contact us at (469)605-7215, 24/7. We offer cremations in Dallas, Lewisville, Addison, and