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World

Big Ben Backlash: Plan to Silence Beloved Bell Under Review

When the repairs were announced last year, officials said the massive bell in Parliament's clock tower would be silenced for several months

A general view of Palace of Westminster and the Queen Elizabeth Tower which contains the bell known as 'Big Ben' in London, Monday, Aug. 14, 2017, photo: AP/Alastair Grant
4 months ago

LONDON – British Parliament officials said Wednesday they will review plans to silence Big Ben during four years of repairs after senior politicians criticized the lengthy muting of the beloved bell.

When the repairs were announced last year, officials said the massive bell in Parliament’s clock tower would be silenced for several months. But this week they said the ringing pause would last until 2021.

Prime Minister Theresa May said “it can’t be right for Big Ben to be silent for four years.”

The 13.5 British ton (15.1 U.S. ton, 13.7 metric ton) bell has sounded the time almost uninterrupted since 1859, but it’s due to fall silent on Monday so repairs can be carried out on the Victorian clock and the Elizabeth Tower.

Officials say the silencing is needed to ensure the safety of workers.

Adam Watrobski, principal architect at the Houses of Parliament, rejected claims that the great bell that survived German bombing raids was the victim of overcautious health and safety regulations.

“It is quite simply that we can’t have the bells working with those people adjacent to it. It simply isn’t practical to do that,” he said.

In a statement Wednesday headlined “update on Big Ben’s bongs,” Parliament officials said that in light of the concerns expressed by lawmakers, authorities “will consider the length of time” Big Ben is stifled.

But they rejected calls to allow the bell to strike at night once workers have gone home. “Starting and stopping Big Ben is a complex and lengthy process,” they said.

The sound of Big Ben’s bongs became associated with Britain around the world during wartime BBC news broadcasts. It’s still heard live each day on BBC radio through a microphone in the belfry.

The BBC says it will use a recording during the renovation works.

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