London: London's iconic Big Ben bell fell silent on Monday for four years of costly renovation work, with its final 12 bongs ringing for midday in front of a crowd of over a thousand people.
The midday bongs were the last regular chimes from the famous bell, one of the world's most famous clock towers of the 19th century, until the repairs to its tower are complete.
It will still be used for special occasions, including New Year's Eve.
There were cheers and applause from a crowd of tourists and onlookers on the green opposite as the final chime rang out.
The Elizabeth Tower, as it is officially known, is said to be the most photographed building in the UK.
The decision to switch it off to protect workers' hearing has sparked a debate about the length of time it will be silent, with MPs not being told it would be four years, the longest period in its history.
Prime Minister Theresa May has said "it can't be right" that the famous bongs will not be heard again until 2021 and has asked for the proposals to be reviewed.
The House of Commons has said it will look again at the length of time Big Ben will be silenced after "concerns" were raised.
The 29 million pound restoration of the Big Ben was signed off in 2015 by the Commons Administration Committee.
A small group of MPs gathered by the members' entrance to the Houses of Parliament on Monday to mark the occasion of the London landmark's final chimes.
"This is a desperately sad moment and you don't know what you've got till it's gone," said Labour MP Stephen Pound.
Some Eurosceptic Conservative MPs have previously called for the bongs to ring at midnight after the UK officially leaves the EU on 29 March, 2019.
Members of the public and tourists also packed into Parliament Square and lined Westminster Bridge to hear the final bongs.
There were cheers and applause as the final chime rang out.
The Great Bell, the official name for Big Ben, traditionally rings every hour to the note of E, accompanied by four quarter bells that chime every 15 minutes.
This is not the first time the bells have fallen silent - they were stopped for maintenance in 2007, and between 1983 and 1985.
"This essential programme of works will safeguard the clock on a long-term basis, as well as protecting and preserving its home, the Elizabeth Tower," said Steve Jaggs, keeper of the Great Clock.
As part of the elaborate repair programme, the roof of the Elizabeth Tower will be stripped off and restored, the bell frame repaired, leaks into the clock room stemmed and a lift installed.
A brick enclosure in the tower will also be replaced with glass to allow Big Ben to be viewed by people walking up the staircase.
The colour scheme on the Great Clock will also be reportedly changed to give it a more "vibrant" look.
The 13.7-tonne Great Bell has sounded on the hour for 157 years and last fell silent in 2007. The Great Clock it forms part of is to be dismantled and repaired.
Meanwhile, the Ayrton Light, which shines when the House of Commons and Lords are sitting, will be "off for some time" but the timescale will not be finalised until later this year, it emerged during the weekend.
Located above the Great Bell known as Big Ben, the Ayrton Light — which is switched on in the evening whenever the Parliament is sitting — needs to be fully dismantled and restored. A temporary light will replace it, the House of Commons has said.
Installed in 1885, the historic lamp was previously turned off only during both world wars.
Published Date: Aug 22, 2017 18:56 PM | Updated Date: Aug 22, 2017 20:14 PM