11 August 2007

Time stands still as Big Ben falls silent

From Gotham City Insider's London Office:

The famous chimes of Big Ben in central London fell silent yesterday as a major month-long maintenance programme of cleaning and repairs began.

For almost 150 years, the monumental clock tower next to the Houses of Parliament in London has chimed every hour on the hour with a deep, low, distinctive "bong" that is the signature sound of Britain's capital city.

The "bongs" stopped after marking 8:00am and workers scaled down the south face of the 314- foot-high clock tower to move the hands to 12 o'clock. They look like worker bee's feasting on a honeycomb.

Officials hope it will be possible to begin showing the correct time again once an alternative electric mechanism is installed but the bells will be out of action for at least 4 to 6 weeks.

Work includes replacing crucial components and the bearings of the strike train, which operates the hour bell and the going train which controls the clock. It will be the first time Ben's bearings will be replaced in some 148 years!

Big Ben, which survived a German bombing blitz on London in World War II, celebrates its 150th anniversary next year.

Big Ben is the nickname for what is officially called "The Great Clock" but in strict terms the name only refers to the 14-ton bell that chimes every hour. The big clock was named after Sir Benjamin Hall, the commissioner of works when the bell was installed in 1859.

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