Big Ben falls silent …

Big Ben and Westminster courtesy of the London Bridge Hotel Postcard Archive

The most famous peal of bells in the world is falling silent this year. That unique sound, created by a cracked bell called Big Ben will go mute whilst much needed restoration takes place.

Big Ben and Westminster courtesy of the London Bridge Hotel Postcard Archive

Work is scheduled to take place on The Great Clock within the Queen Elizabeth Tower early this year – part of a three year restoration project. The programme of works will cost £29m and will involve repairs to the clock’s hands, mechanism and pendulum.

Big Ben and Westminster courtesy of the London Bridge Hotel Postcard Archive

Big Ben (the Great Bell of the clock) will fall silent to allow the work to take place although will ring out again for important events like Remembrance Day and New Year’s Eve. Although the clock faces will be covered, there will be at least one visible at any one time apparently.

Big Ben and Westminster courtesy of the London Bridge Hotel Postcard Archive

As part of the restoration, a lift will also be installed with the 157-year-old tower being brought up to today’s health and safety standards. It’s been more than 30 years since the last major conservation work took place between 1983 and 1985.

According to Parliamentary officials via the BBC, “the mechanism of the clock was in a “chronic state”, with fears that it may fail if work is not carried out urgently. There are also concerns that the fabric of the tower itself is reaching an “acute” condition.”

Queen Elizabeth Tower (Big Ben) Westminster by Sue Lowry

Here’s a fascinating report from the BBC on the mechanics of this then revolutionary clock engineered by lawyer and amateur horologist Sir Edward Beckett Denison.

Queen Elizabeth Tower (Big Ben) Westminster by Sue Lowry

  • Although the Palace of Westminster was designed by Charles Barry, the clock tower, clock and dials were designed in the Gothic Revival style by Augustus Pugin and is 315 feet (96m) high.
  • During WW2, a German bombing raid damaged two of the clock’s dials and the House of Commons chamber. Sir Giles Gilbert Scott (of telephone kiosk and Tate Modern fame) redesigned the chamber, keeping to the Gothic style.
  • The clock dials are set in an iron frame 23 feet (7.0 m) in diameter, supporting 312 pieces of opal glass, rather like a stained-glass window.

Queen Elizabeth Tower (Big Ben) Westminster by Sue Lowry

  • Built in 1859, revolutionary in its time, the Great Clock was the biggest, most accurate four-faced striking and chiming clock in the world
  • Commonly called Big Ben, the tower is in fact now named for Queen Elizabeth II – the Elizabeth Tower. Big Ben is the bell.
  • The unique tone of Big Ben was caused shortly after the bell began ringing by an over-powerful striking hammer which altered the properties of the bell to lend it its distinctive bong.

Queen Elizabeth Tower (Big Ben) Westminster by Sue Lowry

  • The bells of Westminster are looked after by a team of four clockmakers who maintain, wind, repair and keep an eye over 2,000 separate clocks dotted around the Palace of Westminster

 

Contributor: Sue Lowry

Images: Sue Lowry with postcards courtesy of The London Bridge Hotel Postcard Archive

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