by Graham Pierrepoint
It’s easily one of the most recognizable British landmarks – if anything, it’s likely the first thing anyone comes up with when asked to name a popular building in the capital of London, or even the UK as a whole – but the name ‘Big Ben’ only ever refers to the bell inside the tower – one of many misunderstood conventions that have continued to pervade popular culture for some time. Regardless of whether or not you knew that the name referred to the bell as opposed to the building, there is news surrounding London’s most popular clanger which may strike as being a little odd until you learn of the reasons behind it – it’s set to go silent for four years.
For the last 157 years, Big Ben has chimed regularly to London residents and sightseers alike – and thanks to a conservation project set to take place over the next four years, the bell will clang its last for some time. This means that all of the mechanisms which allow the bell to work autonomously – such as hammers – will be disconnected on the whole, meaning that Londoners will have to start depending upon their own personal timepieces should they wish to be reminded of when the hour is coming around. While the bell has been silenced a number of times across the last century-and-a-half, this will be the first time that it is effectively put on hiatus for longer than two years – at least until work is completed on the Elizabeth Tower, the official name for the building that houses the bell and famous clock.
All is not lost, however – London’s famous New Year’s Eve celebrations will still go off with the familiar chimes alongside a backdrop of fireworks, and Remembrance Sunday will still be marked by the incumbent clanging of the 13-ton bell. It will be strange to many that Big Ben will effectively be out of action until the next decade – but for many, it is as much about the look of Elizabeth Tower and the clock as it is about the chiming that comes from within.
The conservation project is due to take place soon, with scaffolding already in place to allow for easy access. The project will be all about preserving Elizabeth Tower for safety and for its legacy – as arguably the UK’s most iconic building, these are works that are not being undertaken lightly – and if that means giving Big Ben a vow of silence, then so be it!