The Whitechapel Foundry Connect

THE WHITECHAPEL FOUNDRY CONNECT

The Hindu, India
June 28 2014

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The Armenian Church standing on the eponymous street is one of my
favourite locations in the city. Its solidly-built walls, quiet nooks
and stately interiors fill me with a sense of peace that cannot be
matched. Lovingly tended by the Armenian community in Calcutta and
by the local caretaker Mr Alexander, it ought to be on every resident
and tourist’s visit itinerary.

Leaving that aside, it was while walking around it with a group of
Americans last week that I recalled that the heritage structure has its
(albeit tenuous) links with the US of A. This concerns the bells of the
church, which are housed in an independent three-storied tower, on the
southern side of the yard. They are accessed via a three-century-old
staircase by the more physically fit and brave. The church authorities
restrict entry to the tower – a sensible precaution given the age
of the staircase. The ground floor of the tower has three tombs all
with the same carvings on the headstone. The inscriptions are in
Armenian but they probably were members of the family that funded
the tower. The belief is strengthened by the fact that the same
motif as the headstones – winged angels, is repeated on all floors
of the belfry.

The bells are rung every Sunday at 9.30 am. Said to be the largest in
the city, there are six of them, donated at different times to the
church, each weighing around 25 kgs. All of them were cast at the
Whitechapel Bell Foundry of London. The company, founded in 1570,
moved into its present premises in 1739 and continues in the same
business. Talk about focus!

Given that all the bells in the Armenian Church bear the stamp of
Thomas Mears, it indicates that they were all cast between 1787 and
1844, when two men of that name, probably father and son, were master
founders with the company. It is of interest to note that the same
company cast the bells for St Pauls Cathedral and Westminster Abbey
in London, besides several other churches in England and the Big Ben
in the Houses of Parliament in London.

Now for the American connect. The Liberty bell of Pennsylvania is
one of the treasured heritage possessions of the USA. Commissioned
in 1751, it was cast at the same Whitechapel Foundry and shipped to
Philadelphia where it hung in the steeple of the Pennsylvania State
House. It cracked even during its first ring and had to be recast
twice locally before it could be used properly. A second and more
lasting crack in 1835 ended its career as a ringing bell but it has
remained a tourist attraction. Scaled down models of it, crack and
all, remain popular souvenirs across the country. Our own ‘Belfry
Six’ as the set of bells in the Armenian Church are referred to,
have thankfully remained crack-free.

I wonder if any other church in our city has bells cast by the same
company.

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