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Bell foundry famous for creating Big Ben to close

The Whitechapel Bell Foundry, Britain's oldest manufacturing firm, is set to close at its current site, bringing an end to a family business that has run for almost 500 years.

The foundry, which made Big Ben and was established in 1570, when Queen Elizabeth I was on the throne, will stop trading at Whitechapel Road next year.

The company said it intends to complete all projects currently on its books but will not take on new contracts while discussions about its "future direction, ownership and location" are ongoing.

Owners Alan and Kathryn Hughes, whose family have owned the foundry since 1904, made the decision to shut down with a "heavy heart", community website Spitalfields Life reported.

They said: "We have made this decision with a heavy heart, but in response to the changing realities of running a business of this kind.

"The Bell Foundry in Whitechapel has changed hands many times, but it has always been a family business. My own family has owned the foundry since 1904, but other families have run the firm through its history, which stretches back to 1570.

"The business has been at its present site over two hundred and fifty years. So it is probably about time it moved once again. We hope that this move will provide an opportunity for the business to move forward in a new direction."

With a history spanning the reign of 27 monarchs, the foundry is listed in the Guinness Book Of Records as the oldest manufacturing firm in Britain.

Based in London's Whitechapel Road since 1738, i ts most famous creation was Big Ben, the bell in Elizabeth Tower at the Palace of Westminster.

Cast in 1858, at 13.5 tons it is the largest bell ever made at Whitechapel, and a cross-section of the bell still surrounds the entrance door to the foundry.

The company also made the Liberty Bell, the famous symbol of American independence, and cast two bells for Westminster Abbey, a process watched by George V and Queen Mary.

During the war years the foundry ceased making bells, switching to manufacturing castings for the Ministry of War.

In the aftermath of the Second World War the foundry was busy replacing peals lost to bombing raids and fires, including the bells of London's St Mary le Bow and St Clement Danes churches, of Oranges and Lemons nursery rhyme fame.

In 2012 the Prince of Wales sounded a bell named after him at the foundry, one of eight made for the Thames Diamond Jubilee Pageant.

But in May the famous foundry will have cast its last bell after 447 years in business.

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