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Big Ben to be silenced for several months for Elizabeth Tower and clock repairs

Published 26/04/2016

Workmen cleaning one of the clock faces of the Elizabeth Tower which houses Big Ben
Workmen cleaning one of the clock faces of the Elizabeth Tower which houses Big Ben

Big Ben is to fall silent while urgent repair works are carried out on the Elizabeth Tower and the famous clock, the House of Commons has announced.

The bell will be silenced for "several months" as part of a £29 million programme to repair the clock faces and mechanism as well as cracks in the tower's masonry and corrosion in the roof.

The clock faces will also be given a new colour scheme, with the Commons authorities eager to reflect the original design by Augustus Pugin.

The existing black and gold colouring around the clock faces was applied in the 1980s and experts from Parliament's team of conservation architects are analysing the original paint used to decorate the areas surrounding each dial.

The 315ft (96m) Elizabeth Tower, which was completed in 1856, needs work to repair cracks in the masonry, corrosion to the cast-iron roof and belfry and the frame which holds the bells - including Big Ben.

Parts of the Great Clock, which was installed in 1859, require urgent investigation and repair and many of the 312 pieces of pot opal glass used to make up each of the clock faces need to be replaced.

The work, which will take three years, is expected to start in early 2017.

A House of Commons spokeswoman said: "The clock mechanism will need to be stopped for several months in order to carry out essential maintenance.

"During this period there will be no chimes. We are also investigating whether or not the chiming will have an effect on operatives working at high level, which will need to be taken into consideration. Striking and tolling will be maintained for important events."

The programme of work will also see a lift installed as an alternative to the 334 steps to the top of the tower to improve access and safety. The lights illuminating the clock dials and belfry will be replaced by low-energy LEDs.

Liberal Democrat MP Tom Brake, spokesman for the House of Commons Commission, said: "The Elizabeth Tower is a symbol of the UK's democratic heritage and forms part of a Unesco World Heritage Site.

"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. While these works are much needed in the short-term, they will also ensure the long-term future and sustainability of Big Ben."

Keeper of the Clock Steve Jaggs said: "Every day our team of highly skilled clock mechanics cares for this Victorian masterpiece but, in order to keep the clock ticking, we must now take the time to thoroughly inspect and restore it.

"These essential works 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 TLC it so desperately needs and deserves."

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