Sparks flew when Big Ben was born, 150 years ago. The plus-sized bell – real name "The Hour Bell of the Great Clock at Westminster" – was so massive at over 13 tons that it took 20 minutes for the molten metal to be poured into the bell mould and 20 days for it to cool. The cold bronze monster then set off from its birthplace, the Whitechapel Bell Foundry in east London, on a carriage pulled by "16 bedecked horses", went over London Bridge, processed gaily along the South Bank and crossed back over Westminster Bridge to its new home.
It is reassuring to find that both are still in the same place. The hour still sonorously booms from Big Ben and the Whitechapel Bell Foundry is still casting bells on the Whitechapel Road, though its owner, Alan Hughes, observing the changing demographics of the East End, reckons that it won't take many complaints from new residents to close them down. All the other industries around them, many smelly, dirty and noisy, have moved on. The foundry, which claims to be the oldest manufacturing company in Britain and has been in its current labyrinthine building since 1738, is made of sterner stuff.
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