Big Ben, the landmark of London, is going to be covered by scaffolding for 3 years as of early 2017. The iconic bells will fall silent while the renovation work is carried out. So what improvements are planned and what effect will this have on your next visit to London?
What would London be without Big Ben? The 96-meter high, neo-gothic style bell tower has been a distinctive feature of the London cityscape for over 150 years now. The bells, which ring on the hour every hour, have become an inherent part of the everyday lives of Londoners and attract tourists from all over the world. If you’ve been to the English capital then you’re bound to have seen it at least once and probably stopped to take a souvenir snap in front of it. However, the latter is going to be a little more difficult in the future as ugly scaffolding is going to rob Big Ben of its typical charm – and for a duration of 3 years! The construction work will begin this month. So if you want to get a photo of this monument in all of its glory, you best plan your next trip to London as soon as possible!!
Construction work on Big Ben – Everything you need to know
The British parliament announced that renovation work to the clock is long overdue. The last extensive works were over 30 years ago. Since maintenance is very costly and it’s important to avoid inconveniences for citizens and tourists whenever possible, work is only done when it is deemed really necessary. There is currently no choice in the matter, though. If the work is not carried out, there is the risk that the clock will completely malfunction. What’s more, there are cracks and water damage in the masonry, which urgently require attention.
What work will be carried out on Big Ben?
There are many problems, which explains why the work on Big Ben is going to take so long. It’s not just the clock and limestone facade that need to be repaired, the glass of the clock must be replaced and the corrosion to the cast iron roof must be fixed. At the same time, the building needs to be improved to comply with modern health and safety and fire regulations. For this, an elevator is going to be installed, which should make future maintenance significantly easier. Until now, all visitors have had to climb the 334 steps to the top. The lift will provide improved access for disabled visitors. Big Ben is also going to change a little in appearance. The dial is going to have LED lights added to it, which can be lit up in different colours for important occasions and celebrations. It is also going to be repainted back to its original green and gold colours. The black and gold design was only introduced during the last renovations in the 80’s. The total cost of all of this work amounts to around £29 million.
What effect will the construction work have on tourists?
We will not be able to hear the iconic sound of the bells for an indefinite period of time as the structure which the bell hangs from must also be replaced and renewed. It is still unclear whether the bells will be able to ring again as soon as the work on that part has been carried out. The sound could possibly have a detrimental effect on the hearing of the construction workers who will still be working on the building. It will, however, chime on special occasions such as New Year. Londoners have already complained that they will miss the gong, which is also played live every hour on BBC radio via a microphone mounted on the bell. Tourists, on the other hand, will most likely hardly be able to notice that the sound is missing.
The worst part is that the landmark will be covered with scaffolding, which is necessary for the construction work, making it impossible to get that perfect souvenir photo. A small plus is that one of the 4 faces of the clock will always remain uncovered during the works and that the scaffolding will be dismantled gradually from top to bottom over the course of the three years.
Interesting facts about Big Ben
The name “Big Ben” has actually falsely been used to describe the whole tower in this article. It has become so typical to say this in London now but originally it was just the nickname for the heaviest of the five bells, weighing 13.5 tonnes. The official name of the tower, Elizabeth Tower, named in 2012 after the diamond jubilee of the Queen, is much less well-known. Big Ben first rang in July 1859 and has done so almost continuously ever since. In its long history, there have only been a few instances, including during the modernisation this year, where the bell hasn’t rung. Even during the Second World War, the clock didn’t miss a strike.
So, don’t miss out on the chance to listen to the bells one last time before their undefined break, admire Big Ben in all its architectural glory and – most importantly – take some great pictures!