London’s public fireworks display may be cancelled, but Westminster’s new year revellers will be treated to Big Ben’s newly painted dials as the clock bongs 12 times to mark the end of 2021.
The 96-metre clock tower above the Houses of Parliament, which houses the Great Bell known as Big Ben, has been mostly hidden from view since a £79.7m conservation projection began four years ago.
For the first time since 2017, the clock face will be revealed to show the conservation work that has taken place, including the restoration of the original colour scheme.
Using historic paint analysis and Charles Barry’s original watercolour designs, conservationists have reinstated a Prussian blue and gold colour scheme for the dials and clock hands. They believe the black paint of the clock dials and stonework that many associate with the national symbol was chosen in the 1930s to mask the effects of pollution.
The team hope that New Year’s Eve will be the last time Big Ben is struck using a temporary striking mechanism, which has powered the hammer used to strike the bell during the restoration period to mark events such as Armistice Day and Remembrance Sunday.
If all goes to plan, the Great Bell and the four quarter bells will chime hourly to the note of E natural, and sound out the Westminster Quarters melody again in spring. The project has faced bumps in the road, with the repair bill jumping by £18.6m after the discovery of asbestos, second world war bomb damage and pollution problems in 2020.
A doomed project to get Big Ben to bong for Brexit on 31 January 2020 was replaced with a plan to project a giant clock face on to Downing Street in order to mark the moment Britain left the EU.
Ian Westworth, a parliamentary clock mechanic, said it had been a huge privilege for the team to have “had our hands on every single nut and bolt” of the one of the world’s most famous clocks.
“It’s going to be quite emotional when it’s all over – there will be sadness that the project has finished, but happiness that we have got it back and everything’s up and running again,” he added.