London’s Big Ben to Show Fresh Face

LONDON (Reuters) -
Workers stand on scaffolding underneath one of the clock faces on the Elizabeth Tower, more commonly known as Big Ben, as hands and dials are seen restored to the original Prussian blue color. (REUTERS/Toby Melville/File Photo)

Big Ben’s dials will emerge from a shroud of scaffolding after being hidden for three-and-a-half years while hundreds of craftspeople repaired masonry, replaced metalwork and repainted and regilded in the biggest restoration since it was built in 1859.

Nick Sturge, project manager for Sir Robert McAlpine’s special projects, said removing the scaffolding was a “massive milestone” in the £79.7 million ($107 million) project.

Big Ben, the largest and most accurate four-faced chiming clock when it was built, is a symbol of London and Britain’s parliamentary democracy around the world, as well as being one of the most photographed sites in the city.

The restoration includes replacing all of the panels on the clock faces using hand-blown glass, Sturge said. The dials’ hands, numerals and other details have been repainted bright blue rather than the black long familiar to Londoners.

Sturge said an early watercolor showed a blue color scheme, which was confirmed by paint analysis that discovered the first coat was Prussian blue.

“It’s really striking,” he said. “When you stand on the street it’s a really nice nod to the past.”

The floral emblems of the four parts of the United Kingdom – the thistle, shamrock, leek and rose – have been repainted in the colors of Charles Barry’s original design for the tower, which was renamed after Queen Elizabeth in 2012.

The one dial showing the time when the scaffolding comes down is electric-driven, but all four dials will be run by the original gravity powered clock again in the spring.