Whitechapel Bell Foundry
- Percival Price
- , revised by Charles Bodman Rae
Since 1968 the official name of a bellfoundry located in Whitechapel Road, east London. The lineage of the foundry can be traced back to at least 1420. From 1570 its bells have been produced by master bellfounders of the following families: Mot (16th century); Carter, Bartlett and Clifton (17th century); Phelps, Lester, Pack, Chapman and Mears (18th century); Mears, Stainbank and Lawson (19th century); and Hughes (from 1904). From 1865 to 1968 the foundry was known as Mears & Stainbank. It has been principally engaged in making tower bells, both single and in short-range diatonic series: the latter mostly for swinging in the manner of English change-ringing, but some to be rung hanging stationary, as chimes. From the early 19th century or before, it also made musical handbells. At first these were mostly sets of 8 to 12 bells in diatonic series for practising change-ringing; but with the increasing popularity of handbell music in the 20th century (see Handbell) it began to produce sets of 25 to 60 bells in chromatic series. Early in the 20th century the firm made sets of hemispherical bells, but has since given this up. It has also produced several carillons.
The Whitechapel Bell Foundry is now widely known for the fine tone and tuning of its handbells. In tuning large bells for change-ringing, its present founders (along with others in England in the first part of this century) replaced the dissonant augmented 7th interval between the lowest two partials with a full octave. Many older ringers complained that changes on such bells did not sound so pleasing (see Bell, §2), and it was found particularly inappropriate to extend or replace parts of an old set with parts of a new one. Consequently the Whitechapel foundry now usually adheres to a refined form of the old standard when restoring or enlarging peals of bells.
The two most famous individual bells by Whitechapel founders are the first Philadelphia Liberty Bell (cast 1752, cracked in the same year) and the second Big Ben of Westminster (cast 1858, still in use). Big Ben weighs 13.5 tonnes and is the largest bell ever cast by this foundry. Whitechapel continues to cast bells for sites throughout the world. In 1999 it was making 58 bells to replace those of the carillon at the Riverside Church, New York, for proposed installation in the year 2000.