London's Big Ben to be silent for 4 years

Construction work is carried out on the Elizabeth Tower, commonly known as Big Ben, in London, Britain on July 4, 2017.
Construction work is carried out on the Elizabeth Tower, commonly known as Big Ben, in London, Britain on July 4, 2017.PHOTO: REUTERS

LONDON (Reuters) - The iconic Big Ben bell in the British Parliament's famous clock tower will stop chiming at noon on Aug 21, falling silent for most of the next four years while renovation works are carried out, the House of Commons said on Monday (Aug 14).

The hammers that have struck the 13.7 tonne bell every hour for most of the last 157 years will be locked and disconnected from the clock, although the bell will still be heard for important events, such as New Year's Eve celebrations.

"This essential programme of works will safeguard the clock on a long-term basis, and protect and preserve its home, the Elizabeth Tower," said  Keeper of the Great Clock Steve Jaggs.

The Palace of Westminster on the banks of the River Thames, home to the British Parliament, is a world heritage site and major tourist attraction. Mr Jaggs said members of the public can gather in nearby Parliament Square to hear the clock chime for the last time next Monday.

The 96m-tall Elizabeth Tower, believed to be the most photographed building in Britain, is already half enveloped in scaffolding, as part of a major renovation project.

As part of the works, the clock housing Big Ben will be dismantled and each cog examined and restored. The clock's four dials will be cleaned and repaired, their cast iron framework renewed and the hands removed and refurbished.

One working clock face will remain visible at all times, telling the time silently, and it will be powered by a modern electric motor until the original clockwork mechanism is reinstated.

All the other bells, which chime every 15 minutes, will also be silent during the works.

The renovation works are expected to be completed in 2021,  when Big Bell's familiar tolls will begin again.