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Time's up: Big Ben silenced for 4 years as renovations start

22 August 2017

Britain's most famous bell, Big Ben, fell silent at noon on Monday as hundreds of people gathered in London's Parliament Square to hear the bongs one last time.

Stephen Pound, the Labour MP in question, told a crowd of political reporters starved of actual political news that he was desperately upset by the decision to silence Big Ben for four years while urgent repairs are made to parliament's Elizabeth Tower.

In response to the criticism, House of Commons officials have said they will take another look at the repairs schedule once Parliament returns next month from its summer break. Its bongs will still sound for important events such as New Year's Eve celebrations.

1965 - The bells went quiet as a mark of respect for the funeral of former Prime Minister Winston Churchill.

But at 118 decibels, Big Ben's bongs are so loud (over the human pain threshold and louder than a jet taking off) that they might startle people working at heights or damage their hearing permanently.

But according to Steve Jaggs, Big Ben's official Keeper of the Great Clock, a moment of silence is necessary to keep Big Ben in, tip-top shape in the long-term.

Chris Bryant, who sits on the Palace of Westminster's restoration committee, said: "How anybody could think that this work could take place without the bell being silent, I cannot comprehend".

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Located above the Great Bell known as Big Ben, the Ayrton Light - which is switched on in the evening whenever the Parliament is sitting - needs to be fully dismantled and restored.

The four-year length of the outage has caused consternation among British politicians.

The decision to silence Big Ben has been one of the few political stories around in the first true "silly season" for several years, with nearly no major political news around for reporters to cover while parliament is in recess.

Big Ben, which chimes at 118 decibels, is being silenced to protect the hearing of fix workers. Pro-Brexit MPs want it to also sound on the day the process of exiting the European Union is complete, expected in March 2019.

Perry, who was project manager during the two-year renovation of the tower in 1983, said: "We didn't seem to have any issues with the ringing of the bells".

The clock's cogs and hands as well as the four dials will be removed, cleaned up and repaired as part of the work.

The Commons commission said it will review the timescale after complaints were raised, including by Theresa May, who said it "cannot be right" for the bells not to chime regularly for four years.

Time's up: Big Ben silenced for 4 years as renovations start