Tuesday, 13 December 2016
Tricks of time
For what seemed like a long time, but was only a few months, the twelve Dark Angels authors worked in parallel streams: first to get our book Established funded, second to write our individual chapters about some of the world’s oldest companies.
So it was with some relief that we reached our funding target in November and started on the production process. Our chapters were finished and handed over to Unbound. Then within days I received some unwelcome news about the company – the Whitechapel Bell Foundry – that was the subject of my chapter.
The Gentle Author of Spitalfields, who writes a regular blog about East End people and places, announced to the world that the Whitechapel Bell Foundry was closing. My first unworthy thought was that – having been established in 1570 – they might just have hung on for one more year till the book came out. But then the sadness of the news set in. I contacted the owner Alan Hughes to express my sorrow.
I’m glad I did because Alan set the record straight and things weren’t quite as bad as first appeared. The Gentle Author had not quite got the story right. The company and the premises were being sold but the expectation was that the Whitechapel Bell Foundry would continue.
In itself this was a lesson for the conclusions of our book. Time passes and with the passing of time certain business basics change. The foundry had originally been sited in Whitechapel for easy access to the river (these bells were very heavy); and also because, in green fields outside the eastern edge of the city, the prevailing wind could blow away the smells of manufacturing.
What made the site right then is what makes it questionable now with the passing of time. A new site might improve its manufacturing efficiency while losing its traditional charm as London’s oldest manufacturing company. But what it now has is a prime location. The city has expanded to include Whitechapel in its embrace, and of course the value of the site has increased temptingly.
So the premises are being sold. A shame but not the disaster I first imagined. Bells will still be made but London, and all of us, will have lost a little bit of memory and history. But at least the chapter in the book will still tell the story.