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Conservation work set to silence Big Ben for four years

© Ben Stansall, AFP | Technicians carry out cleaning and maintenance work on one of the faces of the Great Clock atop the landmark Elizabeth Tower that houses Big Ben, attached to the Houses of Parliament, in London, on August 19, 2014.

Video by Nadia MASSIH

Text by FRANCE 24

Latest update : 2017-08-21

Britain's much-loved Big Ben will fall silent for four years from noon on Monday as conservation work is carried out on the famous 19th century bell and clock tower next to the Houses of Parliament.

After 12 deep bongs at noon, the bell will begin its longest period of silence since it first sounded in 1859.

The break will allow workers to carry out much-needed maintenance to the Victorian clock and clock tower, but will deprive Londoners and tourists of one of the city's iconic sounds.

"Big Ben falling silent is a significant milestone in this crucial conservation project," Steve Jaggs, whose official title is "Keeper of the Great Clock", said in a parliament statement last week.

"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," he said.

The 19th century clock tower, which is 96 metres (315 feet) high, is the most photographed building in Britain.

Its silencing has sparked a political revolt amid fears it will rob Britain of a cherished emblem at a time of national uncertainty over Brexit.

Prime Minister Theresa May is among those who have raised concern.

"Of course we want to ensure people's safety at work, but it can't be right for Big Ben to be silent for four years," she told reporters.

She hoped a House of Commons commission would "look into this urgently so that we can ensure that we can continue to hear Big Ben through those four years".

Big Ben's bongs are familiar to many people around the world because of their use in BBC radio and television broadcasts.

The Great Bell, popularly called Big Ben, weighs 13.7 tonnes and strikes every hour to the note of E. Four smaller bells also chime every 15 minutes.

The clock's cogs and hands as well as the four dials will be removed, cleaned up and repaired as part of the work.

The clock will still tell the time silently until 2021 and the chimes will continue to be rung on important occasions such as New Year's Eve.

The project's cost was estimated last year at £29 million (31.9 million euros, $37.7 million).

Because the clock mechanism will be temporarily out of action, a modern electric motor will drive the clock hands until the clock is reinstated.

Parliament also said that the clock's faces would have to be covered up while they are being repaired.

"However, to ensure that the public are still able to set their watches by this most important of time pieces, one working clock face will remain visible at all times throughout the works," it said.

(FRANCE 24 with AFP)

Date created : 2017-08-14

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