A company that on average takes more than a decade to complete an order is certainly a very peculiar one. Whitechapel Bell Foundry, which made Big Ben and the Liberty Bell, has finally shut down in London, after first opening its doors in 1570.
It was the oldest manufacturing company in Britain with continuous operation. Imposing as they are, bells are also fragile creatures: an inch-thick bell could crack in the hand of a person if hit by a two-pound hammer. Their very brittleness is what gives them their music.
“We are just commencing work on a new peal of bells for St Albans after 43 years of negotiation,” said Alan Hughes, whose great grandfather bought the business in 1884. “That’s an example of the timescale we are working on — at least 10 years between order and delivery is normal.”
Unsurprisingly, their biggest customers were churches, and the Church of England. But with the church in decline, there was not much of a promising horizon left even for a company that takes almost twice as long as the Second World War to ship the finished product. Patience surely was key for the survival of a company founded under Elizabeth I five centuries ago for, Hughes gripes, “the Church of England has never managed” to pay on time.