A five-year restoration project to ensure Big Ben can withstand the forces of Mother Nature is nearing completion in London, as staff begin tests to ensure the giant clock keeps up.
A combination of wear and tear, weather and pollution has led the UK government to embark on the largest restoration project in the tower’s 162-year history.
In 2017, what was officially known as the Great Clock of Westminster was surrounded by scaffolding, and crews had to repair not only the exterior, but also the massive mechanism that powered the four-sided clock.
A UK parliament spokesman said more than 1,000 components were removed and fine-tuned by clock experts.
The extensive conservation project even included the removal of the famous dial over 14 feet, restoring and reglazing it to withstand London’s extreme weather.
One goal of the project was to keep London’s nearly 25 inches of annual rainfall out of the building, which unfortunately has found a way to seep into it, a spokesman said.
Replacing more than 400 cast-iron roof tiles, along with other masonry work on the 315-foot structure, should help prevent future water intrusion, experts say.
Besides nature, pollution is said to have eroded the tower’s brilliance over the decades.
A council speaker has air pollution caused by erosion of the tower’s original limestone, which has led to the need for hundreds of replacement stones.
Pollution has also been blamed for even eroding the intricate carvings of one of the tower’s original architects.
During the multi-year project, officials estimate that more than 700 stones were replaced in the London landmark.
Crews recently attached the tower’s last dial to the massive clockwork, and all four faces are now believed to be functioning properly.
“Conservation projects are still on track. Over the next few months, the bells – including Big Ben itself – will be connected to the clock mechanism and will be ringing permanently,” said UK Parliament speaker Lorcan O’Donoghue .
The more than $100 million restoration project will not be completed by the Queen’s Platinum Jubilee in June, but officials say it is expected to be completed by the summer.
Tours and other public exhibitions are expected to reopen around the end of the year.