An Ipswich Society outing, 13 August 2016
By coach to the Art Gallery at London's Guildhall where a wooden scale model of the City of London, with all it buildings, was on display. It was colour-coded and our guide explained which period each colour referred to. She took the most important of the ‘skyscrapers' that have been erected in the financial district and talked about the architects, building materials and designs. The model-makers had used a tiny piece of material from each skyscraper to create its relevant model, which added interest.
The ‘Five sights' convention is a legal requirement for St Paul's Cathedral to be visible from five vantage points around London, thus creating, some control over what is built, and where. There is also a height limitation because of aircraft; that prevents the London skyline looking like New York's, although the gimmicky designs of the skyscrapers threaten the aesthetic unity of the City and beyond.
In 1985, excavation for the building of the art gallery on the east side of the Yard revealed the east entrance to the Roman Amphitheatre which stood here c. AD100 and held up to 6,000 people: a third of the city's population at that time.
Despite my fear of heights, I took the opportunity to whizz up the 40 floors of the ‘Walkie Talkie' building in Fenchurch Street in less than 30 seconds. The Sky Garden is a welcome bit of greenery in what is, basically, an office block. From the viewing terrace (360 degree views) we could see the Shard across the Thames - we came about half-way up - and many other sites.
The Whitechapel Bell Foundry was established in 1570 and is Britain's oldest manufacturing company; it has occupied the present one-third of an acre site in Whitechapel Road since 1738. The original works had been built in the countryside beyond Aldgate and the City walls. The Hughes family have owned the business since 1904 and company director, Alan Hughes, was our guide. I never realised that bell founding was so complex and skilled. Medieval techniques are still in use here today. After being cast, a bell has to be tuned: a highly-skilled job.
We also heard about the art of change-ringing (a British thing) with its multiple permutations.
A steep, narrow staircase took us to the handbell workshop. The woodwork shop for bell wheels was cramped, hot and low-ceilinged. Famous bells cast by this foundry include Big Ben (1858) and what later became known as the Liberty Bell (1752). There is also an over-400 year link to Westminster Abbey. The workforce today is 23 and often vacancies only arise on retirement. We owe John Norman many thanks for organising such a fascinating and unusual outing (the second such).
[See Society Outings on page 27 for information on a similar outing in December. The 15th C. bells of St Lawrence Church were overhauled by the Whitechapel Bell Foundry; rehung in 2009.]