Big Ben is taking a rest for four years while its clock tower is refurbished.
Its iconic bong will not be heard except when it will be reactivated on special occasions such as heralding the New Year in the UK. It will fall silent after announcing 12 noon on Monday 21st August 2017, or more memorably 12:00 21-08-2017.
However, it will still be heard on the BBC news. Big Ben plays a crucial role at BBC Radio 4, its live chimes heralding the start of the 6pm and midnight news. The BBC has decided to play a pre-recording of the Big Ben bongs for as long as the clock is out of action, which is part of a wholesale refurbishment of the aging Houses of Parliament.
Big Ben began its service in London almost 160 years ago and has been heard on the BBC for over 90 years. It is now the world’s most famous and immediately recognisable bell.
Big Ben is the name of the 13.7 ton Great Bell in the clock tower at the north end of the Palace of Westminster where the two Houses of Parliament meet in London. The tower was recently renamed the Elizabeth Tower in commemoration of the 2012 Diamond Jubilee of Queen Elizabeth II, the longest-reigning British monarch and the longest-reigning queen regnant and female head of state in world history and the longest currently-reigning monarch in the world.
The current clock tower is 96 metres tall and commenced building in 1843, the year of the Disruption of the Church of Scotland. The clock began ticking in 1859 the year of the Evangelical revivals. The Great Bell is accompanied by four quarter bells which chime ‘the Westminster chimes’ every 15 minutes, a sound repeated in multitudes of grandfather clocks in domestic and stately homes throughout the country. These chimes are one of my childhood memories from our own grandfather clock.
Westminster gives its name to ‘the Westminster Government’, a popular term for the British Government. The Westminster Standards is the collective name for the documents drawn up by the Westminster Assembly (1643–49), the most learned, international and godly assembly of divines assembled since the European Reformation, which held its meetings by order of the Westminster Parliament in Westminster Abbey. These documents form the doctrinal basis of Presbyterian churches throughout the world, and contributed to many Baptist and Independent confessional standards ever since.
Outside the Houses of Parliament stands the statue of the father of Parliamentary democracy – the godly Oliver Cromwell.
Not only will Big Ben fall silent, but the light behind each of the four clock faces will also be turned off. It is remarkable and memorable that our great light – the Sun – will co-incidentally turn off the same day for millions in America, where a total solar eclipse will bisect the USA today for the first time in 99 years, beginning at 5:04 p.m. BST, almost exactly five hours after Big Ben falls silent, and crossing America from its west coast to the east coast in about 100 minutes, at the very time when Big Ben should be peeling the 6 p.m. news in London. Millions of human beings will experience their first total solar eclipse, and it could be the most viewed solar eclipse in history. Another one will cross America seven years later on 8th April 2024. Hopefully by then Big Ben and his companion bells will have resumed their auditory duties in 2021.