bong! Big Ben is back in the UK

bong! Big Ben is back in the UK


Getting close to Big Ben requires earplugs and hearing protection over them to be safe. When the 13.7 ton bell rings, the vibration hits you in the chest.

After a five year restoration project, the world famous wrestler is back with a bong.

The Great Clock, which towers over Britain’s Houses of Parliament, resumes daily operations after the painstaking refurbishment of more than 1,000 moving parts.

When the clock’s five cast-iron bells, including Big Ben, fell silent in 2017, a sad crowd of MPs and staff gathered beneath. Some shed tears.

But after a week of testing, normal service will resume on Sundays from 11:00 a.m. (1100 GMT) every 15 minutes.

The time marks the moment on November 11, 1918 when guns fell silent in World War I. In the UK, Remembrance Sunday immediately follows Armistice Day on 11 November.

They are two of the few occasions that Big Ben and its partners have rung since 2017, along with New Year’s Eve when Britain left the European Union in 2021 and the funeral of Queen Elizabeth II in September.

Atop the 96-meter-tall Elizabeth Tower is the bell tower, which houses the bells – protected by outdoor netting to keep bats and pigeons out.

Beyond lie some of the most spectacular views in London.

But Parliament’s three internal timekeepers don’t have time to enjoy the view.

Ian Westworth, 60, and his colleagues have been busy overseeing testing to ensure everything is in order following the £80million ($90million) restoration.

– London is calling –

“It’s the sound of London again,” Westworth told AFP during a dawn tour of the Tower.

“The bell has rang through wars, and you try to imagine what that bell actually saw – 160 years of development.”

The Elizabeth Tower, formerly known as the Clock Tower, was renamed in 2012 in honor of the late Queen’s Diamond Jubilee.

When it was built in the 1840s it dominated the Westminster skyline. Today, newer and taller buildings lie nearby.

“You used to hear this one (Big Ben) up to 15 miles away on a quiet night,” Westworth said as a chill wind whistled through the bell tower.

“Well, you’re lucky if you can hear it across Parliament Square on a day like today.”

The five-year restoration involved cleaning and repainting all the hammers and arms of the five bells. The bells themselves remained in place.

Big Ben chimes the hour and is so large that the flooring in the tower below would have to be dismantled if it ever had to be removed.

The four smaller bells around it strike the quarter hour.

The biggest job was dismantling the 11.5 ton clockwork, which dates back to 1859, so that every gear and pinion could be cleaned, repaired and re-oiled by a specialist workshop in Cumbria, north-west England.

Other changes were cosmetic.

Twenty-eight circular LED lights now illuminate the four dials, a balance of green and white that comes closest to what it looked like in gas-lit Victorian times.

Above the bells sits a taller LED light that glows white when Parliament is in session.

State-of-the-art sprinklers have been installed throughout the tower, although the bell tower is inaccessible to the system.

– Timeless technology –

In the years prior to the refurbishment, Parliament’s timekeepers compared the time on the Big Clock to the Telephone Talking Clock.

It is now being calibrated via GPS via the UK’s National Physical Laboratory.

But the method of setting the watch’s time mechanism remains old-fashioned: predecimal pennies are added or subtracted from weights attached to two giant hairsprings to make or lose a second.

As the hour approaches, it’s time to put the hearing protection back on for the ongoing series of tests.

Big Ben bons seven times, triggering bass vibrato in the gantry around him.

The unmistakable ringing of the cracked bell, while deafening, is also a reassuring sign of resilience after a year of political upheaval in Britain and as the rest of the parliamentary estate falls apart.

Political disputes over costs are holding up a major refurbishment of the aging complex.

But Westworth and his 35-year-old colleague Alex Jeffrey remain focused on their real job: looking after Parliament’s 2,000 clocks, many of which are irreplaceable antiques.

“Every day you keep time in a very practical way using technology, arts and crafts,” Jeffrey said.

“It’s very tactile, as is the maintenance of the Great Clock,” he added. “It’s the best job in the world.”

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