LONDON – A five-year restoration project meant to ensure Big Ben is able to withstand the forces of Mother Nature is nearing completion in London as crews begin testing to guarantee the giant clock keeps up with time.
A combination of wear and tear, weather and pollution caused the U.K. government to embark on the most extensive restoration project in the tower's 162-year history.
What is officially known as the Great Clock of Westminster was surrounded by scaffolding in 2017 for crews to not only work on rehabbing the exterior but also attend to the massive mechanisms that power the four-faced clock.
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A spokesperson for the U.K. Parliament said over 1,000 components were removed and fine-tuned by clock experts.
The extensive conservation project even included removing the famous dials that measure upwards of 14 feet and repairing and reglazing them to withstand London's weather extremes.
A goal of the project is to keep London's nearly 25 inches of annual rain out of the building, which, unfortunately, a spokesperson said has found ways to seep into the tower.
Experts say the replacement of more than 400 cast iron roof tiles, as well as other masonry work in the 315-foot structure, should help prevent future water intrusion.
In addition to Mother Nature, pollution is also said to have taken a bite out of the tower's luster over the decades.
A parliament spokesperson created air pollution for eating away at the tower's original limestone, which caused the need for hundreds of pieces of replacement stone.
Pollution is also blamed for even eroding away intricate carvings by one of the tower's original architects.
During the multi-year project, officials estimate more than 700 pieces of stone were replaced in the London landmark.
Crews recently connected the tower's final dial to the giant clock mechanism, and all four sides are now believed to be functioning properly.
"The conservation project remains on schedule. In the coming months, the bells – including Big Ben itself – will be connected to the clock mechanism and will ring out permanently," Lorcan O'Donoghue, a U.K. parliament spokesperson, said.
The over $100 million restoration project is not expected to be complete before memorial services are held for Queen Elizabeth II.
The UK parliament said restoration of the tower is in its final stages and could be finished in October with the return of Big Ben’s infamous sounds around the same time period.
Tours of Elizabeth Tower are expected to reopen to visitors in spring 2023.