London will not hear the chimes of its iconic Big Ben for some months as the clock tower undergoes much-needed repairs that form part of a £29m ($42m) refurbishment project. A more elaborate restoration work is expected to begin in early 2017 which will take about three years to complete.
The current repair work of the Elizabeth Tower that houses the Big Ben will take several months, during which the clock mechanism will be shut, a House of Commons spokeswoman was quoted by the Guardian as saying. "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," she said.
Maintenance works will include repairing cracks in the masonry, corrosion to the cast-iron roof and belfry and the frame which holds the bells, including the Big Ben. The clock faces that were painted black and gold in the 1980s will be changed to the apparently green and gold Victorian appearance, the BBC reported.
The lights illuminating the clock dials and the belfry will also be replaced with low energy LEDs as part of the maintenance work. The clock tower lacks a washroom, which will be installed during the repair work. A lift will be installed in one of the ventilation shafts of the tower to ease mobility during emergencies and for disabled people who are unable to climb the 334 stone steps.
The Ayrton Light atop the tower that shines to indicate that parliament is sitting needs to be fully dismantled and restored. Repairs and new installations will also be carried out to make the tower compliant in terms of modern health and safety standards, the BBC report added.
The 96-metre tall Elizabeth Tower was completed in 1856 and parts of the Great Clock, mostly referred to as Big Ben, were installed in 1859. The 312 pieces of pot opal glass used to make up each of the clock faces also need to be replaced with new ones, the Guardian reported.
Liberal Democrat MP Tom Brake, spokesman for the House of Commons commission that is responsible for maintaining the parliamentary estate, termed the Elizabeth Tower as "a symbol of the UK's democratic heritage" which is part of a Unesco world heritage site. He emphasised the need to safeguard it for future generations.
According to Steve Jaggs, the keeper of the clock, a team of highly skilled clock mechanics takes care of the 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," Jaggs was quoted as saying.