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“Interesting but not fascinating”

Whitechapel Bell Foundry
Ranked #72 of 739 Shopping in London
Certificate of Excellence
Leigh-on Sea, United Kingdom
Level 6 Contributor
124 reviews
37 attraction reviews
common_n_attraction_reviews_1bd8 87 helpful votes
“Interesting but not fascinating”
Reviewed 4 November 2013

This wasn't my own choice of a visit but I was invited my a friend to join a group trip which she had booked A YEAR AGO and she had a couple of people drop out. It was therefore more a question of a day in London with this included rather my own inclination. It's probably mostly of interest to bell ringers and anyone of a musical inclination towards the less ordinary.

The foundry is certainly old with incredible history and worth a visit if only for that. it's also, because it's a working foundry, very dirty, a bit dark in places and has lots of things to trip over, fall on etc. There are also a couple of steep staircases to climb so you need to be fairly nimble and also be able and prepared to stand for the one and a half hours which the tour takes.

Our guide, who was informative and knowledgeable, would have probably preferred to be elsewhere at 4pm on a Saturday and this came across in his talk. Most guides welcome questions and the opportunity to show off their knowledge. On Saturday we met the exception. The questions which were asked were answered sharply and one lady who raised a question which had previously been asked - due to the number of people present she hadn't heard this - was told "you weren't listening, I've already explained that". Phew.

Having said this, I did enjoy the visit more than I expected. I had no idea how much was involved in the making of a bell. One visitor raised the question of how the bells were turned for toning prior to electricity and wondered if donkeys had been used, as they are in other countries for this sort of task. He was slapped down verbally rather sharply "no, no donkeys, ever no donkeys here". i thought it was a valid question and had actually been vaguely wondering the same myself. There was an answer but I didn't really understand it and decided not to query it having already been branded "a troublemaker" because I asked how often a bell had to be scrapped because the tone was wrong. (It's two in 47 years by the way).

Bearing in mind the charge is £12 per person - this mounts up to quite a lot for a group of 30 people considering there are no overheads except for the tour guide, the lady at the door and keeping the lights on!

There's a very small gift shop though nothing to loosen my purse strings. There are some bags for life - one lady said she thought they were a bit small and was told "well they're folded up aren't they!" She bought one anyway.

Would I go again? Not, not interesting enough for me personally.

Would I recommend it? Yes, if you're interested in bell ringing, anything to do with the history of bells or of a musical inclination.

You do need to book quite a long time in advance as tours are only on Saturdays. It's near to Aldgate East Tube Station.

Visited November 2013
1 Thank Liz H
This review is the subjective opinion of a TripAdvisor member and not of TripAdvisor LLC
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70 reviews from our community

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English first
East Anglia, United Kingdom
Level 6 Contributor
379 reviews
125 attraction reviews
common_n_attraction_reviews_1bd8 328 helpful votes
“A piece of English history”
Reviewed 8 September 2013

Previous reviews are well-written and cover all the points about this small but fascinating foundry in the heart of the East End.

I agree with another reviewer that there is little point in repeating earlier favourable and informative comments, but it's worth reiterating that the tour needs to be booked in advance, the steps are narrow and steep(ish) and you're on your feet for 90 mins.

The guide is the owner/director of the family firm, is extremely knowledgeable, has a polished presentation and packs a huge amount into the tour time. It's well worth a visit whether you are a bell-ringer or not, as it's a part of London history and something to be proud of.

Visited September 2013
Thank Gracie02
This review is the subjective opinion of a TripAdvisor member and not of TripAdvisor LLC
Level 4 Contributor
28 reviews
6 attraction reviews
common_n_attraction_reviews_1bd8 35 helpful votes
“Sarcastic owner/guide ruined it”
Reviewed 13 August 2013

Arrived at the door to the foundry be a woman who asked to the tickets, tried to make casual conversation with her regarding various items on show in the first room but to be honest she wasn't really bothered and even turned her back on us. When the tour started we had a very informative few mins about the history or the foundry and was told that if anyone had any questions they only needed to ask. During the tour people did ask questions only to get rather sarcastic answers back or I don't wish to answer that question, one lady asked could the guy maybe ask something about some vibration sound the bell made she was a bell ringer only to be told "I have no intention of asking that question" It rather but a downer or what should have been a very good day out but it seems off the cuff remarks, sarcastic replies or poor humour from the foundry owner/guide ruined it. I had already be pre-warned of this by a friend who had been before and yes the guide lived up to what he has said! Who want's a tour when the guide is being rather sarcastic well I don't. yes you may be the longest running manufacturing company in the UK but it doesn't mean you have to have a attitude problem showing people around who have paid good money!

Visited August 2013
6 Thank wiganuk
This review is the subjective opinion of a TripAdvisor member and not of TripAdvisor LLC
Newark-on-Trent, United Kingdom
Level 4 Contributor
41 reviews
5 attraction reviews
common_n_attraction_reviews_1bd8 28 helpful votes
“Unique, highly informative, amazing value”
Reviewed 20 July 2013

Whitechapel Bell Foundry is the oldest manufacturing company in Britain that is still in business, in continuous operation definitely since 1570 and possibly since 1420. I organized and led a group of 25 visitors and can say without hesitation that everyone loved it.

Tours only take place on Saturdays when the Foundry is not operational, and are so rare and sought after that they are often booked up a year ahead. They typically run on only 22 Saturdays a year. It is best to monitor the company website to get on a tour but if you are lucky you might get a ticket if you turn up unannounced. At £12 a person it is a total bargain.

The external appearance of the WBF is modest, but as soon as you come in, it is clear you are somewhere special. After all, you have just walked in through the life-sized original outline used in the manufacture of one of the world’s most famous bells, Big Ben, made right here in 1858.

The present address is the company’s only site. All its operations have been done here since 1738, and the many famous bells made in these very premises also include the original Liberty Bell of 1751.

This ancient company has been owned and operated by the Hughes family since 1904. Our expert host and guide was Alan Hughes, not only the managing director but also a qualified and experienced bell-founder. The only doubtful point in his guidance was his assertion that he has worked for the company for 47 years. He does not look much more than 50, so bell-founding must be good for your health.

In about 90 minutes, from Alan’s opening explanation of bell moulding (done with sand, clay, horse manure and goat hair) to the magnificently resonant final demonstration of one of the great bells, we were given a thorough introduction to the casting, tuning, installation and maintenance of church bells, and the manufacture and repair of musical hand-bells and other small bells. In a ‘church bell’, any inscription is hand-stamped into the mould before it dries, giving raised lettering on the bell. In contrast, ships’ bells are not tuned and so are not musical. Moreover, they are cast in plain sand moulds and any inscription is engraved afterwards.

Medieval monks used chopped straw rather than goats’ hair, but that aside, the principles of bell casting have remained unaltered for 5,000 years. We also received a fascinating insight into the bell-ringing habits of different nations, explaining how the custom of ‘change ringing’ is almost exclusively English (no, not even British: just English). In England there are approximately 5,500 sets of bells made for change ringing, and no more than 200 in the rest of the world.

So much more could be said of this visit, not least about the woodwork shop with its beautiful bell wheels; but it must be kept for a future account, because from its great interest we hope to repeat this visit. Drawbacks to be mentioned: foundries by their nature are dirty places with sharp objects lying around. No open-toed sandals, no children under 14. Some low ceilings and two sets of steep narrow stairways.

Visited June 2013
4 Thank StephenHowarth
This review is the subjective opinion of a TripAdvisor member and not of TripAdvisor LLC
Plymouth, United Kingdom
Level 6 Contributor
1,112 reviews
387 attraction reviews
common_n_attraction_reviews_1bd8 3,308 helpful votes
“Well worth the long wait after booking.”
Reviewed 30 May 2013

I may well have been on the same visit as one or both of the last two reviewers. They and some of the earlier contributors paint an accurate and colourful image of the foundry and the tone of the tour. Little point my rehearsing their description but I would like to emphasise how every part of my tour was fascinating enlightening and entertaining. It is well worth looking carefully looking at the website, talking to the tour admin and then maybe doing a little bit of light research. You soon learn how important this old business has been over many centuries. I have spent time living a few hundred metres from a church tower where at least three of the bells were made at Whitechapel, I am pleased to have seen the foundry. knowing how satisfying and English the resulting sound can be.

Visited May 2013
3 Thank HillyCirencester
This review is the subjective opinion of a TripAdvisor member and not of TripAdvisor LLC

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