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Big Ben’s famous bongs are to be silenced for up to four years for restoration work, parliamentary authorities announced today.
The Great Bell, popularly called Big Ben, has marked the hour with almost unbroken service for the past 157 years.
But it will sound for the last time on the hour at noon next Monday until the renovation of the Elizabeth Tower is completed some time in 2021.
The silencing of the bells is likely to prove controversial but Parliament’s authorities insisted it was necessary on health and safety grounds for workers undertaking the restoration of the historic tower.
A spokeswoman said: “The chimes are being stopped to provide a safe environment for the people working on the scaffolding.
“Constant proximity to the chimes would pose a serious risk to their hearing, and would prevent efficient working.”
Clock mechanics who work on Big Ben currently get ear defenders but are exposed to the ringing bells for only short periods of time each week.
The spokeswoman added: “People will be working on the scaffolding day-in day-out throughout the works, and, while protective headgear could be provided, it is not desirable for individuals working at height to have their hearing obscured as there is concern the ability to hear each other and any alarms could be affected.”
The bongs last fell silent for maintenance in 2007, and before that between 1983-5 as part of a previous large scale refurbishment programme.
The Great Bell weighs 13.7 tonnes and strikes every hour to the note of E. It is accompanied by four quarter bells, which chime every 15 minutes.
To stop the bells the striking hammers will be locked and the bell disconnected from the clock mechanism, allowing the Great Clock to continue telling the time silently.
Parliament’s specialist clock makers will ensure Big Ben can still bong for important national events such as New Year’s Eve and Remembrance Sunday.
Steve Jaggs, Keeper of the Great Clock, said: “Big Ben falling silent is a significant milestone in this crucial conservation project.
“As Keeper of the Great Clock I have the great honour of ensuring this beautiful piece of Victorian engineering is in top condition on a daily basis.
“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. Members of the public are welcome to mark this important moment by gathering in Parliament Square to hear Big Ben’s final bongs until they return in 2021.”
Standing at 96 metres tall, the Elizabeth Tower in the Grade I listed Palace of Westminster, is Britain’s most photographed landmark.
The restoration work is needed to repair problems identified with the tower and the Great Clock, which cannot be rectified whilst the clock is in action, to repair and redecorate the interior, renew the building services, make improvements to health and safety and fire protection systems, and to improve the tower’s energy efficiency.
As part of the project, the Great Clock itself will be dismantled piece by piece with each cog examined and restored. The four dials will be carefully cleaned, the glass repaired, the cast iron framework renewed, and the hands will be removed and refurbished.
One working clock face will remain visible at all times throughout the works.
A modern electric motor will drive the clock hands until the Great Clock mechanism is reinstated.
London News & Search