The last operating bellfoundry in Britain has been saved just in time for Christmas, thanks to £3.45m from the National Lottery.
Since 1859, the iconic Loughborough Bellfoundry, home to John Taylor & Co bellfounders, has cast more than 25,000 bells that are hung in over 100 countries, in churches, cathedrals, universities and public buildings. 20 million people in Britain, and hundreds of millions worldwide, hear a bell cast at the Loughborough Bellfoundry every day.
Bells from the foundry have even entered popular culture – the bells from St Thomas’s Church, in Fifth Avenue, New York, which can be heard on The Pogues and Kirsty McColl’s Christmas anthem Fairytale of New York, were cast at the site. However, the globally unique, purpose-built Victorian bellfoundry was at serious risk of being permanently lost without urgent repairs. The closure of the bellfoundry would be a huge loss to traditional craftsmanship, with bellfounding raised to critically endangered in the 2019 edition of the HCA Red List of Endangered Crafts.
Now, thanks to the £3.45m grant from the National Lottery Heritage Fund – and match-funding bringing the total to £5m – the site will be secured for the future and used to train a new generation in bell-making skills, deliver an engagement and outreach programme, increase access to the unique archive, expand production and develop the onsite bell museum as a heritage destination, attracting visitors from around the world.
Hannah Taylor, Chair of the Loughborough Bellfoundry Trust, said:
“This news is the best possible Christmas present and will ensure that the foundry, its buildings, the museum and rare archive will be protected, and that Loughborough bells are heard and enjoyed by many future generations around the world… As well as to protect the site, our aim is to make the Loughborough Bellfoundry the global centre for the art of bell making and learning and provide an engaging and exciting visitor experience. Thanks to National Lottery players, we can do exactly that.”
Bellfounders John Taylor & Co employ a team of 30, with a range of highly specialist heritage skills including casting, tuning and finishing bells. It produces all of the associated parts and mechanisms such as frames, headstocks, wheels, hand-bells, carillons and bell ropes.