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Big Ben's Big Bong Is About To Go Silent

Tourists walk past the Palace of Westminster and Big Ben in London. Big Ben is scheduled to fall silent next week.
Alastair Grant
Tourists walk past the Palace of Westminster and Big Ben in London. Big Ben is scheduled to fall silent next week.

A fixture of the London landscape and soundscape, Big Ben, is falling silent for four years. The bell will cease its regular tolling while extensive repairs are made to the famous clock tower that looms over the Palace of Westminster, the home of the British Parliament.

The massive bell will mark the hour for the last time at noon on Aug. 21 and then pause for four years while the Elizabeth Tower, which houses the Great Clock and the Great Bell, aka Big Ben, is restored. A larger restoration of the Parliament buildings is likely to begin in the early 2020s, according to a Parliament website.

Quieting Big Ben's mighty bongs will help preserve the hearing of workers involved in the project.

The keeper of the Great Clock, Steve Jaggs, said in a statement that the pause "is a significant milestone in this crucial conservation project." If you're in London next Monday you may want to accept Jaggs' invitation to gather in Parliament Square "to hear Big Ben's final bongs until they return in 2021." However, Big Ben will still bong for important national events such as New Year's Eve and Remembrance Sunday.

The Great Bell has chimed nearly every hour for the past 157 years. It has had previous breaks in service for maintenance and conservation in 2007, in 1983-1985 and in 1976. The 13.7-ton bell, which was forged in the 1850s, is accompanied by smaller chimes that ring out each quarter hour.

The Great Clock has a Victorian-era clockwork mechanism that triggers the bell and chimes. That mechanism and the clock's four faces will also get refurbished, which will require the faces to be covered.

To make sure Londoners don't get completely disoriented and lose track of the correct time, Jaggs says at least one clock face will remain visible. It will keep time with the aid of a modern electric motor, while the Victorian mechanism is being repaired.

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John Ydstie has covered the economy, Wall Street, and the Federal Reserve at NPR for nearly three decades. Over the years, NPR has also employed Ydstie's reporting skills to cover major stories like the aftermath of Sept. 11, Hurricane Katrina, the Jack Abramoff lobbying scandal, and the implementation of the Affordable Care Act. He was a lead reporter in NPR's coverage of the global financial crisis and the Great Recession, as well as the network's coverage of President Trump's economic policies. Ydstie has also been a guest host on the NPR news programs Morning Edition, All Things Considered, and Weekend Edition. Ydstie stepped back from full-time reporting in late 2018, but plans to continue to contribute to NPR through part-time assignments and work on special projects.