Throng out for swansong Big Ben bong after ban ding-dong

Big Ben's bongs have been silenced as part of a controversial renovation plan that will stop it ringing out for up to four years.

By The Newsroom
Tuesday, 22nd August 2017, 11:31 am
Updated Monday, 11th September 2017, 12:57 pm
Onlookers gather to witness Big Ben's final regular bongs for four years (Dominic Lipinski/PA)
Onlookers gather to witness Big Ben's final regular bongs for four years (Dominic Lipinski/PA)

MPs and parliamentary workers gathered to listen as the Great Bell chimed noon before being halted to allow work to begin.

Parliament bowed to pressure last week when it announced it would review the plans, which will silence the bell for the longest period in its 157-year history, after Prime Minister Theresa May joined an MPs’ outcry against the move.

Hundreds of people watching from inside the parliamentary estate and outside its perimeter clapped and cheered as noon was struck.

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Labour’s Stephen Pound said it was a “desperately sad” moment and said the decision showed a “real poverty of imagination.

In a typically jocular move the Ealing North MP reached for a handkerchief and dabbed at his eyes as the bell tolled.

Mr Pound conceded the backlash had become a little over the top.

Asked if was partly responsible for that, he replied: “In my small way to contribute to the chimes of freedom ringing out, I put my hand up.

"In many ways I think we are in danger of losing something that we don’t actually realise and value enough at the moment.”

Mr Pound had hoped to have been joined by at least 20 “like-minded traditionalists” to witness the halting of the bongs but just a few watched from the grounds.

The 13.7-tonne Great Bell was last stopped for maintenance in 2007 and before that was halted for two years in 1983 for refurbishment, but has been stopped on a number of other occasions since it first sounded in 1859.

Parliamentary officials have insisted workers’ hearing would be put at “serious risk” if the bell continued chiming.

They warned that those using the 100-metre-high scaffolding around the tower could also be startled by the 118-decibel bongs.

The House of Commons Commission – which is made up of MPs, officials, lay members, and chaired by Speaker John Bercow – will review the timescale for repairs when Parliament returns after the summer break.

Liberal Democrat Tom Brake, who answers his colleagues’ questions on the Commission’s behalf, said one concession could be allowing Big Ben to chime on more special occasions.