It is the world’s most famous clock – and Big Ben is being given a touch of TLC at a factory in Sheffield as part of a £61 million restoration.
The clock’s hands and workings have been removed from the iconic London tower – and have been shipped to Sheffield where they are being expertly restored by a city based engineering firm.
Shepley Engineers, which is based in Newton Chambers Road, has been given the task of repairing and renovating the clock face which is not expected to be completed until 2021.
The famous building’s chimes have been silent for more than 16 months – although they were heard around the world on New Year’s Eve to ring in 2019.
The Palace of Westminster clock tower – renamed the Elizabeth Tower in honour of The Queen – is known around the globe as Big Ben – even though the name technically refers to the bell inside the tower.
And when the scaffolding is removed, sightseers will notice a distinct difference to the 160-year-old clock – because its hands and numerals will change to their original colour of navy blue.
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It was long assumed that the metalwork on the four faces was black, but thanks to painstaking research, the hands and dials will become a deep Prussian blue when they go back on view after scientists at Lincoln University made the discovery after analysing 128 samples of paint from the dial as part of the renovation.
“There have been four successive schemes of it being blue,’ explained researcher Rhiannon Clarricoates.
“It was blue up until the 1930s.”
The tower has been covered in 96,000 pieces of scaffolding and, for the first time since it was designed by Augustus Pugin in 1859, the 11½-ton clock has been dismantled.
Palace of Westminster clockmakers Paul Roberson, Huw Smith and Ian Westworth spent eight days removing the 9ft hour hands and 14ft minute hands and lowering them 25 floors to the ground. They then removed the huge clock mechanism and dismantled every cog.
And all the metalwork has been transported to Sheffield-based Shepley for restoration or replacement.
Engineers are stripping down the 3,222 bronze, copper and brass components, either by sandblasting or with chemicals, before repairing or replacing them.
Head of restoration Trevor Marrs said: ‘Virtually every single element has needed a fairly significant amount of work. There is a lot of damage. A lot of it is to do with the gutters and catastrophic failures of major elements of the roof.’
The firm has undertaken a number of renovation projects on famed buildings and landmarks across Britain since a major upgrade of London’s Grade I listed Dorchester Hotel in 1985.
These include London’s Blackfriars Bridge, St Pancras Station, Smithfield Market, London as well as the Paxton Pavilions in Sheffield and Liverpool’s Palm House.