Renowned architects appointed to help save UK’s last major bellfoundry

An award-winning architecture practice is gearing up to begin work to help save the UK’s last remaining major bellfoundry, located in Loughborough, Leicestershire.

Oliver Caroe and Mark Hammond, architects and heads of Cambridge and London-based Caroe Architecture, will be using their team’s vast heritage experience working on projects including St Paul’s Cathedral and Kensington Palace in London, to spearhead the conservation plans for the much-needed development of the Loughborough Bellfoundry.

Located in the heart of the town, the Loughborough Bellfoundry, also known as John Taylor’s Bellfoundry, has cast more than a staggering 25,000 bells since it was built in 1859; which are now ringing across the globe in destinations including Washington National Cathedral in the US capital, the National Carillon in Canberra in Australia, and Cape Town City Hall in South Africa.

However, this important part of Britain’s industrial heritage could be lost forever due to the need of urgent repair work and a sustainable plan for the future.

Caroe Architecture Ltd will play a major part in the fight to save the bellfoundry; designing proposals as part of the development stage in the project to restore the site to its former glory and ensure it is able to continue its legacy for years to come.

The National Lottery Heritage Fund recently awarded the Loughborough Bellfoundry Trust, owners of the bellfoundry, almost £300,000 of Development Phase funding to allow it to work up the detailed proposals for its two Grade II* listed buildings. The project is also being supported by the Architectural Heritage Fund, which has pledged £30,000.

Critical further funding is needed in order to be able to deliver the works. The Trust are hoping to secure final approval next year from The National Lottery Heritage Fund for a grant of £3.7 million to deliver the plans. However, in order to be eligible for this, the Trust must secure match funding of circa £1 million before the application is made. If the match funding is not raised, the project will cease.

Oliver is one of the country’s most well-known conservation architects; with over 20-years’ specialist experience in conservation and sustainability of existing and historic buildings. He has particular expertise in the repairing of church buildings, from the medieval through to the Victorian. Since 2012, he has been the Surveyor of the Fabric to St Paul’s Cathedral – responsible for the upkeep and maintenance of the cathedral and its buildings.

Speaking about his appointment on the project by the Loughborough Bellfoundry Trust, Oliver said: “Mark and our team could not be more excited to get started. The project is at a key stage of the mission to restore and sustain the bellfoundry, and we will relish the conservation challenge. It’s also about the creative journey to sustain all that is marvellous about the historic foundry, as well as fashioning new life and access to the craft for people who want to learn and get involved.

“We would like, at the end of the project, for people to exclaim ‘this is Taylors as we have always known it, but better’, and for visitors to Loughborough to want to return and spread the word. The vision for the plans will be a blend of respect to the history and heritage of the foundry and the bell founding craft, with a celebration of the potential opportunities for new people.”

If secured, the full funding package from The National Lottery Heritage Fund will not only repair and restore the bellfoundry’s buildings, onsite museum and equipment; but will also enable the Loughborough Bellfoundry to become the foremost centre for bell research, development and manufacturing, ensuring that processes pioneered by John Taylor’s over centuries are sustained whilst exploring how 21st century technology can add value to the timeless art. It is hoped that work begins next year (2020) if funding is successful.

Education and skills will play a major part too, with the project ensuring that the unique craft-skills that go into bell founding are preserved, by training future craftspeople and enabling public access to the world’s most significant archive of bell material.

Andrew Wilby, trustee of the Loughborough Bellfoundry Trust, commented: “This incredibly important project needs an experienced and innovative architect at the helm. Oliver, Mark and their team are one of the best in the industry and their vision and proposal for the works – in terms of restoration, a sustainable plan for the future and attracting visitors through the doors – are very much aligned with the Trust’s, which is why Caroe Architecture Ltd have been selected.

“During what we call the development stage of the project, is our time to work with the Caroe team and other partners to finalise our proposals with the hope of securing the essential additional funding. Without this, the bellfoundry buildings will continue to deteriorate and could lead to the closure of the Loughborough Bellfoundry for good, so we’re extremely grateful to begin undertaking the necessary work and in turn, help secure the future of bell founding in the UK.”