London Big Ben and traffic on Westminster Bridge
Credit: (c) Sylvain Sonnet

Big Ben is one of London’s most recognizable landmarks, and starting early next year, its bells will go silent (except for a few special occasions) for three years. It's all part of a conservation program that will work to repair the Elizabeth Tower, the Great Clock, and the Great Bell.

“We have a duty to ensure that it is safeguarded for future generations to appreciate, just as we owe it to our predecessors to restore their masterpiece to its former glory,” Parliament spokesperson Tom Brake said in a statement. “While these works are much needed in the short-term, they will also ensure the long-term future and sustainability of Big Ben.”

Though Big Ben will go silent for months at a time, visitors will still hear the five bells ring for major events like New Year’s Eve.

Repairs are desperately needed because cracks have developed in the tower's masonry and the belfry is corroding. There are also fears the clock could become inaccurate, or stop working altogether. So, the clock will be service, the pendulum will be analyzed, and the bearings holding the hands to the dial will be tended to. Some additions will be made as well including adding an elevator to help the handicapped and installing a bathroom. The last time the bell tower underwent a major renovation that kept the bells from ringing was 30 years ago.

“Every day our team of highly skilled clock mechanics cares for this Victorian masterpiece but, in order to keep the Clock ticking, we must now take the time to thoroughly inspect and restore it," Steve Jaggs, Keeper of the Clock, said in the statement. "These essential works balance value for money with Parliament’s custodial responsibility to the building as well as to those visiting and working in the Elizabeth Tower. This project will enable us to give one of Britain's most famous landmarks the TLC it so desperately needs and deserves."

By Jordi Lippe and Jordi Lippe-McGraw