Removal of Big Ben’s scaffolding progresses ahead of New Year deadline
Another important step in the Elizabeth Tower restoration project begins this week, as scaffolding starts to be removed from around Big Ben’s world-famous clock dials. Three and half years after the entire structure was first covered, all four dials are to be unveiled in full over the next six weeks, revealing the intricate conservation work that has taken place – including the restoration of the original Victorian colour scheme.
An expert team will work to take down scaffolding from around the upper section of the Tower this week and by 31st December 2021, all four clock dials will be on display – in time for the country to welcome in 2022.
New Year’s Eve will mark the last time Big Ben is planned to be struck using the temporary striking mechanism, which has powered the hammer used to strike the bell during the restoration of the Tower and clock mechanism. More scaffolding, including the gantry, will be removed from the lower sections of the Tower in 2022, with the bells – including Big Ben – set to resume their regular striking again in the Spring.
Sir Lindsay Hoyle, Speaker of the House of Commons, said: ‘The unveiling of Big Ben’s iconic clock dials is a big moment for the House of Commons – and a long-anticipated one for the world.
‘Seeing this beautiful structure that we have missed so much emerge from the shroud of scaffolding will be both exciting and uplifting. We will at last have the chance to appreciate the intricate conservation work that has gone into restoring Charles Barry’s masterpiece.’
Important work is still underway inside the Tower, where expert clock mechanics are carrying out the delicate task of re-installing the Great Clock’s original Victorian mechanism, following restoration off-site. To protect this priceless piece of engineering during installation, only the East Dial – overlooking the River Thames – will be functioning in the immediate weeks after scaffolding has been removed. This is to prevent dust and debris causing serious harm to the mechanism, having the potential to affect its ability to tell the correct time in the future.
Whilst this is a common procedure for clocks of this scale, it is only a temporary measure. In January, the North and South Dials will be functioning too, with all four clock dials displaying the correct time as soon as crucial works have been completed inside the Tower in early 2022.
In addition to the works taking place to the Great Clock, other work is progressing well across the Tower including the installation of key infrastructure components and fire safety systems – ensuring that this historic building conforms to current building regulations and is fit for 21st century use.
The removal of scaffolding and installation of the Great Clock represent two of the most significant stages in the entire restoration project, requiring great levels of skill and expertise – all delivered at a great height and within the confines of a busy working Parliament. No compromises can be made when it comes to the safety and security of the structure, clock mechanism, or teams involved.
When scaffolding was removed from the Tower in September 2020, the initial glimpses of the Victorian colour scheme were first revealed. The floral emblems of all four parts of the United Kingdom – the thistle, shamrock, leek and rose, alongside a gold portcullis that symbolises Parliament – are now visible, with the Irish shamrock and Welsh leek returned to their original green and the Scottish thistle’s bright purple seed head restored to its former splendour. The English rose has been painted red and white as in Barry’s original design.
The current scaffolding removal will reveal additional work that has taken place. The black paint on the stonework around the clock dials has been removed and certain features have been gilded again. Painstaking work has removed the paint from the stone, using solvents, tiny brushes and lots of elbow grease, so Charles Barry’s original design can be reinstated. New white opalescent glass has also been installed, after the metalwork was cleaned and repainted.