Big Ben has been a trusty staple in London since its chimes first rang across the city over 150 years ago. Now, for the first time in over three decades, the infamous clock tower may soon fall silent. Citing urgent and critical repairs, two of Britain’s largest newspapers reported that the silence could last months, or even years.
But first, we should clarify a few points of confusion for many travelers. The name Big Ben, the most commonly used title for the landmark, is actually the nickname for the 13.76 ton Great Bell. The tower itself was renamed “Elizabeth Tower” to celebrate Queen Elizabeth II during her Diamond Jubilee in 2012. Before that, it was simply called “Clock Tower.” Where does the name “Big Ben” come from, you ask? The nickname is most likely attributed to Sir Benjamin Hall, a very large man who was London’s first Commissioner of works – and who was known affectionately as Big Ben. Thus, many years later, his namesake lives on.As for the Elizabeth Tower repairs, there is a great deal of dispute about the scope of the project. One thing that is unanimously agreed upon is that action needs to be taken – and fast! Experts claim that the clock is experiencing chronic problems from bearing the weight of the hands and the pendulum; some reports even state that the hands could fall clean off! The proposed plan will take four months and cost £4 million, but if the clock’s nine foot hands stop working, repairs could take well over a year. Additionally, in a report presented to the Commons Finance committee, estimates showed that the conservation process will likely lead to £40 million spent in the long-run.
This will not be the first time the Great Clock stops, but it will be the longest. In 1976, repairs caused the clock to stop ticking for 26 days. Also, during World War I, Big Ben was silenced to evade attacks by German zeppelins. And in World War II, the clock’s face was dimmed in accordance with the city’s blackout policies.
Among the speculation and reports, a Parliamentary spokesman has said “No decisions on works, timescales or costs have been agreed.” So for now, the only conclusion to be drawn is that in London it may be time to get a watch.