The British Parliament’s Big Ben bell sounded the hour for the last time Monday - and will be silent for almost four years of repair work that will deprive London of one of its most iconic sounds.
After 12 deep bongs at noon, London time, the bell began its longest period of silence since it first rang out in 1859.
The break will allow workers to carry out much-needed maintenance to the Victorian clock and clock tower. But some lawmakers have criticized the lengthy silence, calling Big Ben an important symbol of British democracy. They want the time scale for repairs tightened.
Big Ben has been silenced for repairs before, most recently in 2007, but this stretch is by far the longest. The bell is not due to resume regular timekeeping until 2021, though it will be heard on special occasions such as New Year’s Eve.
The sound of the 15.1 ton bell became associated with Britain around the globe through World War II radio news broadcasts. The clock tower — also commonly called Big Ben, but formally named the Elizabeth Tower — is one of London’s most-photographed buildings.
During the repair work, scaffolding will obscure parts of the tower, and the clock faces will be covered at times.
Adam Watrobski, principal architect at the Houses of Parliament, said authorities are well aware of how much interest the bell and the tower generate.