LONDON (Reuters) – Prime Minister Theresa May said on Wednesday it could not be right for “Big Ben”, the bell in the British parliament’s clock tower whose bongs are one of the country’s most familiar sounds, to fall silent for four years during renovations.
May joined other politicians who have protested at the news that the great bell, which has rung every hour for most of the past 157 years, would cease its bongs to ensure the safety of workers carrying out renovations on the tower.
“Of course we want to ensure that people are safe at work, but it can’t be right for Big Ben to be silent for four years,” May told reporters.
“I hope that the Speaker (of the House of Commons) … will urgently look into this and ensure that we can hear Big Ben through those four years.”
Big Ben’s bongs, which are heard marking the start of some of the BBC’s flagship news bulletins, are part of the soundtrack of daily life in the British capital and beyond.
Officially known as the Elizabeth Tower, the clock tower that houses Big Ben is believed to be the most photographed building in the United Kingdom.
May’s comments were more restrained than those of her Brexit minister, David Davis, who said on Tuesday that the silencing of Big Ben for such a long period was “mad”.
Another Conservative politician, member of parliament Nigel Evans, suggested earlier on Wednesday that the bongs could be switched back on every evening when the workers carrying out the renovations of the clock tower finished for the day.
Steve Jaggs, parliament’s Keeper of the Great Clock, had announced this week that Big Ben would stop its regular chimes at midday (1100 GMT) on Monday, Aug. 21, inviting members of the public to gather nearby to hear the final bongs.
The bell will still toll for important events such as New Year’s Eve celebrations but will otherwise remain silent until 2021.
Reporting by Estelle Shirbon; editing by Michael Holden