Big Ben’s bongs will soon ring out again across London after 5-year restoration


LONDON (NYTIMES) – For five years, the most famous clock tower in Britain was hidden behind an ugly fortress of scaffolding, and its hourly bong was rendered mute.

But the restoration work is done, and this summer, a sound familiar to Londoners for more than 1-1/2 centuries will again ring out across the British capital – Big Ben is back.

The clock tower – officially known as the Elizabeth Tower since 2012 when it was renamed in honour of the queen’s diamond jubilee – stands tall over the Palace of Westminster, which houses the British Parliament and is one of the world’s most instantly recognised constructions.

But it is the nickname of the biggest bell in the belfry that draws the most name recognition: Big Ben.

During the past five years, the clock, which has four dials, was dismantled and serviced for the first time since it started ticking in 1859. More than 3,500 parts were removed from the 96m tower, including much of its iron roof.

“At the end of the day, you could say it is just a series of concentric stone shafts with a bloody great clock on top,” said Mr Adam Watrobski, chief architect of the tower’s restoration, which cost £80 million (S$135 million). “But it’s the symbolism, the size of the great clock of Westminster, that gives it its importance.”

Indeed, when Parliament is in session, there is a special illumination above the dials, which Mr Watrobski said represented “the light of freedom and democracy”.

Big Ben, he added, had come to symbolise “the sound of freedom and hope”, particularly during World War II.

So important is Big Ben’s chime to the national psyche that special arrangements were made during the renovation for it to strike each year on Remembrance Day, to commemorate Britain’s war dead; and to usher in the New Year.

Restoration challenges

In January 2020, Brexit supporters fought in vain to return it to service to mark the country’s exit from the European Union. The challenges of making that happen, though, become clear when climbing the confined, 334-step stairwell that winds up to the belfry.

Also evident: the quality of the renovation.

Bright morning light shone in through the four restored clock faces – perched high above the Houses of Parliament – each with 324 pieces of pot opal glass produced in Germany. Newly refurbished golden orbs that decorate the tower’s stonework glinted in the sun.

The sheer size of Big Ben, weighing a little over 15 tonnes, is impressive, as is the intricacy of a clock mechanism based on the most advanced technology available to its 19th-century creators. It still loses no more than a second in accuracy a week.

Big Ben didn’t age well



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