Time stands still in London as Big Ben fails to chime


Clocks at the top of Elizabeth Tower in London briefly stopped at 12.55pm on Wednesday, 10th May. (Big Ben is the name of one of five bells in the Houses of Parliament)

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Useful Vocabulary

chime: a melodious ringing sound, as produced when striking a bell

dial: the face of a clock, marked to show units of time

witness: a person who sees an event take place

bong: a deep, low resonant sound as made by a bell

then (adj): at that time, e.g. the then Prime Minister

scaffold(ing): a temporary structure on the outside of a building, made of wooden planks and metal poles, used by workmen to repair or clean buildings

raid: a surprise attack on an enemy

asbestos: a fire-resistant, insulating material, which damages your health if you breathe in its particles

lead (n): a soft, heavy metal, atomic number 82

to rocket: to increase very rapidly or suddenly

Listen to the audio and read the text.

Time stands still in London as Big Ben fails to chime

Time stood still in London on Wednesday 10th May, it has emerged. Big Ben, the famous bell at the top of the 96-metre Elizabeth Tower in Westminster, failed to chime when the dials of the clock briefly stopped.

The four clock dials, one on each side of the tower in the Palace of Westminster that houses Big Ben and four other bells, stopped at 12.55pm, leaving the bells silent at 1pm.

Half an hour later, the clock hands were moved forward but the clock was still running about five minutes late, according to witnesses. By 1.47pm, the hands were moved forward again to show the right time.

“We are aware that the clock dials on the Elizabeth Tower were temporarily displaying the incorrect time on Wednesday afternoon,” a spokesperson for the House of Commons said. 

“Clock mechanics worked quickly to rectify the issue and the clock is now functioning as normal.”

The 13-tonne Big Ben bell was largely silenced for five years while a major restoration of the Elizabeth Tower took place, with the “bongs” finally resuming regular service in November 2022.

The chimes were silenced in 2017 to protect the hearing of the workers on the tower, and drew much criticism from senior MPs and then prime minister, Theresa May. Scaffolding was put up around the tower immediately after the bells were silenced.

The original cost of the project to the taxpayers and creditors was estimated to be roughly £29m, but after it was confirmed in February 2020 that the Elizabeth Tower had sustained greater damage than originally thought in a May 1941 bombing raid – and asbestos, lead paint and broken glass was discovered – the cost rocketed to nearly £80m.

One of the most visible changes to the tower was the restoration of the clock-face framework to its original colour of Prussian blue, used when it was first built in 1859.

Adapted from this article by ECP coach Darren ‘Kez’ Kurien

Let’s chat about that

  1. How many times a day is a clock correct if it stops? Explain why.
  2. Have you been to London? Did you see Big Ben? Are you sure?
  3. If you have been to London, did you see Elizabeth Tower? If not, would you like to visit the English capital? Why / not ?
  4. Can you describe a moment when “time stood still” (see text) for you?
  5. Has Brexit changed your opinion of the UK? Tell us how and why?
  6. Was it a mistake for the UK to leave the European Union? Have you (or any friends or relatives) had any problems with the UK since Brexit?