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London’s Big Ben is falling silent next week until 2021

Cleaners abseil down one of the faces of Big Ben, to clean and polish the clock face, above the Houses of Parliament, in central London
Reuters/Toby Melville
Silence, please.
By Sam Rigby
Published Last updated This article is more than 2 years old.

It has chimed on the hour for 157 years, but London’s Big Ben will fall silent next week until 2021.

Big Ben, the nickname for the bell inside the Elizabeth Tower of Parliament, will ring for the final time next Monday (August 21) at midday ahead of four-years of extensive renovation works.

The decision was taken to stop ringing the bell in order to protect the hearing of those working on cleaning and repairing the clock. And while Londoners will miss the familiar chimes of Big Ben on a daily basis, the bell will only ring for special occasions, including the city’s New Year celebrations and Remembrance Sunday.

Steve Jaggs, known as Keeper of the Great Clock (a pretty great job title we’re sure you’ll agree), told BBC News that the renovation works are “essential” and will “safeguard the clock on a long-term basis.”

Over the next four years, the Elizabeth Tower will be modernized with a lift and will be made more energy-efficient. The clock face will be briefly taken apart for cleaning and repairs, but will otherwise continue to tell the time correctly.

The clock’s striking hammers have only been paused a few times in its 157-year history, and only for essential work. The last time the clock fell silent was in 2007, and previous renovations took place between 1983 and 1985. Big Ben chimed throughout the London Blitz, but its clock face was not illuminated to avoid helping German pilots navigate their way over the city. Even so, two of its dials were damaged during an air raid in 1941.

The tower is home to a small prison where MPs were once held for breaking the laws of the land. Emmeline Pankhurst, leader of the women’s suffragette movement in Britain, is thought to have been the last person held there, in 1902.

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