Big Ben: Why will the bells stop ringing out across London for four years?

Big Ben: Why will the bells stop ringing out across London for four years?

Big Ben is to fall silent until 2021

Monday, August 14, 2017

London is going to sound a little different for the next few years and oddly it's actually going to be quieter than usual.

Next week the chimes of Big Ben will be heard no more as maintenance work begins. They are next expected to be heard on a regular basis in 2021 - making this the longest period of silence in the iconic timekeeper's 158-year history.

After midday on Monday (August 21) the only other times the chimes will be heard again will be for important events like Remembrance Sunday and New Year's Eve.

The reason for this is to protect those who will be working on the Elizabeth Tower (the tower in which the Big Ben clock sits), which is going to be refurbished in a project lasting three years. It is thought, not unreasonable, that workers could damage their hearing by working within yards of the booming chimes.

In order to stop the chimes, the hammers which strike the bells will be locked into place, as they currently rely on gravity to trigger the Great Bell and quarter-hour chimes. All the bells in the tower will be disconnected from the clock.

Currently anyone working on the clock is given ear defenders as the chimes continue, but the cessation of the chimes is designed to provide a more comfortable, sustainable solution for those toiling on the refurbishment project.

Repair work has actually already started on the tower as scaffolding has been installed. The principal architect for the project, Adam Watrobski, told the BBC a series of new facilities will be installed in the tower, including a toilet, kitchen and lift.

Energy efficiency in the building is also to be improved and essential maintenance will be completed. This involves taking the Great Clock apart to clean and repair its four dials, as the clock mechanism is currently thought to be at risk of falling. The glass in the tower will also be repaired and the cast iron framework is to be renewed.

The £29 million project also includes refurbishing the hands of the clock and improvements will also be made to the Ayrton Light, which is at the top of the Elizabeth Tower and is used when Parliament is sitting after dark.

Despite the huge amount of work taking place, the clock will continue to display the correct time on at least one side at all times, as an electric motor will be installed to keep it going. But at times, faces of the clock will be covered.

This is actually not the first time that Big Ben has fallen silent for maintenance, as the chimes were last stopped as recently as 2007. Before this the bells was last stopped for work between 1983 and 1985.

In 2007 the chimes were stopped in August until September for maintenance work which involved replacing the bearings that sound the chimes. The hands of the clock were also stopped for many hours in order for workers to install a new system. The four faces of the clock were also cleaned and repaired.

The work completed between 1983 and 1985 was the last significant conservation work, a project which saw the stone, painting, gilding works and cast iron roof repaired.