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‘Big Ben’ investment welcomed

Three years of urgent restoration work will be carried out on the Grade I-listed Elizabeth Tower designed by architects Charles Barry and Augustus Welby Pugin. The work includes repainting stonework surrounding the clock faces in the original colours.

Credit: UK Parliament/Jessica Taylor

The Victorian Society has welcomed the announcement that three years of urgent restoration work will be carried out on the Grade I-listed Elizabeth Tower designed by architects Charles Barry and Augustus Welby Pugin. The work includes repainting stonework surrounding the clock faces in the original colours and is expected to begin in early 2017.

The 1856 Elizabeth Tower, which is visited by around 12,000 people a year, last had extensive conservation work in 1983-1985. While it is reported to be structurally sound, the masonry has cracks and the cast iron work on the roof and belfry is corroding. Leaks and serious condensation have caused damp, cracked plasterwork and rust. Corrosion to the bell frame has caused one of the feet supporting the quarter bells and Big Ben to split. The Ayrton Light, which tops the tower and shines when Parliament is sitting, needs to be fully dismantled and restored. Edmund Beckett Denison’s 1859 Great Clock will be stopped the clock and the pendulum removed to diagnose and fix problems. Many of the 312 pieces of pot opal glass in the clock faces have cracked and need replacing. The cast iron frameworks holding the glass in place have also corroded and need extensive repairs.

The planned restoration will cost £29m and will see the tower covered in scaffolding. The Society welcomes the fact that the project aims to conserve significant elements of the Tower, as designed by Charles Barry and Augustus Welby Pugin. The original paint used around the clock dials is currently being analysed, and once a clear picture of the early colour schemes has been built up, the stonework will be repainted to reflect, as far as possible, the original design.

Work will also be carried out to improve health and safety and fire prevention within the tower. A lift will be installed in an existing ventilation shaft to provide improved disabled and maintenance access. A basic washroom facility will be installed. Mechanical and electrical services will be updated and the lights illuminating the clock dials and the belfry will be replaced with low energy LEDs. 

The project was agreed by the Commons Administration Committee on 12 October 2015, the Administration and Works Committee in the House of Lords on the 2 November 2015 and the Commons Finance Committee on 14 October 2015 and 4 November 2015.

Tuesday 26 April, 2016

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