I am a confirmed New Year scrooge and quite happy to go to bed in one year and wake up in the next. Guides often work when others have fun and my other half was looking after a group in Scotland (where they take these things seriously) so I had no desire to stay up to watch Big Ben see in 2017.
Actually that is a mistake? What I should have said is hear Big Ben bring in the New Year because, strictly speaking, the name applies to the bell not the clock. We usually have a Big Ben photo stop on a tour of London and I promise them a ‘view’ of it with maybe a chance to hear the bell if I get the timing right and traffic allows. These will both be harder now that the Elizabeth Tower, where the bell/clock are housed, is due to be refurbished. Scaffolding will be erected shortly and the bell will be silenced for long periods, although one side of the clock will remain visible and the bell will still ring at important times such as Remembrance Sunday and New Year Eves. The work will cost the British taxpayer nearly £30 million and take three years, after which work on the rest of the Palace of Westminster will begin and the politicians will have to find somewhere else to have their deliberations.
People sometimes ask where the name of Big Ben comes from and this is surprisingly tricky to answer. The Minister of Public Works when the clock was installed was Sir Benjamin Hall, a tall and imposing man. A popular English boxer of the day was Ben Caunt, another big man, and either – or both – could have influenced the nicknaming of the bell. Maybe it was adopted simply because it had a nice ring to it. (Sorry.)
With a group of other London guides I climbed the 334 steps many years ago to see the inside of the mechanism. These tours, which are very hard to get on, will be suspended during restoration but, when they recommence, disabled visitors will be able to use a newly installed lift while the rest of us will continue to climb the stairs, which is considered an essential part of the experience of visiting the interior of the Tower and seeing the actual Big Ben. With the state of my knees I may qualify for the lift by that time.
For more on the restoration of the Palace of Westminster and Big Ben go to http://www.parliament.uk/ and search for ‘restoration’.