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  1. ITV Report

Big Ben bongs for final time ahead of renovation

  • Video report by ITV News correspondent Paul Davies

Big Ben has fallen silent for the first time in 10 years on Monday for renovation works which are expected to last up to four years.

Some MPs gathered outside the Palace of Westminster to witness the final bongs at noon.

The renovation includes the installation of a lift and repairs to the clock's hands, mechanism and pendulum.

It was expected to cost £29 million but MPs have raised concerns that the bill could soar to £60 million.

  • Outcry over length of silence
Crumbling paintwork on the interior of one of the four clock faces. Credit: PA

Last week, Parliament said it would review the plans to silence the chimes for four years after the Prime Minister joined an MPs' outcry against the move.

One of those calling for a rethink to stop Big Ben being silenced for the longest period in its 157-year history, Labour MP Stephen Pound, said he hoped at least 20 "like-minded traditionalists" would gather to witness the halting of the bongs.

"There's going to be a small group of us standing there with bowed heads in the courtyard," he said.

Asked if he was joking, Mr Pound replied: "No, of course I'm not, of course we're going to be there - a group of like-minded traditionalists."

The House of Commons Commission, which is responsible for the Palace's maintenance, is also encouraging people to be present for the final chimes before repairs.

The Commission, which is made up of MPs, officials, lay members, and chaired by Commons Speaker John Bercow, will now review the timescale for repairs.

  • Why does Big Ben need to be silenced?
A specialist technical abseil team cleaning and inspecting Big Ben in 2014. Credit: PA

The 13.7-tonne Great Bell was last stopped for maintenance in 2007 and before that was halted for two years in 1983 for refurbishment, but has been stopped on a number of other occasions since it first sounded in 1859.

Parliamentary officials have insisted workers' hearing would be put at "serious risk" if the bell continued chiming.

They warned that those using the 100-metre-high scaffolding around the tower could also be startled by the 118-decibel bongs.

They have dismissed suggestions the chimes could be restored during the hours that work is not being carried out, as the process takes about half a day to complete.

  • When will we next hear Big Ben's bongs?
The hammer on one of the four smaller bells surrounding Big Ben will be removed and cleaned. Credit: PA

Liberal Democrat MP Tom Brake, who answers his colleagues' questions on the House of Commons Commission's behalf, said one concession could be allowing Big Ben to chime on more special occasions.

It comes after a trio of Eurosceptic Tory MPs called for Big Ben to bong Britain out of the European Union on Brexit day, expected on 29 March 2019.

Plans were already in place for the bell to chime on New Year's Eve and Remembrance Day.

Mr Brake said it could be difficult to get Big Ben bonging sooner than 2021 as the clock that drives the bell is being dismantled, overhauled and tested, which will take at least two years.