The iconic clock, which dominates the British parliament, is returning to its usual rhythm after the meticulous cleaning of the more than 1000 parts that make it up.
To get closer to Big Ben, you need earplugs and noise-canceling headphones to protect your eardrums. And when the 13.7 ton bell rings, the vibrations can be felt right through the chest. After five long years of renovation which cost 80 million pounds(91 million euros), the most famous clock in the world officially came out of its silence on Sunday and is starting to tell the time to Londoners again.
The emblematic clock, which dominates the British parliament, will thus return to its usual rhythm after the meticulous cleaning of more than 1000 parts that compose it.
In August 2017, more than a thousand people gathered outside Parliament to listen religiously to the last twelve strokes of Big Ben and the four other – smaller – bells that accompany it. Some had even shed a tear, believing they were losing part of their city.
Many of them met again on Sunday, at 11:00 a.m. GMT, to hear this symbol of London resonate. The carillon of four bells will then ring every quarter hour, and Big Ben every hour as it had done for 158 years before its renovation.
The date coincides with the Remembrance Sundaycelebrated on the Sunday following November 11 to celebrate the armistice of the First World War.
In five years, the clock has rung on a few rare occasions thanks to a substitute electric mechanism, as recently for the funeral of Queen Elizabeth II died September 8.
Perched at the top of the Elizabeth Tower – 96 meters high – the bells are protected by an external net to prevent bats and pigeons from rushing into the belfry. From up there, the view of London is spectacular.
Built in the 1840s
“It’s the sound of London that’s back“, told AFP the watchmaker during a morning visit to the tower. “The bells rang during the wars», he marvels, underlining the extent of the transformations of the city which they have witnessed.
The Elizabeth Tower, the new name given to the “clock towerin 2012 on the occasion of the diamond jubilee of the monarch, was built in the 1840s. If it dominated the Westminster district at the time, more imposing buildings have since emerged.
“Before, on a calm night, you could hear (Big Ben) up to 15 miles (24 km) awayrecalls Mr. Westworth. “Now you are lucky if you hear it from the other side of Parliament.»
During the works, various parts of the bells were cleaned and repainted, but the bells themselves did not move. Big Ben is so imposing that moving it would require destroying the floor of the tower. The most difficult task of the works was to remove the mechanism of the clock, heavy of 11.5 tons and dating from 1859, in order to clean the cogs.
In addition, 28 bulbs now illuminate the four faces of the clock, with tones ranging from green to white to resemble as closely as possible the gas bulbs of the Victorian era. Another bulb, white, sits above the bells to indicate when parliament is sitting.
Before the renovation, watchmakers checked the accuracy of the time with telephones. From now on, the clock is calibrated by GPS thanks to the National Physics Laboratory. But the method for adjusting the time remains very traditional: old coins are used to add or remove weight from the gigantic springs of the clock, making it possible to gain or lose a second.