Construction works are now underway at Taylor’s Bellfoundry in Loughborough to protect and enhance the Grade II* Listed Bellfoundry buildings and onsite museum, the last of their kind in Britain.
Funded by The National Lottery Heritage Fund and Loughborough Town Deal alongside many others, the project is being led by the Loughborough Bellfoundry Trust working in partnership with the ancient bellfounding firm of John Taylor and Company.
The Trust was set up in 2016 to begin the work of restoring the bellfoundry’s buildings and redeveloping the site’s museum to protect the ancient craft of bellmaking for generations to come.
Taylor’s Bellfoundry – which was built in 1859 just a stone’s throw from Loughborough town centre – has cast more than 25,000 bells located in more than 100 countries.
Bells from the foundry hang in famous landmarks including London’s St Paul’s Cathedral, the Washington National Cathedral in the US capital, Australia’s National Carillon in Canberra, and South Africa’s Cape Town City Hall.
In spring 2022 contractors were invited to tender to deliver the programme of works, with specialist heritage conservation firm Messenger BCR winning out. The Messenger team will work alongside internationally renowned architects Caroe, who drew up comprehensive plans to restore the Victorian site. Other specialist practices involved include exhibition designers Redman Design and museum retail experts cre8.
Phase one of the programme of works is now underway. This includes the stripping out of the existing museum, removing internal walls – which were added to the bellfoundry in the 80s – and replacing the leaking roof. A new lift is currently under construction as are new disabled and baby changing toilets. Major repairs to the roof over the bellfoundry’s main covered yard are also underway.
The museum will be improved and enhanced by increasing its footprint to incorporate a multi-function activity room in the old Victorian laboratory and by reimagining the museum displays to provide an interactive and inclusive experience.
There will be two primary spaces for visitors to explore within the museum. Firstly, a ground floor timeline detailing the history of both the bellfoundry and the art of bellfounding. Secondly, the Patternmaker’s Gallery, which will display a series of objects that have been recovered from existing foundry spaces, located in the original patternmaking workshop.
Throughout the museum visitors will have the opportunity to touch and handle objects, making it an immersive and authentic experience for families, schools, bell enthusiasts and history lovers.
Phase two of the project, which will start in 2024, will see the reconfiguration and improvement of the company archive room, offices, and board room, the last of which will be available to hire as a meeting space for outside organisations and community groups. Further ongoing and exciting developments include the restoration of the original historic entrance to the site, used by generations of the Taylor family, and the relandscaping of the Carillon Courtyard for visitors to explore and enjoy the grounds upon arrival.
Bellfoundry museum director Dr Chrissie Van Mierlo said: “We are thrilled to see work getting underway. This project has been years in the making and will help preserve and protect our historic buildings for generations to come.
“Our vision has always been to create a place where people of all ages can visit and learn about the craftmanship and art of bell making, as well as the history of the Loughborough site. Thanks to generous funders, and National Lottery players, we can now address the most urgent repair and conservation works to bring our vision to life.
“Not only will the project allow us to welcome more visitors into the site, but it will also create additional volunteering opportunities for local residents. Our volunteers are the life and soul of the bellfoundry and we wouldn’t be able to do what we do without them.”
Robyn Llewellyn, director for England, Midlands and East at The National Lottery Heritage Fund said: “We are delighted to support The Loughborough Bellfoundry Trust in saving the last, purpose-built bellfoundry in Britain. The funding, which has been made possible thanks to National Lottery players, will secure the future of this industry, unique skills, and rich history in a way that everyone can enjoy and be proud of.”
Loughborough Town Deal comprises a number of organisations and people who have come together to deliver over £40 million of investment for the Leicestershire town. The Town Deal secured £16.9 million from the Government’s Towns Fund to boost skills and support the visitor economy and town centre of Loughborough. It is backing 11 projects, including the bellfoundry which it awarded £835,000.
John Taylor’s Bellfoundry, also known as Taylor’s Bellfoundry or simply Taylor’s, is the last major bellfoundry in the UK and Commonwealth.
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