Meet the Cumbria clock experts who are helping to restore Big Ben
16 November 2021
The Cumbria Clock Company, working with Parliament’s clock mechanics, is reinstalling the Great Clock after taking it away from Westminster and painstakingly cleaning, repairing and restoring more than 1,000 components - including wheels, pinions, bell-hammers and bearings - at its workshop in the village of Dacre near Penrith. It is the first time that the entire mechanism has been removed from its home in the Elizabeth Tower.
During the four-year project, the company made scores of photos, notes and drawings to help with the complex task of putting the Victorian masterpiece back together, as neither the designer Edmund Beckett Denison nor installer Edward John Dent kept detailed records of how it was constructed. As a result the company, which specialises in historic turret clocks, has produced the first user manual and set of engineering diagrams of the mechanism for the benefit of future clock keepers.
Keith Scobie-Youngs, the company’s director and co-founder, said:
“It was a once in a lifetime opportunity to work on the best-known clock in the world.
“We transplanted the heart of the UK up to Cumbria. We were able to assemble the time side, the heart-beat, and put that on test in our workshop, so for two years we had that heartbeat ticking away in our test room, which was incredibly satisfying. It became part of the family and its departure has been like a child leaving home.
“The beauty of a clock like this is that you as a clockmaker become part of its history and want to leave it in a better place than you found it, so the next clockmaker can appreciate it. We were privileged to become part of the story of Big Ben; everyone at the company feels that attachment to the story.”
The mechanism was removed to protect it from the dust and debris created by the restoration works on the Elizabeth Tower, however the company’s 22-strong team has also used modern conservation techniques to ensure the clock upholds its creator’s original aim to produce ‘the most accurate public clock in the world’.
Over 1,000 parts of the mechanism, which together weigh eleven and a half tonnes, were winched down from the clock room and back again through an existing shaft in the 96 metres tall Elizabeth Tower. One hour hand and its counterweights alone weigh 300kg, while the pendulum weighs 170kg.
The company will replace everything, piece by piece, over the coming months; checking and reconnecting the mechanism to the bells so Big Ben is ready to strike again early next year.
Images: ©UK Parliament/Jessica Taylor