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Time stands still for Big Ben

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The clock tower known as "Big Ben" after its biggest bell is one of the famous tourist sights of London.

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LONDON, England -- The chimes of London's famous Big Ben were silenced this weekend for 24 hours, the longest period in more than two decades.

The reason was regular maintenance work and retuning on the famous clock, which coincided with a scheduled "long weekend" in Britain with clocks going back one hour for the end of British Summer Time.

The clock, located in St. Stephen's Tower of Britain's parliament, the Palace of Westminster, became fully operational in 1859.

It was stopped on Saturday after the 8 a.m. (0700 GMT) chimes and was not due to be back in action until 4 p.m. (1600 GMT) on Sunday.

A spokesman for the clock's maintenance team said engineers would be testing for cracks or damage.

"There is a lot of strain ... on that clock and obviously we're quite concerned that it's strong enough to maintain it," Mike McGann told BBC TV.

"There is nothing actually wrong, it is a routine maintenance that happens every 15 or 20 years."

Big Ben, a focus of celebrations in England at New Year's Eve, last stopped in May for about 90 minutes, possibly due to the hot weather.

In fact the famous clock has only been silenced a few times in its 157-year history. In 1962 snow accumulation on the hands caused it to ring in the New Year 10 minutes late. But during the Second World War, despite dozens of attacks by Germany's Luftwaffe bombers, the clock kept within one and a half seconds of Greenwich Mean Time.

This weekend, engineers from the Whitechapel Bell Foundry were replacing the rubber hammer buffers on three of the four quarter bells and the hour bell, the UK's Press Association said.

This was routine replacement of parts, PA said, adding that the engineers also needed to retune the bells, a process which would take several hours.

Officials said this work was part of a comprehensive maintenance review and is intended to form the basis of a new five- and 10-yearly maintenance regime to ensure continued reliability into the foreseeable future.

Big Ben is the nickname for what is officially called The Great Clock. Strictly speaking Big Ben refers only to the 13-tonne bell that chimes the hours.

It was named after Sir Benjamin Hall, who was Commissioner of Works when the bell was installed in 1859.

It was silent for longest in 1983, when the clock's hands were removed for maintenance work.

  • Britain's parliament has launched a new Web site to commemorate the 400th anniversary of the "Guy Fawkes plot," a major attempt to blow up the Houses of Parliament in 1605 at: http://www.gunpowderplot.parliament.uk/
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