The Final Bell Tolls for Historic London Bell Maker

The Whitechapel Church Bell Foundry, founded in 1570, has been in its present location since 1738. . (Photo: Can Pac Swire/flickr)

A U.K. business with roots stretching back to the early 16th century is preparing to shutter its doors for the last time.

London's Whitechapel Bell Foundry, established in 1570 (but with records dating even earlier), will close later this month after centuries of casting historic bells for clients all around the world. According to the company's current owners, the decision to close is a reflection of the changing nature of how the modern world communicates.

"We don't need bells," Alan Hughes, whose family has owned the foundry since 1904, told CBS Sunday Morning. "They were needed in the sense that they were the way of communicating basic information to what was then a largely illiterate population. They warned you of invading armies; they actually served a practical purpose. So bells are used today because we like them, not because we need them."

Cast by Whitechapel Bell Foundry for the 2012 London Olympic Games, the 23 ton 'Olympic Bell' is the largest harmonically-tuned bell in the world.
Cast by Whitechapel Bell Foundry for the 2012 London Olympic Games, the 23-ton 'Olympic Bell' is the largest harmonically-tuned bell in the world. (Photo: Matt Brown/flickr)

In addition to low demand and rising costs (Hughes commented in 2014 that a major project could run in excess of $300,000), the East London neighborhood that Whitechapel has called home since 1738 has also drastically changed.

"In recent years the area in which we are located has changed from commercial use to almost entirely residential use," Hughes said on the company's website. "New developments now in the process of being built adjacent to our site will give us neighbours who would find difficulties with our industrial output and noise. A much changed road network adjacent to the buildings makes it almost impossible for large vehicles to access our premises for loading and unloading."

Makers of many a historic bell

Whitechapel's mark on history is nearly as grand as the sound produced by its iconic bells. The company sent at least 27 bells to the American colonies in the 1700s, as well as the original 2,080-pound Liberty Bell. It also handled the casting for the "Great Bell" of Big Ben, the "Clock Bells" at St Paul's Cathedral, and many more cathedrals and churches around the globe. Following the Sept. 11 attacks, it also cast the "Bell of Hope," a gift from the people of London to New York City.

This past March 22, Whitechapel cast its final tower bell for the Museum of London. The historic piece will join other artifacts from the company's centuries of business, including rare and old machinery, records, and other priceless items.