The Clock is Ticking

Un rapport de la Commons Commissions révélant l’état de délabrement du Palais de Westminster et de Big Ben a provoqué de nombreuses polémiques. En janvier 2012, les membres du parlement s’étaient réunis pour discuter du besoin urgent de rénovations mais les problèmes persistent encore aujourd’hui.


Will the most famous bell in the world stop ringing?

Big Ben has not been restored for over 30 years. Today, the oldest and most famous clock in the world is in need of major repairs.

The clock, designed by Charles Barry and Augustus Pugin in 1859, has become a major symbol of the United Kingdom. When a television producer or a filmmaker wants to indicate that his film takes place in London, a popular way to do so is to show an image of this famous clock in the background.


However, Big Ben, which is one of the UK’s most iconic monuments, is now in danger and in need of urgent repairs.

A report of the House of Commons Commission revealed that the clock is in a dilapidated state: Big Ben is falling apart.

In August 2015, the bell started to chime up to six seconds late every hour, which interrupted the broadcast of the BBC Radio 4 – PM programme. This lateness has an impact on the international reputation of England because it shows that England cannot afford to renovate its most famous monument.

Even the people trying to fix the clock, like Ian Westworth, do not really know which factors are causing these problems. Westworth told the BBC that the clock “does have a little fit every now and then due to its age”.


The clock has been faced with other technical problems over the years. As in 1976 when the pendulum weights fell down the shaft and the clock mechanism exploded. It stopped tolling for 26 days over 9 months.

There are other major concerns such as cracking, metal erosion, and structural defects. All these problems have raised urgent questions regarding the renovation of Big Ben and the Palace of Westminster.

On 23 January 2012, members of Parliament discussed the report on the structural conditions of Big Ben and the Palace of Westminster. They said that no repairs would be done on Big Ben before 2020. Experts announced that a complete refurbishment of the tower would cost an estimated £40 million. As a result, the complete renovation of the tower won’t begin before 2020.

The renovation cost has been at the center of several debates. According to a report, taxpayers would be confronted with a bill of up to £29 million if they want to hear the famous “bongs” of Big Ben in the future. Moreover, the public purse is already facing a massive restoration bill of up to £7 billion for the restoration of the Palace of Westminster.

Andrew Blick, a lecturer in politics and contemporary history at King’s College, London, said: “Well clearly in a climate of austerity when parliament is voting through cuts in other areas it’s going to be controversial if they seem to authorising expenditure on that scale for a repair to what is essentially their own building. However, Big Ben and the Elizabeth Tower, which it’s on top of, is an iconic image of the UK. It’s arguably the most famous iconic image of the UK, one of the most famous images anywhere in the world, it’s part of the image of the country. I don’t think I know many developing world countries that would allow an iconic status symbol on that scale to fall into disrepair, to stop working or, worse still, maybe bits start falling off it.”


Big Ben’s bongs could stop for months or even years if the government doesn’t take a decision urgently. But Nottingham City Council has said its Council House bell “Little John” could replace it if needed.

Councillor Graham Chapman said: “It would be a great honour for our bell to serve this purpose. These chimes are iconic across the globe and of course could never be replaced.”

One of the most famous icons of the United Kingdom is today in danger. The government is thinking about the best solution to solve this problem, which is having an impact on the UK’s reputation around the world. Repairs will take a long time and will be expensive. Moreover, is it not dangerous for tourists to take selfies with Big Ben in the background?

CHAPUZET Anaïs, PREVOSTEAU Maxime, and WONG Jenny.



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