It was a great day for the hospitality industry when the Whitechapel Bell Foundry closed its doors. Nobody needs bells any more but what they do need is a bell-themed boutique hotel at the heart of historic East London, plus a nice little artisanal cafe on the side.
So it's our pleasure to welcome you to England's newest heritage destination, The Bell End, just as soon as we've knocked down all the bits of the original building we don't want.
The Whitechapel Bell Foundry was founded in 1570 and was once listed by the Guinness Book of Records as Britain's oldest manufacturing company. No other factory from the reign of Good Queen Bess is still going strong, or at least was going strong until it became financially unviable and sold out to a holding company. Thankfully this 450 year-old business is to be reborn as a mixed use development with 103 beds, artists' workshops and a super little gift shop courtesy of a kindly bunch of venture capitalists.
It's all because nobody needs bells these days, not proper full-sized ones. The Foundry sadly failed to understand the first rule of global economics, which is built-in obsolescence, so their products have endured for centuries without the need for replacement. Not since the mass destruction afforded by the Blitz has the foundry had a full order book, so it was always inevitable that the business would fold and a bespoke hotel concept take its place.
You can't miss the building because its wonky Georgian brickwork despoils a corner plot opposite HSBC and Superdrug. We plan to activate the shuttered frontage by replacing the downstairs workspace with a cafe, thereby neutralising pesky industrial health and safety protocols. The history of the formerbusiness will be told via display spaces featuring leftover tools and implements, because that's cheaper and more efficient than retaining the extinct traditions themselves. Expect the pit where the largest bells were cast to be securely covered, brightly lit and never again used for its original purpose.
We're absolutely beside ourselves with excitement at the thought of monetising the space where Big Ben and the actual Liberty Bell were struck. Our accountants are similarly thrilled at the thought of all the Americans who'll want to pay a pilgrimage to the Whitechapel Road and fork out for a light lunch and hopefully an overnight stay. All it took was the brave choice to repurpose the front of the building and rebuild the rear, rather than wasting public money trying to rescue the original business model. Market forces confirm that London has too many bell foundries and not enough boutique hotels, so it makes perfect economic sense to replace the last of one with the umpteenth of the other.
Rest assured that the long tradition of bell manufacture will continue on site. A small downstairs area will be partitioned off as a pseudo-foundry where cafe patrons will be permitted to observe operations through protective glass. Only handbells will be manufactured, not the tower bells for which the site is world famous, but excitingly these will be for sale in the building's gift shop. Not only did this tick all the right boxes in the planning application but we expect our visitors to be exactly the kind of people who buy shiny trinkets as souvenirs, thereby helping to make The Bell End financially self-sustaining.
The previous business selfishly only employed 24 staff, many of them merely professional craftspeople rather than proper serving staff or chambermaids. The new development will generate over 180 jobs, many of them low paid and none of which will require expensive long-term apprenticeships. The Bell End will also accommodate creative workspaces at subsidised rents for the benefit of local makers and creatives, but only because the building's listed and we had to do something with the upstairs rooms.
Just look at how attractive the new hotel will be. This is no boxy annexe, this is a distinguished design solution with all the pizazz of a modern block of flats, which will undoubtedly contribute positively to the overall ambience of the Whitechapel High Street Conservation Area. We're particularly proud of the full-sized bell dangling from a gantry on the rooftop which our architects confirm adds to the historical authenticity of the overall aesthetic, because nothing says The Bell End like a rampant protuberance.
We're enormously grateful to Robert Jenrick, the construction industry's favourite housing minister, for rubberstamping the conversion of the foundry into a luxury boutique hotel. He understands that you can't simply retain world-class heritage these days, everything has to be financially self-supporting, otherwise the public would be expected to subsidise the preservation of irreplaceable facilities out of taxpayers' pockets. How much better to open a cafe, flog handbells and lay a miniature chocolate on guests' pillows than to preserve an anachronistic anomaly from the first Elizabethan Age. The Bell End stands firm and proud, and hopes very much to welcome you soon.