Eight-year-old offers to help when Big Ben falls silent for facelift

London: The Palace of Westminster's Big Ben tower is closing its doors to visitors in London for a three-year renovation project which will see the world-famous landmark swathed in scaffolding.

Starting early in 2017, work will include repairs to the clock's hands, mechanism and pendulum, as well as the waterproofing, masonry and metalwork of the Elizabeth Tower, which houses the Big Ben bell.

For periods during the £29 million ($49.1 million) facelift, the bell will be silenced for the first time since 2007 and clock faces will be covered — though at least one face is intended to remain visible at any time and tolling will be maintained for important events like New Year's Eve or Remembrance Day.

It's going to be all quiet on the Westminster front as Big Ben is repaired.
It's going to be all quiet on the Westminster front as Big Ben is repaired. Photo: AP

The BBC reports that a girl who offered to replace Big Ben's chimes on BBC radio has been let down gently after an editor warned her of the long hours that would be involved.

Eight year-old Phoebe Hanson wrote to the BBC Radio 4 PM program saying she worried how the "bongs" would be replaced while Big Ben is being repaired next year.

PM's editor, Roger Sawyer, told Phoebe: "It would be quite a task."

Replying to Phoebe's letter on December 12, Sawyer said he was "very much taken with your idea", but there could be some operational obstacles because "the bongs are live".

He explained: "You'd have to rush in after school each day (and at the weekend), rush home for tea, homework, a bit of chillin', then a quick sleep.

"And then — here's the hard bit — you'd have to rush in again at midnight, because there are live bongs again before the midnight news.


"That's an awful lot of work for someone who is still quite young. I wouldn't like to do all that."

Speaking to BBC News, Phoebe's father Jon Hanson said: "She was listening to Radio 4 in the car and Eddie Mair was saying that Big Ben would stop chiming next year, and she said, 'Oh no, we have to do something about it. I want to write a letter.'

"She was absolutely stunned to get a reply, and was so pleased she took it to school and showed everyone.

Eight-year-old Phoebe Hanson offered to help supply the missing chimes.
Eight-year-old Phoebe Hanson offered to help supply the missing chimes. Photo: BBC

"She takes things very literally as she is on the autism spectrum, so I think she still wants to do the bongs.

"I'm very proud of her. I work in IT and we try to increase our internet presence, but then she has stepped in and done it in one fell swoop."

A Facebook post by Mr Hanson, about the exchange has been liked and shared thousands of times.

The Facebook post from the BBC's PM editor Roger Sawyer to eight year-old Phoebe Hanson.
The Facebook post from the BBC's PM editor Roger Sawyer to eight year-old Phoebe Hanson. Photo: BBC Facebook
Alterations will include the installation of a lift and upgrades to bring the 157-year-old tower in line with modern health and safety standards.

More than 30 years since its last significant conservation work in 1983-85, parliamentary officials said the mechanism of the clock is in a "chronic state", with fears that it may fail if work is not carried out urgently.

Coupled with concern that the fabric of the tower itself was reaching an "acute" condition, this led to the decision last year to overhaul the Elizabeth Tower now, rather than waiting for a massive multi-billion pound renovation of the entire Palace which is expected to see MPs move out for several years in the 2020s.

After the final tours have taken place on December 16, the erection of scaffolding will begin early in 2017 and is expected to take four to six months to complete.

The clock dials and hands will be removed in succession for repairs and maintenance and the clock mechanism will be stopped for several months.

Once installed, the new lift will provide greater access for disabled people who are unable to climb the tower's 334 steps, and will allow for the evacuation of people injured at the top of the tower, who currently have to be taken out by an abseiling rig.

But parliamentary authorities say the lift will not be used by the thousands of people who visit the 96m-high tower each year on tours sponsored by MPs or peers, as climbing the limestone spiral staircase to the belfry is regarded as an important part of the visitor experience.