Britain’s oldest manufacturing business, a London bell foundry that made Big Ben, could be sold after its owner decided to vacate its historic East End premises.
The Whitechapel Bell Foundry began life in 1570 during the reign of Elizabeth I. It moved to its site on Whitechapel Road in 1739 and has traded from the building since.
The Guinness Book of Records lists the foundry, one of only two left in the UK, as Britain’s oldest manufacturer – having traded continuously for 446 years.
The foundry has been owned by the Hughes family since 1904. Alan Hughes and his wife Kathryn have sold the grade II-listed building on Whitechapel Road and are considering options for when the foundry leaves in May 2017.
Alan Hughes said: “We have made this decision with a heavy heart, but in response to the changing realities of running a business of this kind. The business has been at its present site over 250 years so it is probably about time it moved once again. We hope that this move will provide an opportunity for the business to move forward in a new direction.”
Property prices in Whitechapel have soared in recent years because the area, once infamous for the Jack the Ripper murders, is close to the capital’s financial district and is a favourite spot for growing technology companies.
The foundry’s owners are considering a sale that could keep it operating from new premises.
In 1752, the foundry cast the Liberty Bell for the city of Philadelphia, which became a symbol of US independence. In 1856, it made Big Ben, although the bell cracked while being tested and was recast in 1858.
Specialist sales – largely church bells and musical handbells – have formed the bulk of recent business and the foundry launched an online store selling handbells and doorbells to consumers three years ago.