Samples of the famous landmark’s earliest paintwork have been analysed by team of experts, in order to establish a true picture of the original design.
Completed in 1859, the design of the clock tower was undertaken by Charles Barry, the architect of the Gothic Revival Palace of Westminster. Barry also created the intricate ironwork for each of the dials – including the choice of Prussian blue and gold frames filled with white glass.
Following research into the original drawings and by taking samples of remaining layers of old paint for close examination, the scheme can now be recreated. New white opalescent glass will be installed once the metalwork has been cleaned and repainted. The black paint to the surrounding stonework will be removed and certain features re-gilded.
Other key details will also return to Barry’s original design; the row of six shields above each dial will display the St George’s coat of arms, with a red cross on a white background. The floral emblems of all four parts of the United Kingdom are represented elsewhere in the coloured decoration: the rose, thistle, shamrock and leek.
Major repair and conservation
Adam Watrobski, Parliament’s Principal Architect said: “As part of the major repair and conservation of the Elizabeth Tower, we have carried out extensive research into the original decorative scheme for the clock faces and the adjacent areas. Using historic paint analysis and references including Barry’s original design watercolour, contemporary illustrations and archival photographs, we have recreated the original colour scheme.
"The dials and clock hands are Prussian blue and gold and the adjacent areas make use of the red, white and blue colours of the Union flag, along with the detail colours used for heraldic shields for each part of the United Kingdom.
"The existing gilded areas closely match those that were gilded and these have not changed significantly during the life of the Tower. This will very much be the crowning glory of this important project and will certainly serve to reinforce the symbolism of the Tower in its international representation of the United Kingdom.”
Rt Hon Tom Brake MP, spokesperson for the House of Commons Commission, said “The Elizabeth Tower is a symbol of the UK’s democratic heritage and I’m thrilled to see these vital restoration works return the clock tower to its former glory. It is crucial that these conservation works now continue so we can ensure the long-term sustainability of Big Ben and safeguard it for future generations to enjoy.”
The Elizabeth Tower is currently undergoing a complex programme of renovation work that will safeguard it for future generations.
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Find out more about the conservation works.