With a dozen deep bongs, Britain's Big Ben sounded the hour for the last time Monday before falling silent for repair work due to last almost four years. The giant bell atop Parliament's clock tower rang out at noon, as it has almost every hour since 1859, becoming an iconic sound of London. Hundreds of parliamentary staff, journalists, and lawmakers gathered in a courtyard under the Victorian clock tower, while hundreds more tourists and passers-by lined sidewalks and filled nearby Parliament Square. The mood was lighthearted, but total silence fell as the first bong sounded, per the AP. The crowd burst into cheers and applause as the last faded away. The break will allow workers to carry out much-needed maintenance to the clock and clock tower. But a handful of lawmakers have criticized the lengthy silence, calling Big Ben an important symbol of British democracy.
These lawmakers want the time scale for repairs tightened, and House of Commons officials say they'll take another look at the schedule once Parliament returns next month from its summer break. Big Ben has been silenced for repairs before, most recently in 2007, but this stretch is by far the longest. The bell isn't due to resume regular timekeeping until sometime in 2021, though it will be heard on special occasions such as New Year's Eve. During the repair work, scaffolding will obscure parts of the tower, and the clock faces will be covered at times. Adam Watrobski, principal architect at the Houses of Parliament, says that once this round of work is finished, "the building will be sound and secure for the next 60 years or so." Labour Party lawmaker Stephen Pound, however, said the silencing of Big Ben was "a dispiriting moment." "You don't know what you've got till it's gone," he said. (Read more Big Ben stories.)