It is 16 months since work began on restoring the Palace of Westminster’s Clock Tower – renamed the Elizabeth Tower
It is one of the world’s most familiar landmarks and has been a spectacular feature of London’s skyline for almost 160 years.
But when the scaffolding around Big Ben is removed in two years following a £61 million restoration, keen-eyed visitors will notice a subtle change: the clock hands and numerals have gone blue.
It has long been assumed that the metalwork on the four faces was black, but thanks to painstaking research, the hands and dials will become a deep Prussian blue when they go back on view.
Scientists at Lincoln University made the discovery after analysing 128 samples of paint from the dial as part of the renovation. ‘There have been four successive schemes of it being blue,’ explained researcher Rhiannon Clarricoates. ‘It was blue up until the 1930s.’
About time: the team prise apart the hands of Big Ben as the operation remove the hands begin
Since then, however, the effects of weathering and pollution have meant that decorators assumed the metalwork was black.
It is 16 months since work began on restoring the Palace of Westminster’s Clock Tower – renamed the Elizabeth Tower to celebrate the Queen’s Diamond Jubilee.
The tower has been covered in 96,000 pieces of scaffolding and, for the first time since it was designed by Augustus Pugin in 1859, the 11½-ton clock has been dismantled.
Easy does it: The minute hand is pulled away carefully from the face as the team lower it down
Tomorrow night the bells will ring in the New Year once again – although this year and next, they will be powered by an electric motor rather than by the original mechanism.
Palace of Westminster clockmakers Paul Roberson, Huw Smith and Ian Westworth spent eight days removing the 9ft hour hands and 14ft minute hands and lowering them 25 floors to the ground. They then removed the huge clock mechanism and dismantled every cog.
Channel 4 documentary Big Ben: Countdown To New Year tonight tells how they are inspecting every component to make sure the mechanism ticks for another 160 years.
Going down: Covered in blue padding for protection the hand is carefully lifted down 25 floors
All the metalwork has been transported to Sheffield-based Shepley Engineers for restoration or replacement. They are stripping down the 3,222 bronze, copper and brass components, either by sandblasting or with chemicals, before repairing or replacing them.
Head of restoration Trevor Marrs said: ‘Virtually every single element has needed a fairly significant amount of work. There is a lot of damage. A lot of it is to do with the gutters and catastrophic failures of major elements of the roof.’
Reyntiens Glass Studio will be replacing the 324 individual pieces of glass in the clock faces.
l Big Ben: Countdown To New Year is on Channel 4 at 9pm.
Safe and sound: The minute hand is packed away into a wooden box before it is transported away