Tuesday, 27 January 2009

Of Whitechapel, Liberty.....and Jack the Ripper.

Whitechapel is one of my favourite areas of London, which I have had the opportunity to explore since my eldest son took a lease there on an office.

I admit, it has a traffic system and traffic straight from the jaws of Armageddon, but nevertheless it’s not hard to imagine yourself back in Victorian times. As commercial and residential development continues to spread out from the City, so the fortunes of Whitechapel have risen and it is becoming a desirable area in which to live. This wasn't always the case, however.

One of my favourite buildings in the area is an enterprise known as the Whitechapel Bell Foundry. Saturday tours of this company sell out years in advance – I am currently on the returns list for 2009 !

The company has been in continuous business here since 1570 and the line of Master Founder can be traced back in the area to the year 1420, in the reign of Henry V. The premises are now designated as Grade II listed buildings, and as such may not be altered in any way. Thus the frontage remains unchanged on a very busy East London road amongst many modern buildings.

Famous bells cast here include the original Liberty Bell (1752), the Great Bell of Montreal and probably best known of all, Big Ben at the Palace of Westminster. This bell was cast in 1858, the largest bell ever cast here and weighing 13.5 tons.

Now, I wouldn’t presume to get involved in a ‘who cracked the Liberty Bell?’ debate, but the foundry re established its connection with the Liberty Bell in 1976, the US Bi Centennial.

It was then that a group of about thirty or so 'demonstrators' from the Procrastinators Society of America mounted a mock protest over the bell's defects and marched up and down outside the Foundry with placards proclaiming WE GOT A LEMON and WHAT ABOUT THE WARRANTY?.

With true English understatement, the Master Founder told them he would be happy to replace the bell - as long as it was returned in its original packaging…..

Most pleasingly, Whitechapel was also commissioned to cast the 12,446lb Bicentennial Bell that year, which now resides in Philadelphia with its illustrious predecessor and which bears the inscription:

4 JULY 1976

In the 1880s, Whitechapel was synonymous with crime and poverty.

Into this wretched stew in August 1888 came Jack the Ripper when he butchered his first victim, Mary Anne Nichols, in Hanbury Street which, like the sites of all of the murders, is no more than ten minutes walk from the foundry.

Almost certainly, foundry employees would all have been questioned by the police during their door-to-door enquiries, as were all residents of the area.

Also the Ripper, whoever he may have been, clearly knew the area well and would almost certainly have walked past the foundry on his way to or from several of his murders.


  1. Very informative blog. When I visited Philadelphia and the original Liberty Bell (prior to the giving of the new bell) the placard said it was a casting flaw that resulted in the crack. The original packing was no doubt used as kindling for a fire and evidently we never received a receipt or if we did certainly did not save it. Our fault.

  2. Heh,heh! I love the condition on returning the bell! We just saw the Liberty Bell again last year when visiting our daughter who lives in Philadelphia and it does mention the casting flaw.

    I've always been intrigued with the ripper mystery. The sketch looks exactly as it does today!

  3. Chuckling at Jacqui's comment about the original packing....hehe

    I'd love the take the Jack Ripper walk....creepy but fascinating...

    Well done M....!

  4. How can you listen to the Ruslan & Ludmilla and not smile? Mehta is the best, isn't he?

  5. Thank you for today's concert and walking tour. Most enjoyable. If I remember any of my Russian at all, I believe that 'ludmila' means the light giver, which is so fitting with your 'street light' theme.

    Your new role of entertainment director & guide whilst shouting at street lamps along back streets now prospering is a nice fit, which I think suits you very well. :)


  6. And here comes some fishsticks....

    Oy, Sir Muttley!
    I'm joining you and Jacqui on eBlogger....
    My link and 1st blog:

    Be gentle, kind sir! ;~P