Anyone visiting the ‘Smoke’ during the past couple of years will be aware that one of the capital’s most globally recognised landmarks ‘Big Ben’ has been scaffolded and boarded up whilst it undergoes 4 years of essential repairs.
In fact back in August 2017 my London Shoes website published a blog entitled “Bong-less’ Big Ben” which was all about the history of the famous clock tower and the extensive work that was about to be done on it.
Fast forward 3 years – and London Shoes took advantage of the one day of glorious weather we had last week, and headed off to Westminster to witness the most recent developments to this iconic and historic London landmark – the removal of some of the scaffolding from the very top of the clock tower.
Whilst up in Westminster ‘Shoes’ decided to wander down the road to Victoria Station to take a look at an elusive landmark, that I never knew existed until now.
So – the subject matter of this week’s blog is “Big Ben” & “Little Ben”.
You’re probably already aware that Big Ben is actually the name of the bell in the clock tower – the Clock Tower itself was originally named the St. Stephens Tower – but was officially changed to the ‘Elizabeth Tower’ in 2012 to commemorate Queen Elizabeth’s Diamond Jubilee. The clock mechanism itself is simply named the Great Clock
The Tower consists of 2,600 cubic meters of brick plus 850 cubic meters of stone – and the Great Clock took over 13 years to build and was finally unveiled to the great British public in May 1859. Big Ben chimed the ‘hour’ for the very first time on the 11th July 1859, and continued to do so until the repair works began in August 2017, when it became ‘bong-less’ with the exception of New Year’s Day & Remembrance Sunday’s.
The restoration work on Big Ben is expected to last 4 years and is intended to be completed sometime next year (2021).
However, like all massive projects, not everything has gone to plan. Apparently the budget has already been exceeded by £80m, as the work uncovered loads of asbestos that they didn’t know was up there – also there was far more bomb damage and pollution to the original stonework and tiles than originally expected.
Also – renovation experts unexpectedly discovered that there was tons of broken glass up in the clock face and its dials – and came across far more instances where toxic lead paint had been used during the original construction – all adding more challenges to the project.
However – the work has continued to progress and last week saw the removal of some of the scaffolding revealing the very top of the Tower, where 3,433 cast iron roof tiles had been removed, repaired and cleaned up, by restoration specialists.
The rest of the scaffolding and covering will remain in place whilst the rest of the restoration work is being undertaken, and will be removed once that has been completed – and no doubt at which time there will be a more formal re-opening.
So – it was a memorable moment for London Shoes to actually be up there in Westminster on such a lovely sunny day, to see the first glimpses of the newly renovated ‘Big Ben’ Tower top and clock face.
Now – how many people knew that there London also has a ‘Little Ben’???– I certainly wasn’t aware of existence.
It is located a hundred yards or so outside the extremely busy Victoria Station.
From a personal perspective I couldn’t work out why I had never noticed it before – bearing in mind that I used to take some my Barclays work colleagues from Canary Wharf, up to Victoria once or twice a year, to do a volunteering stint in the ‘real world’ where we used to serve up breakfasts for the homeless at ‘The Passage’, a huge charity organisation that offer support to the homeless on the streets of Westminster – and we never once ever noticed ‘Little Ben’.
‘Little Ben’ is a cast iron miniature clock tower that’s design replicates its big brother – Big Ben – just 10mins further down the road in Westminster.
It was built and erected outside Victoria Station way back in 1897 – and is situated at the junction of Vauxhall Bridge Road and Victoria Street.
It was made by the reputable company ‘Gillett & Johnston’ of Croydon – who are still in the business of making clocks today – but are now located in Bletchingly-Surrey.
Little Ben was sponsored by the French, as a gesture of French-British friendship – and up until recently, to keep its attachment to France, its time piece never recognised the British Summer Time (BST) & GMT time changes in winter, like all other British clocks – and it has an inscription displayed on it that references this:-
“My hands you may retard or may advance – My heart beats true for England as for France”
A replica of Little Ben is erected in Victoria, the capital of the Seychelles – to commemorate the Diamond Jubilee of Queen Victoria in 1897.
In 1964 it was removed from its location whilst the roads around Victoria Station were being widened.
In 1984 Little Ben was removed again for a thorough restoration, before being re-erected.
In 2012 Little Ben was removed once again from its London location and was put into storage whilst the entire area surrounding Victoria Station was being extensively redeveloped.
Whilst it was away in storage Little Ben was completely refurbished.
In 2016 it was put back in its original spot outside the iconic ‘Victoria Palace Theatre’ just across the road from Victoria Station – and that explains the reason why, on me & my work colleagues jaunts up to Victoria to feed the homeless – we never saw it – (mystery solved).
Some may ask, what’s the point of Little Ben?? – Well, when it was originally erected way back in 1892, it was for the purpose of helping the Victorian non-watch wearing travellers entering or exiting busy Victoria Station – know what time it was.
So – that’s ‘Big Ben’ & ‘Little Ben’ for ya – hope you enjoy the accompanying photos.
Before heading off back home, I ambled my way from Victoria Station to Grosvenor Gardens just a 2min walk away – where one of London’s few remaining classic ‘Cabman Shelters’ is situated – where I bought a cuppa and sat in the small but perfectly formed greenery of Grosvenor Gardens for a while to take the weight off me ‘plates’ and watch the world go by – very pleasant it was too.
Another really good few hours out on-the-road, under gloriously sunny London skies – but a day that was also tinged with concern, because, as with all my London Shoes jaunts out in recent weeks since Covid19 lockdown restrictions eased in July 20 – to witness a Westminster Bridge, that is usually totally rammed with tourists and sight-seers – now so deserted, soulless and lifeless, like some backdrop to zombie apocalypse movie – is really is very very worrying and upsetting.
See below the entire gallery of photos taken to accompany this blog