Big Ben Got A New Face Just In Time For This Tragic Event

Between 2017 and 2022, as Sky News reported, London's "Big Ben" underwent a significant restoration, which wrapped up (save for a few behind-the-scenes things still to be done) at the beginning of 2022. Before getting into the specifics of the restoration, it bears noting that what Sky News is reporting about is actually a restoration of three things: The tower adjacent to the Parliament building that houses the clock (officially "Elizabeth Tower, according to Britannica), the clock itself (officially the "Great Clock of Westminster," according to the UK Parliament), and the bell within that rings on the hour (which is actually known as "Big Ben"). Rather than split hairs over specifics, we will instead take a page from Sky News' book and refer to the entire mechanism as "Big Ben," as locals have been colloquially doing for decades.

And the new "Big Ben" was unveiled to great acclaim around town just a few months before Queen Elizabeth II, the woman for whom the tower was renamed in honor of in 2012, died at the age of 96.

Clockmakers becoming part of history

For a period of time between 2017 and early 2022, parts of London were unrecognizable. The city was largely empty for a few months due to the COVID-19 pandemic. And more specific to this article, Big Ben was covered in "dreary" scaffolding (as Timeout describes it). It may have been unsightly to Londoners and tourists, but it was for a good reason.

Artisans from all over England carefully deconstructed the clock's over 1,000 pieces one by one, took them to a shop across the country, cleaned them up, and repaired them. When it was finally revealed to the public, they were greeted with a glistening restored clock featuring sharper colors (including the original Prussian blues, as Sky News reports, that were hidden behind black paint) and bright gold. "The beauty of a clock like this is that you as a clockmaker become part of its history and want to leave it in a better place than you found it ... We were privileged to become part of the story of Big Ben," said Keith Scobie-Youngs of the Cumbria Clock Company, which handled the restoration.

The Timing Couldn't Have Been Worse

As Timeout explained, the initial reveal of the newly-renovated clock occurred in January 2022. However, Sky News noted the following May that some of the work was continuing, including the restoration of the mechanism that strikes the bell. "We are in the process of bringing every part back and slowly reassembling the clock," said clock mechanic Ian Westworth.

Unfortunately, 2022 turned out to be an extraordinarily bad year for the United Kingdom, as its longest-serving monarch, Queen Elizabeth II, died on September 8. In a glaring juxtaposition, that means that for a few months anyway, the proud new clock will adorn a city that, by and large, will be mourning the death of the woman for whom the tower was named. Sky News noted in May 2022 that public tours of the building were expected to resume in the winter. However, with the country currently in mourning over the death of Queen Elizabeth, it remains unclear if those plans will remain.