Are Big Ben's bongs about to fall silent?

Story highlights

  • The Great Clock at London's Houses of Parliament is in urgent need of major repairs
  • Lawmakers fear Big Ben's famous "bongs" may fall silent if the timepiece is not refurbished
  • The clock began keeping time in 1859; it has been shut down for repairs several times

London (CNN)The bongs of Big Ben have echoed across London for more than 150 years, thrilling tourists who throng the pavements below, jostling to have their photographs taken alongside the iconic monument.

But the days of setting your watch by the Great Clock could be in jeopardy: the timepiece atop the Houses of Parliament's Elizabeth Tower is badly in need of repair.
And British lawmakers have warned the clock may stop altogether if it is not refurbished -- at a cost of $45 million (£29 million) -- in works that would see it shut down for four months.
    Big Ben is the name of the bell inside the tower (St. Stephen's Tower, renamed Elizabeth Tower in 2012), and not the building or the clock (simply known as the Great Clock) itself.
    According to a parliamentary report seen by both the Mail on Sunday and Sunday Times newspapers: "The clock currently has chronic problems with the bearings behind the hands and the pendulum.
    "Either could become acute at any time, causing the clock to stop -- or worse." One source told the Mail on Sunday they believe "or worse" means that the clock's heavy hands could fall off.