This picture depicts a high street shot of the entrance on 32–34 Whitechapel Road. Although the windows are on display, it seems as though the premise is empty, almost as though nothing exists past the door, echoing its consequential end. © John Claridge, 1982
Arts & artistsCultureLocal

Photographer John Claridge: remembering the Whitechapel Bell Foundry

Remembering the legacy of the Whitechapel Bell Foundry through photographer John Claridge’s photos taken in 1982 and 2016.

The manufacturing of bells at the Whitechapel Bell Foundry has dispersed fragments of Whitechapel around the world and across history. 

Through the photographs by John Claridge, the images of the Bell Foundry gives us an insight into the workings of the bell manufacturer and a glimpse of it in its glory days. 

Published in 2016, Claridge’s ‘Whitechapel Bell Foundry Book’ features photos that were taken both in 1982 and again in 2016.

His striking style of photography takes us into a feel of old London, even for the photos that were taken in 2016 as if time hadn’t quite passed since 1982. 

With the use of black and white film, the photos depict a moody and noir effect due to the heavy contrast. The lack of colour also allows the eyes to focus more on the subject, bringing every element of the image into attention.

As well as this, the images have a strong layer of sharpness, giving viewers the feeling that if they were to touch the image, they might almost touch the real thing.

The pictures are a reminder of industrial London, as the details and noise captured within the photos create a feeling of the grit and the hard work poured into the labour-dominated period.

As Britain’s oldest manufacturing company, the Bell Foundry was founded in 1570 and manufactured bells for historical landmarks including Big Ben, Bow Bells and the Liberty Bell in Philadelphia, USA.

The foundry had closed in June 2017, after the owners announced the relocation of the manufacturer due to a decrease in orders. It was bought by US developer Raycliff Capital in 2019, whose plans are to convert the property into a boutique hotel. 

Campaigners had opposed the decision, resisting to keep the Grade II listed building in Whitechapel and maintain it as a working foundry, as opposed to its proposed 108-bedroom hotel containing a swimming pool, café and artist spaces.

Since then, Raycliff, in partnership with AB Fine Art Foundry and the Westley Group, has agreed to reinstate a bell and art foundry in the space of the former historic foundry.

Each of Claridge’s pictures shows us how history was in the making, stapling it into time and space to remind us of the legacy of the Whitechapel Bell Foundry had built. Although it will be transformed and has since moved, the bells it has created will continue chiming in remembrance of yesterday. 

Head on over to Cafe Royal Books to purchase the collection of the photos from Claridge’s ‘Whitechapel Bell Foundry’ book.

Shot of the Bell Foundry entrance, Whitechapel Road.
This picture depicts a high street shot of the entrance on 32–34 Whitechapel Road. Although the windows are on display, it seems as though the premise is empty, almost as though nothing exists past the door, echoing its consequential end. © John Claridge, 1982
A worker pouring molten metal into a cast, Whitechapel Bell Foundry.
Gazing at this picture it is almost as if you’re in the room, watching the worker pour molten metal into a cast as smoke clouds the area – you almost feel the need to wave your hands to disperse the smoke. The grit that can be seen on the worker’s face is reminiscent of the hard work that was poured into the meticulous process of making the historic bells. © John Claridge, 1982
A bell being handled by the late, Whitechapel Bell Foundry.
In this shot, we can see one of the bells waiting for its final touches by the lathe, which is used for tuning the bells. The bells go through several stations of machinery, each part as important as the next. These stages can be seen through what seems like metal particles all over the floor to the fine details of inscription on the bell. © John Claridge, 2016
A shot of the ceiling rails, inside the Whitechapel Bell Foundry.
A ceiling shot of the factory, revealing the old architecture of the building. The crowded shot draws out the bustling environment of the foundry, with railings surrounding the room which is used for moving the bells from one section of the factory to the next. It’s almost as if you’re looking at a maze on the ceiling, reflecting the rigorous process each bell must go through. © John Claridge, 2016
Workers of the Bell Foundry by the furnace, Whitechapel.
The striking aspect of this image is the lighting from what appears to be glowing from the furnace to the electrical lighting above. The illuminating effect on the room is evidence of the crossing over of time, where the old (machinery) meets the new (electric lights). © John Claridge, 1982

If you enjoyed this article you may also like to read Photographer Syd Shelton on the vanishing East End.

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