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Big Ben’s roof is revealed as conservation work continues

28 September 2020 (updated on 30 March 2021)

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The roof of the Elizabeth Tower (also known as Big Ben) is slowly becoming visible again from 28th September 2020, as part of the scaffolding is removed.

Three years after the structure was scaffolded, this is a significant moment in the timeline of this complex conservation project.

Over the course of the next six weeks, the newly restored roof will slowly be revealed. An expert team of scaffolders will work to take down the scaffolding in the restricted space around the Tower, revealing the intricate conservation work that has been taking place.

At this stage scaffolding will only be removed from the roof, while work continues to the rest of the Tower.

Sir Lindsay Hoyle, Speaker of the House of Commons, said:

“Like everyone else, I have been looking forward to seeing the scaffolding come down on Elizabeth Tower – so the unveiling of the roof will be a memorable moment.

“We could all do with some good news in this Covid world, so it is very exciting to actually see some more of this great icon.

“I am hoping the conservation work that has taken place on the tower - an important symbol of our democracy - will assure its place in London’s skyline for generations to come.”

Extensive work has restored both the inside and the outside of the Elizabeth Tower, including the 3,433 roof tiles and the spire with its intricate flowers, cross and orb.

The conservation work addresses crucial problems in the tower, including crumbling stone and a leaky roof.

Each of the 3,433 cast iron roof tiles was removed and taken to a specialist workshop in northern England. Those that could be repaired were stripped of the old finishing and any weaknesses and faults were mended before the tiles were repainted with weatherproof grey paint.

The Tower’s signature metal cross and orb, which sits proudly 96 meters above ground level, has also been repaired at the workshop.

After the roof tiles and the cross and orb were put back in place, a team of gilders spent weeks gilding the ornate details to match the original design from 1859.

Despite the challenge brought about by the pandemic, the small 12m square footprint of the site and the Tower’s position in the middle of a working Parliament, progress continues to be made.

The worksite has been made fully covid-secure, allowing work to continue. The Ayrton Light housing has been restored and reinstalled and now only awaits its new energy-efficient electrical light fittings.

In the belfry, the internal scaffolding has been removed and the work to the floor is underway.

About the restoration project

To ensure that the UK’s most famous clock continues to keep time, specialist teams carry out regular maintenance and adjustments to the Great Clock.

However, it has been over 32 years since the last extensive works were carried out to maintain the clock and Elizabeth Tower.

Essential conservation work is now underway to:

  • Repair problems identified with the Elizabeth Tower and the Great Clock, which cannot be rectified whilst the clock is in action. This includes cracks in the masonry, leaks, erosion, and severe rusting of the metalwork.
  • Conserve significant elements of the Tower as designed by architects Charles Barry and Augustus Welby Pugin. Part of this is bringing the colour scheme back to the original design.
  • Repair and redecorate the interior, renew the building services and make improvements to health and safety and fire protection systems.

About the Covid secure work site

Due to the impact of COVID-19, work is now continuing on site at a reduced capacity. Our project team and contractors have worked hard to make the area safe, including measures such as shift work, adapting welfare facilities, new signage and temperature checks for all entering the site. 

Throughout the course of the project, the health and safety of everyone of everyone involved in the project has been paramount.  

The Elizabeth Tower project is separate from the planned full-scale restoration of the Palace of Westminster.

Parliament has legislated to set up a separate statutory Sponsor Body and Delivery Authority to deliver the Restoration and Renewal programme as provided for in the 2019 Restoration and Renewal Act.

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Charlotte Claughton, Senior Project Leader, shows us round her favourite rooms at the top of the Elizabeth Tower - just don't look down!

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