Thursday, December 01, 2022

After 5 years of restoration, Big Ben returns to London to set the pace

Big Ben’s great bell, located in the famous bell tower of the British Parliament, will ring regularly again this month after five years of silence during conservation work.

After five years of long renovations, London’s Big Ben, perhaps the most famous clock in the world, will officially break out of its silence on Sunday to mark the rhythm of days in the British capital once again.

With its massive 13.7-ton bell, the great clock that dominates the British Parliament will resume its normal activity after a thorough cleaning of the more than 1,000 parts that make up its apparatus.

In August 2017, a crowd gathered in Westminster to hear the final sound of its five cast-iron bells. Some even shed tears.

Many will gather again on Sunday at 11:00 GMT to hear the sound of this symbol of London: its four-bell carillon will ring every hour for an hour, while the main bell will ring every hour, as it is for . Last 158 ​​years for renewal.

The date coincides with the Sunday after November 11, the day the United Kingdom commemorates the armistice of World War I.

Over the past five years, Big Ben has only used an alternate electrical system a few times, the last being for the funeral of Queen Elizabeth II, who died in September.

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Big Ben is “The Voice of London”

At the top of the 96-meter “Elizabethan Tower” of the Palace of Westminster, the bells are protected by an external net to keep out bats and pigeons.

The view of London from there is spectacular, but the three watchmakers responsible for Big Ben don’t have time to enjoy it.

Ian Westworth, 60, and his colleagues are busy finalizing the final tests and making sure everything is working properly after the £80 million ($93 million) renovation.


“The sound of London is back,” Westworth told AFP during an early morning visit to the bell tower.

“These bells ring through the wars,” he insisted, impressed by all the changes in the city he has seen.

The “Elizabethan Tower”, the new name given to the clock tower on the occasion of the Emperor’s Diamond Jubilee in 2012, was built in the 1840s.

At the time, with no traffic or skyscrapers, “on a quiet night you could hear (Big Ben) up to 15 miles away,” recalls the watchman.

imitate victorian lights

Restoration included cleaning and painting of weapons and hammers but the bells did not move.

Inside Big Ben

The main bell, Big Ben, is so big that you have to lift the entire floor of the bell tower to move it.

The hardest part was disassembling the 11.5-ton clock mechanism, which dates back to 1859, to clean it.

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In addition, 28 LED lights now illuminate the four clock faces, ranging in color from green to white to the same colors as Victorian-era gaslights.

Another large white light was lit over the bells to indicate when Parliament is in session.

Before the upgrade, watchmakers checked the accuracy of the time using their phones. Now the clock is calibrated by GPS.

In the bell tower, as in the previous tests, you have to wear earplugs and earmuffs to protect your eardrums as the Dot hits every new hour.

It is seven in the morning and Big Ben – a symbol of stability in a chaotic British political context – resonates with a bang seven times.

Although deafening, unmistakable tolling is also a sign of stability in Britain after years of great political turmoil and the rest of the Palace of Westminster falling apart.

The impressive Gothic complex on the banks of the River Thames is in need of large-scale alterations, but has been delayed by political wrangling over its high cost.

Meanwhile, Westerth and his colleague Alex Jeffrey, 35, remain focused on their task: looking after 2,000 clocks in the British Parliament. “It’s the best job in the world,” says the youngest.

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