UK’s oldest manufacturer goes online

Suzie Neuwirth
THE WHITECHAPEL Bell Foundry – which claims to be the oldest manufacturing company in the UK – has pulled itself into the 21st century with the launch of its first online store.

The firm, which has cast and sold bells from its East London premises since 1570, has set up the new offering via Swedish e-commerce platform Tictail.

Tictail has the backing of executives from online phenomenons Tumblr and Spotify, who also sit on the firm’s advisory board. It is a free service, but sells additional features such as voucher codes and mailing lists. The company was founded in Stockholm in May 2011 and launched a year later.

The Whitechapel Bell Foundry is a family-owned business, run by Alan and Kathryn Hughes. It has produced a number of famous bells, including the bell for Big Ben, bells for Westminster Abbey and for the herald barge which led the procession on the Thames for the Queen’s Diamond Jubilee Pageant last year.

In September 2011, the Whitechapel Bell Foundry was commissioned to provide a large bell to be rung at the start of the opening ceremony at the 2012 London Olympics.

The bell bears the inscription from Shakespeare’s play The Tempest “Be not afeard; the isle is full of noises”. The firm completed the design and tuning of the bell but was unable to cast it as its furnace was too small. It subcontracted the casting to Dutch company Royal Eijsbouts, creating some controversy in its choice of a non-British firm.