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Saving the last bell foundry in Britain

Loughborough Bellfoundry has been awarded crucial development funding but one million pound is still needed to help save it.

The Loughborough Bellfoundry, also known as John Taylor’s Bell Foundry, is the last major bell foundry in the UK and Commonwealth. Its bells can be heard by hundreds of millions of people around the world in more than 100 countries.

More than a staggering 25,000 bells have been cast since the present bell foundry was built in 1859, but this important part of Britain’s industrial heritage is now under threat. Without urgent repairs and a sustainable plan for the future, the bell foundry – which is in the heart of Loughborough, Leicestershire – could be lost forever.

To avoid the considerable loss of traditional craftmanship and seismic impact on historic buildings around the world, the team behind the restoration project is seeking one million pound from members of the public and any organisation wishing to help secure the bell foundry’s future for generations to come.

The National Lottery Heritage Fund recently awarded the Loughborough Bellfoundry Trust, owner of the bell foundry, nearly £300,000 of Development Phase funding to allow it to work up detailed proposals for its two Grade II* listed buildings. The project is also being supported by the Architectural Heritage Fund, which has pledged £30,000.

The Trust is hoping to secure final approval next year from The National Lottery Heritage Fund for a grant of £3.7 million to deliver its plans. However, to be eligible for this, the Trust must secure match funding of circa one million pound before the application goes in. If funding is not raised, the project will cease.

The full funding package will not only repair and restore the bell foundry’s buildings, onsite museum and equipment, but will also enable the Loughborough Bellfoundry to become the preeminent centre for bell research, development and manufacturing, ensuring that processes pioneered by John Taylor’s over centuries are sustained whilst exploring how 21st century technology can add value to the timeless art.

Education and skills

Education and skills will play a major part too, with the project ensuring that the unique skills that go into bell founding are preserved, by training future craftsmen and women and enabling public access to the world’s most significant archive of bell material.

Andrew Wilby, trustee of the Loughborough Bellfoundry Trust, said: “John Taylor’s Bell Foundry is the home of bell founding and is the only working vestige in the country of an ancient industry that creates bells for thousands of buildings around the world. 

“At least 20 million people in Britain and hundreds of millions worldwide hear a Taylor bell every day, with generations experiencing a ring of Taylor bells to mark significant events such as weddings, funerals and moments of national importance such as the end of world wars.

“Our vision is for John Taylor’s Bell Foundry to become the global centre for the art of bell making and learning, and to secure the legacy of its bells to make sure future generations on every continent can be brought together by a ‘Ring of Taylor bells’. We have been very fortunate to have benefitted from funding from Historic England over the last few years to address the most urgent repairs but we need to take our efforts to the next level and secure the site once and for all.

“Without this funding from The National Lottery Heritage Fund, the buildings would continue to deteriorate and could lead to closure of the bell foundry for good, so we’re extremely grateful to begin undertaking the necessary work to save the site and in turn, help secure the future of the industry in Britain and protect the unique art of bell founding.

“We truly hope we can secure the match funding we need to progress with the project, and we appreciate any donation from the public to help us reach our goal. We have already lost one bell foundry within the last two years, let’s not lose the last.”

The last of its kind in Britain

The first to perfect the harmonic tuning of bells, the Loughborough Bellfoundry was built 160 years ago as the first ever purpose-built bell foundry. With the unfortunate closing of the Whitechapel Bellfoundry – famous for iconic bells such Philadelphia’s Liberty Bell and London’s Big Ben – in 2017, it’s is now the only remaining site in Britain large enough to cast, repair and re-hang major rings of bells for cathedrals, churches and secular buildings across the globe.

If the bell foundry buildings cannot be comprehensively repaired, the Loughborough Bellfoundry could suffer the same fate as Whitechapel. It could lose the capacity to undertake these vital restoration projects and ultimately could be forced to cease production. This would mark the closure of the last remaining bell foundry in Britain and the Commonwealth with the loss of hundreds of years of art, craft and tradition.

Should it be forced to close, it is also possible that the archive of technical material relating to thousands of bells and buildings would no longer be accessible to architects and engineers to support their day-to-day work repairing and caring for sites around the world.

The project therefore deals with heritage not just at the Loughborough Bellfoundry, but in tens of thousands of historic buildings across the globe, touching tens of millions of people every day. 

Dr Ben Robinson, Historic England’s partnerships team leader in the Midlands, said: “The bell foundry complex is a unique collection of buildings listed for their significance at Grade II*, putting them in the top eight per cent of all listed buildings in the country. Historic England has provided substantial grants over several years to address some of the most urgent repair problems, but we always knew that a much larger project was needed to secure this important site’s future. We would love to see the funds raised and these exciting plans come to fruition so that the foundry can finally be removed from the Heritage at Risk Register.”

To donate to the Loughborough Bellfoundry Trust’s vital campaign, email: info@loughboroughbellfoundry.org or visit: www.loughboroughbellfoundry.org