Big Ben to Fall Silent During Renovation
Big Ben, the iconic clock in London that has kept time for 157 years, withstood two world wars and become a symbol of the British capital, will fall silent for several months as part of a much-needed refurbishment program that is projected to last for three years, the British government said on Tuesday.
The problems facing Big Ben are profound: Maintenance teams have identified problems with the clock’s hands, mechanism and pendulum that threaten its ability to function properly, according to a Parliament statement. They also found leaks, erosion, severe rusting and cracked masonry in the tower itself, which does not meet fire safety guidelines.
The government also said an elevator would be installed to improve access in the tower and complement its 334 stone spiral steps.
The project will cost an estimated $42 million.
While Big Ben is used as a nickname for the clock, strictly speaking, it is the main bell inside the clock, and it also often refers to Elizabeth Tower, at the north end of the Houses of Parliament. The clock as a whole is called the Great Clock and sits atop the tower.
The Keeper of the Clock, Steve Jaggs, said in a statement that the project would “balance value for money with Parliament’s custodial responsibility to the building as well as to those visiting and working in the Elizabeth Tower.”
“This project will enable us to give one of Britain’s most famous landmarks the T.L.C. it so desperately needs and deserves,” he said.
The repairs are scheduled to begin in early 2017, and that means the bells will not toll for a while. (The government did not specify at which point during the project they would stop chiming.) It also means that the tower will be sheathed in scaffolding for three years, although the government has said that the clock will continue to keep time as long as it is running and that one of its four ornate faces will be visible at all times.
What will not keep running, though, are popular tours of the tower, which will be canceled for the full duration of the project.
It is not the first time that the clock has silenced its mighty bong. The bells stopped for roughly nine months in 1976 while repairs were made and again in 2007 for six weeks of maintenance, the government said.
The last extensive conservation work at the tower was done between 1983 and 1985.
Big Ben is not alone in its disrepair. A report released last year cataloged a long list of structural woes plaguing the Parliament complex, of which the clock tower is a part, including leaky pipes, dangerously out-of-date wiring, asbestos and a rodent infestation.
The price tag for those repairs was estimated at $6.2 billion. They are projected to begin in the early 2020s, the government said, and are separate from the refurbishment of the clock tower.
Tom Brake, a member of Parliament and a spokesman for the House of Commons Commission, said in a statement that the clock tower, a Unesco World Heritage site, was “a symbol of the U.K.’s democratic heritage.”
“We have a duty to ensure that it is safeguarded for future generations to appreciate, just as we owe it to our predecessors to restore their masterpiece to its former glory,” he said. “While these works are much needed in the short term, they will also ensure the long-term future and sustainability of Big Ben.”