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Big Ben will be silenced in 2017 for ‘urgent’ repairs

From early 2017, the Elizabeth Tower and her bells (including Big Ben) will cease to chime. 

No, it's not a foreboding PR stunt for any upcoming apocalypse flick: the 160-year-old tower, the Great Clock and its bells are set to undergo some £29 million of maintenance.

"Problems have been identified with the clock hands, mechanism and pendulum, which need to be dealt with immediately to ensure that the clock can continue to work properly," explains Parliament's Living Heritage page.

"Surveys are still being carried out to identify the extent of the works required to the Tower itself but we have already identified areas of concern, including cracks in masonry, leaks, erosion, and severe rusting of metalwork. There is a risk that if not addressed as a matter of urgency, the clock may fail or fabric problems may become acute."

The works are scheduled to last some three years, during which time sections of the Elizabeth Tower will be covered in scaffolding. Both the clock mechanism and its bells will be stopped "at times within the three year duration of the works". One face of the Great Clock will always remain visible, while Big Ben will toll for "important events". 

It's not the first time Big Ben and the tower's bells have been silent: The bells didn't chime for a period of around nine months when the clock underwent a major overhaul in 1976, while the bells were stopped for a period of 6 weeks in 2007 when essential maintenance works were carried out.

The last time major works were carried out on the tower was back in 1985. While Parliament is set to undergo an overhaul in the early 2020s as part of the Restoration and Renewal Programme, it was decided that the tower maintenance couldn't be delayed.

So, if you want to get a scaffold-free shot of the tower, best do so before early 2017. 

(Images: Rex)