West Dial re-connected to the Great Clock
28 April 2022 (updated on 28 April 2022)
If you were visiting Westminster on the 27th April, you might have noticed that some of the clock hands on the Elizabeth Tower were moving pretty fast. The reason? Our team of expert clock mechanics - busy resetting and re-connecting the Elizabeth Tower’s West Dial to the original Victorian clock mechanism. Now, five months after scaffolding began to be removed from the Tower, all four clock dials are functioning correctly and are visible to the public.
The West Dial sits close to the ventilation shaft of the Elizabeth Tower, where dusty works have been taking place for several months. The dial’s proximity to these works meant that its hands had to be kept stationary to prevent damage to both the hands and mechanism itself.
The Great Clock of Westminster – the official name for the Elizabeth Tower’s timepiece – has over 1,000 components and weighs over 12 tonnes. Intricate engineering such as this requires regular testing before it is brought back into routine use – therefore, visitors to Westminster may notice momentary stoppages of the hands in the coming weeks, as well as random strikes of the bells.
The conservation project remains on schedule. In the coming months, the bells – including Big Ben itself – will be connected to the clock mechanism and will ring out permanently. Once the restoration has completed in the Summer and the site is cleared, Parliament will resume ownership of the building and start to prepare its internal spaces for future use, handing over to teams delivering the visitor experience. Preparations, including the installation and testing of exhibitions and tour routes, are expected to complete in the Winter.
Elizabeth Tower now free of scaffolding
In April, teams successfully carried out the complex task of removing the gantry – the heavy steel structure which supported the scaffolding and protected the rest of the Palace of Westminster during the conservation project. This activity was carried out over four weeks using specialist cranes - and involved the re-routing of traffic around Westminster to accommodate heavy machinery.
With the gantry removed, exterior works are now drawing to a close. Visitors to Westminster can now marvel at the intricate repairs that have taken place across the Tower – including the replacement of over 700 different pieces of stonework and repainted and regilded elements of the metalwork.
Next steps in the conservation
The final months are among the most important in this restoration project. Inside the Elizabeth Tower, complex works continue. The clock mechanism will undergo several weeks of intensive testing to ensure the continued efficacy and accuracy of the Great Clock. Once these tests have been completed to a satisfactory standard, the mechanism will be connected to the bells.
Elsewhere, key infrastructure components and fire safety systems are being installed - including the complex sprinkler system that will help ensure this historic building conforms to current building regulations, making it fit for 21st century use. The Ayrton Light – which shines when either House is sitting – will be connected to the power supply and light up Westminster once more.
Parliament’s overriding priority is the completion of the project to schedule, ensuring the safety and security of the structure and the teams involved. Looking ahead to completion, Parliament will be marking this important milestone for a treasured national icon by providing updated educational resources and a new retail offering, as well as additional engagement activities for the public to enjoy.