The Big-Ben, London.
(photo credit: REUTERS)
It was the stuff of nightmares. On the day the moon was due to a cast darkness across swaths of the Earth’s surface (particularly across North America), some 5,860 km. from the best views of the full eclipse, Londoners and tourists lined Westminster Bridge to face the Elizabeth Tower as the 13-ton Big Ben bell tolled what many assumed would be for the last time until 2021.
Flanked by 200 parliamentary staff, grief-stricken politicians stood by the House of Commons’ Members Entrance, bearing silent witness to the history-making moment.
“This is desperately sad,” said MP Stephen Pound, dabbing a tear from his eye. “You don’t know what you’ve got till it’s gone.... It’s an elegiac moment of somber sadness as the bells cease,” he sighed.
Euroskeptic Conservative MPs had called for the “bongs” to peal at midnight after the UK leaves the EU on March 29, 2019.
House of Commons civil servants explained that despite cross-party concerns, including from Prime Minister Theresa May, the tower had to undergo an urgent £29 million restoration, especially on glass as well as the clock’s mechanics.
The hammers which have struck the 13.7 ton bell every hour for most of the last 157 years will be locked and disconnected from the clock to ensure the safety of those working on the restoration in the tower, with the bell-ringing not returning to normal until 2021. Not silencing the bells would have contravened health and safety regulations for workers carrying out the restoration.
“Protecting workers’ hearing is far from ‘health and safety gone mad,’” said Union representative Hugh Robertson. “It’s just plain common sense.”
Officially called the Elizabeth Tower, the 96-meter-tall clock tower that houses Big Ben is believed to be the most photographed building in the United Kingdom. Its lower sections are already covered in scaffolding.
So while the skies over North America were marked by gloom, in London not everything would be gloom. During special events, including New Year’s Eve and Remembrance Sunday, Big Ben will chime once more – even if it will be in the typically British understated melancholy note of E.
Reuters contributed to this story.