Big Ben’s bells fall silent for four years due to major Tower renovations
The “Big Ben” bell in the clock tower attached to the Houses of Parliament will cease its regular bongs at noon on August 21 2017 to allow for a long period of renovation work.
The deafening chimes are being stopped to protect workers who will be restoring the Elizabeth Tower that houses the Great Clock and its bell, commonly known as Big Ben.
The bell will fall silent for most of the next four years while renovation works are carried out, the House of Commons has said.
The hammers which have struck the 13.7 tonne bell every hour for most of the last 157 years will be locked and disconnected from the clock, although the bongs will still sound for important events such as New Year’s Eve celebrations.
“This essential programme of works will safeguard the clock on a long-term basis, as well as protecting and preserving its home, the Elizabeth Tower,” said Steve Jaggs, keeper of the great clock.
The Palace of Westminster on the bank of the River Thames, home to parliament, is a world heritage site and major tourist attraction and Jaggs encouraged members of the public to gather in nearby Parliament Square to hear the final bongs next Monday.
The 96-metre-tall Elizabeth Tower, believed to be the most photographed building in the United Kingdom, is already half enveloped in scaffolding as part of a major renovation project.
As part of the works the clock housing Big Ben will be dismantled and each cog examined and restored. The clock’s four dials will be cleaned and repaired, their cast iron framework renewed and the hands removed and refurbished.
One working clock face will remain visible at all times, telling the time silently, and it will be powered by a modern electric motor until the original clockwork mechanism is reinstated.
The mechanical mechanism still relies on an old system using weights and counterbalances to speed or slow down the clock when it falls out of sync. The traditional coins used were replaced with a £5 Crown marking the 150th anniversary of the Great Clock in 2009.
All the other bells which chime every 15 minutes will be silent as well during the works, which are due to be completed in 2021 when Big Bell’s familiar tolls will begin again.
James Gray, who sat on the administration committee which first approved the work, has told the Daily Telegraph he regretted the committee’s decision to give its backing and there was never any indication it would mean Big Ben being out of action for so long.
He said: “This is entirely bonkers. It is ridiculous to silence the bell for four years. I am very sceptical about the whole thing.
“What is the point in putting in a lift that will only go as far as three-quarters of the way up?”
The former shadow Scottish secretary said it was right that construction workers should be protected from the regular, deafening “bongs”.
But he added: “Big Ben is terribly important to the mental wellbeing of the nation. Why can’t it ring out from 5pm to 7am when building work has ceased for the day?”