VIDEO: Thousands gather as Big Ben's bongs silenced until 2021

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.

Big Ben
Big Ben

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.

Big Ben

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."

Big Ben

"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.

It comes after a trio of Eurosceptic Tory MPs called for Big Ben to bong Britain out of the European Union on Brexit day, expected on March 29 2019.

Plans were already in place for the bell to chime on New Year's Eve and Remembrance Day.

Mr Brake said the "longest period of time" the bells might be out of operation is four years and insisted the authorities would want to have them working for unplanned national events such as royal funerals.

He said it was "too early to say" if they would ring the country out of the European Union in 2019, adding: "If they were to ring, people could read into the ringing of those bells either a celebration, or perhaps the alternative."