Big Ben chimes for New Year’s Eve
21 December 2021
Big Ben will be struck 12 times on New Year’s Eve to celebrate the start of 2022 – and the beginning of an important year for the Elizabeth Tower project.
It will be the first time that all of the dials will be on display for New Year’s Eve in nearly four years – revealing to the world the intricate conservation work that has taken place, including the restoration of the original colour scheme.
It will also be the final occasion that Big Ben will be struck using a temporary mechanism. From spring, Big Ben and the four quarter bells will once again sound out the famous “Westminster Quarters” melody and resonant bongs throughout the day - the first time they have done so since restoration began in 2017.
Ian Westworth, one of Parliament’s team of clock mechanics - who will be making sure Big Ben strikes on New Year’s Eve this year, said:
“It’s iconic – it’s probably the world’s most famous clock, and to have had our hands on every single nut and bolt is a huge privilege. It’s going to be quite emotional when it’s all over – there will be sadness that the project has finished, but happiness that we have got it back and everything’s up and running again.”
Making sure Big Ben ‘bongs’
Over the past four years, Big Ben has been struck using a temporary mechanism for important events such as Armistice Day and Remembrance Sunday – the last time it was heard – and the same will happen for New Year’s Eve 2021. To ensure it sounds at exactly midnight, a series of tests will be carried out on the days leading up to New Year’s Eve, as well as on the day itself - so passers-by may hear that familiar sound in advance of the 12 strikes of midnight.
The temporary drive mechanism consists of a large electric motor - replicating the lifting of the hammer and dropping it on the bell every 4.5 seconds, the same speed as the Great Clock’s original mechanism drops the hammer. That motor will no longer be required once the original Victorian mechanism is brought back into use, early next year. The restored mechanism will be tested at intervals in the early months of 2022 to ensure it is ready for continuous service later in the spring.
Restoring the Great Clock
The clock was removed to protect it from the dust and debris created by works on the Elizabeth Tower, providing the ideal opportunity for it to undergo the biggest repair and conservation project in its 160-year history.
The mechanism, which together weighs eleven and a half tonnes, was removed in its entirety from the 96 metre high tower, and taken to the workshop of historic turret clock specialists the Cumbria Clock Company in the heart of the Lake District, where all 1,000 plus pieces were meticulously cleaned and repaired. Working with Parliament’s clock mechanics, the pieces have now been returned to Westminster and are being reinstalled over the coming months.
In preparation for striking on New Year’s Eve, several tests will be carried out:
- On Wednesday 29th December from 14:00-16:00, technical tests will take place. During this time, the bell will be struck intermittently to test the mechanism. The strikes will not be on the hour.
- On Thursday 30th December at 12:00, 22:00 and 23:00 there will be 12 strikes, testing the bell for live broadcasts. The mechanism will be programmed to strike Big Ben at the usual strike rate of the Great Clock. There will be an additional strike at midnight.
- On New Year’s Eve, Big Ben will then be struck at 12:00, 16:00, 21:00, 22:00, 23:00 and finally, midnight on 31 December 2020.
Only the East Dial – overlooking the River Thames – will be illuminated for New Year’s Eve.
As the Great Clock continues its programme of installation in the New Year there will be additional periods of test strikes, where Big Ben will be heard around Westminster. These tests will begin in late January and continue through the Spring.
Big Ben is coming back. For the latest updates, visit the website or subscribe to the Elizabeth Tower newsletter.
Image: ©UK Parliament/Jessica Taylor