Big Ben falls silent as some British MPs make noise
The iconic Big Ben – one of the most photographed structures in London – fell silent for four years after sounding its bongs on Monday afternoon, setting the stage for major restoration work as some MPs gathered in mock mourning by the entrance of the nearby House of Parliament.
Prime Minister Theresa May is among MPs and others who have complained that the bell, which traditionally rings every hour to the note of E, accompanied by four quarter bells that chime every 15 minutes, should not fall silent for such a long time.
The renovation of the tower is to cost £29 million, including work near the 13-tonne bell inside. House of Commons authorities said workers would not be able to work safely next to a ringing bell.
However, they added Big Ben will still sound on occasions such as New Year’s Eve and Remembrance Sunday. Pro-Brexit MPs want it to also sound on the day the process of exiting the European Union is complete, expected in March 2019.
Labour MP Stephen Pound was at the scene, wiping a mock tear from his eye: “Bong-o Gone-o, that’s so wrong-o…This is a desperately sad moment and you don’t know what you’ve got till it’s gone.
“I think it’s the passing of something that means a great deal to a great many people – certainly to my constituents. It’s an elegiac moment of sombre sadness as the bells cease…They’re not going to be back in four years – have you ever known any government project come in on time or on budget?”
Other MPs entering Parliament stopped to hear the last chimes. Labour MP Rupa Huq made light of Pound’s exertions, adding politicians needed “a sense of perspective – it’s not a day of national mourning”.
“We’ve seen what happens when you scrimp on health and safety – Grenfell is the extreme example. Sometimes we have to strip away at some of the layers of sentimentality and tradition just for the sake of it,” Huq said.
The chimes were stopped previously for maintenance in 2007 and between 1983 and 1985. As part of the latest renovation, the clock is to be dismantled, with each cog examined and restored, the glass repaired and the hands removed and refurbished.