Tom Brake: Big Ben bongs back to life to commemorate our fallen heroes on Armistice Day

Posted On: 
9th November 2018

I can’t think of a better reason to reinstate the sound of Big Ben than to commemorate the armistice, writes Tom Brake

Sunday 11 November will mark 100 years since the end of the First World War
UK Parliament/ Mark Duffy

It has been more than a year since the iconic chimes of Big Ben were first paused to allow for essential conservation work to the Elizabeth Tower to take place. Though the unique original clock mechanism has been dismantled, this Remembrance Sunday the sound of Big Ben’s chimes will reverberate across London’s Cenotaph, the wider country, and the world.

At precisely 11:00am Big Ben will sound 11 times, replicating the usual strike of the Great Clock rate of once every 4.5 seconds. At 12:30pm Big Ben will strike a further 11 times, joining bells across the UK and worldwide to commemorate the Centenary of the Armistice as part of the UK Government's programme for bells to ring out in Remembrance for the end of the war one hundred years ago.

To honour Parliament’s commitment to ensure Big Ben will sound for important national events, such as New Year’s Eve and Remembrance Sunday, a bespoke electric mechanism has been built to lift the original 200kg striking hammer and replicate its characteristic E-note tone. The electric mechanism has been tested over the last few weeks to ensure its reliability.

Considerable progress has been made on the vital restoration works since Big Ben fell silent. The entire 2,500-piece clock mechanism has been dismantled, along with the Tower’s cast iron roof and the Ayrton light, which has been replaced with temporary lights. Three clock dials are currently covered, with the hands on the visible East Dial currently powered by an electric mechanism. Next year the first restored clock dial is due to be revealed, with newly gilded and painted surfaces restoring the dial to Barry and Pugin’s original vision

It is fitting in this Armistice centenary year that Big Ben will sound for the nation, as it did throughout the war years when its chimes were broadcast over the radio to an anxious public.  The glass in the Clock Tower's south dial was shattered in 1941 by a small bomb on the same night the Commons Chamber was destroyed by fire, but it continued, as it does today, to play its role in our national life.

It is because of this rich history that the Elizabeth Tower is a true symbol of the UK’s democratic heritage. As we continue the works to restore the Tower to its former glory, I can’t think of a better reason to reinstate the sound of Big Ben than to commemorate our fallen heroes. 

Tom Brake is Liberal Democrat MP for Carshalton and Wallington and spokesperson for the House of Commons Commission