Most Londoners will recognise Big Ben as the large scaffolding-covered tower just next door to the Houses of Parliament, and a few long-time residents may even remember that there is a famous clock underneath it all. (A few joyless smart arses may also insist that ‘Big Ben’ only refers to the bell, to which we can only say: enjoy your sad little life).
Anyway, the clockface has in fact recently emerged from the interminable restoration work, and there has been some consternation at the fact that the nation’s most beloved time-telling device now appears to be blue, as opposed to the sober black of yore.
What’s the story here then? An elaborate piece of Tory propaganda? A rogue colour mixer? A Brexit-related shortage of black paint?
In fact, the answer to this mystery lies in an article published on the official parliament website some, er, years ago. Historical analysis of the layers of paint on the clockface – which was originally completed in 1859 – reveal there have been six different colour schemes over the years, with the familiar black one a measure adopted in the 1930s to try and conceal the effects of London’s then harrowing amount of polluting smog. The Prussian blue paintjob was apparently the original vision of architect Charles Barry, with his more colourful vision of the tower also featuring gilding and more ornate heraldry, including symbols for each of the four nations of the United Kingdom. And great news: all of this has been restored, for a much fancier Big Ben. Sometimes it feels like we can no longer have nice things, but well done, London: we’ve driven the smog levels down to such a point that we can now have a neo-gothic belltower designed to its original colour specifications.
The restoration of Big Ben is due to finally be completed sometime next year. Sign up to its newsletter for more information.