Britain’s famous Big Ben bell will stop chiming the hour for a period of several months next year, as the Queen Elizabeth Tower undergoes extensive repair and refurbishment work.
The work itself is scheduled to take three years, but Big Ben will be silenced for a portion of that time so that workers won’t be deafened by the sound – and also so that repairs can be carried out on the bell itself, as well as the four smaller bells surrounding it. However, it will still be rung to mark important occasions.
Surveyors are still assessing the tower for structural decay but, considering the fact that it’s 157 years old, and that maintenance work was last carried out between 1983-85, the clock is definitely in need of a little “TLC”, as Steve Jaggs, Keeper of the Clock, put it.
According to a guide to the work on parliament’s website, “there is a risk that the clock mechanism may fail or that long term fabric degradation to the building will occur” if the work is not carried out.
As well as “addressing urgent problems caused by decay to the fabric of the building, both internally and externally,” and bringing the tower’s fire safety and health and safety up to regulation, the project aims to improve the energy efficiency of the lighting and even install a lift.
Yes, that’s right: even though the tower was completed in 1859 – two years after the first passenger elevator was installed at 488 Broadway in New York City – a lift has never been integrated into its structure. Instead, visitors have to climb a spiral staircase of 334 steps or, in the case of an emergency, descend using a “complex abseiling rig” – in the words of the guide.
There is, however, a Prison Room in the clock tower, so-called because in 1880 a Member of Parliament was arrested and locked in for the night for refusing to swear allegiance with his hand on the bible (he was an atheist).
The one thing that the team completing the refurbishments won’t correct is the slight lean of the tower. At the level of the clock’s face, 55m above ground, the tower leans 0.22 metres towards St James’s Park in the northwest.
According to the parliament website, “Natural settlement and work to both the underground car park and the Jubilee Line tunnels have contributed to the lean, but it is now stable and no further movement has been recorded.” Don’t worry; parliament will continue to monitor the leaning tower of Big Ben!
In total, parliament estimates that the refurbishments will cost £29 million, including VAT.
If you are worried that you will miss Big Ben’s familiar ‘bong bong bong’, you can always follow the bell on Twitter @big_ben_clock.
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