The Palace of Westminster’s Elizabeth Tower, home to Big Ben, is being renovated. While work takes place, the bongs will be suspended until 2021 to ensure the safety of those working in the tower.
In November 2016 Sir Robert McAlpine won the contract to carry out the pre-construction service agreement and to erect the scaffolding. The second stage of the procurement process is under way for the final works contract. An announcement will be made in the autumn.
This project is not part of the wider Palace of Westminster Restoration and Renewal Programme, which is not expected to start until the 2020s. Work on the tower is so urgent that it could not be delayed.
The Great Bell, popularly called Big Ben, weighs 13.7 tonnes and strikes every hour to the note of E. It is accompanied by four quarter bells, which chime every 15 minutes. Big Ben has marked the hour with almost unbroken service for the past 157 years. The bongs last fell silent for maintenance in 2007, and prior to that between 1983-85 as part of a previous large scale refurbishment programme.
The Great Clock is operated by a custom-built Victorian clockwork mechanism, which relies on gravity to trigger the bongs. To stop the bells, the striking hammers will be locked and the bell disconnected from the clock mechanism, allowing the Great Clock to continue telling the time silently. Parliament’s specialist clock makers will ensure that Big Ben can still bong for important national events such as New Year’s Eve and Remembrance Sunday. The bells will resume their regular time keeping duties in the course of 2021.
As part of the refurbishment work, the Great Clock itself will be dismantled piece by piece with each cog examined and restored. The four dials will be cleaned, the glass repaired, the cast iron framework renewed, and the hands will be removed and refurbished. At least one working clock face will remain visible at all times throughout the works. As the clock mechanism itself will be temporarily out of action, a modern electric motor will drive the clock hands until the Great Clock is reinstated.
Steve Jaggs, Keeper of the Great Clock, said: “Big Ben falling silent is a significant milestone in this crucial conservation project. As Keeper of the Great Clock I have the great honour of ensuring this beautiful piece of Victorian engineering is in top condition on a daily basis. This essential programme of works will safeguard the clock on a long term basis, as well as protecting and preserving its home – the Elizabeth Tower. Members of the public are welcome to mark this important moment by gathering in Parliament Square to hear Big Ben’s final bongs until they return in 2021.”