A Labour MP wiped a tear from his eye today as Big Ben chimed for the final time for almost four years, ahead of major refurbishments to one of Britain’s most iconic landmarks.
MPs bowed their head in tribute to the 157-year-old bell as it sounded out across London at midday.
Labour MP Stephen Pound, who was part of a gathering of “like-minded traditionalists” from the Commons who stood with heads bowed “but hope in our hearts”, wiped a tear from his eye as the final bongs rang out.
Asked afterwards by HuffPost UK if his tears were real, he said: “Yes”.
Pound, MP for Ealing North, said: “The bells seemed to get louder as they rang out as if they were saying goodbye.”
Although not everyone was buying it:
Pound insisted though that he was serious about continuing the bongs during the four-year works.
“What we really need to do is talk about a recording, something that can be played from there that doesn’t actually damage the ears of the workforce but allows that Bong to ring out across the city.
“Is it really that impossible? It’s not the bell, it’s the sound, that really matters. You ask anybody across the world what they think about the democracy of our nation they talk about this building and they talk about that tower. This tower rose like a phoenix from the ashes after the fire of 1834.
Asked if he was being too nostalgic, Pound replied: “Yes we are, but nostalgia ain’t what it used to be.”
Pound was one of five MPs who appeared in New Palace Yard below Elizabeth Tower.
Tory MP Peter Bone also bowed his head in tribute, along with Pound.
Labour MP Rupa Huq claimed she “just happened” to be passing, as did Jess Phillips, who was greeted by Pound with the word “Toad!” before giving her a big hug, and Digital Minister Matthew Hancock.
Meanwhile, members of the public gathered together in the shadow of the Elizabeth Tower, applauding as the final “bong” rang out.
With work set to get underway to maintain the famous bell, clock and tower, Big Ben is being silenced to protect the hearing of those working on the project - much to the vexation of some who claim it’s health and safety “gone mad”.
While the famous bell will ring on a handful of special occasions - including New Year’s Eve and Remembrance Sunday - the project represents Big Ben’s longest period of silence since it was installed more than 150 years ago.
The issue has sparked much controversy among politicians, with Parliament announcing last week it would review plans to silence the Great Bell for four years after Theresa May joined the backlash against the move.
However, some MPs were more sceptical about the outrage surrounding the issue - and the decision of some “traditionalists” to pay tribute to Big Ben’s final bongs:
However, if the associate editor of the Mirror’s account of the vigil is anything to go by, the vigil was perhaps not what Pound was hoping for...
Meanwhile, many questioned the priorities of MPs:
Others took a more comic stance on the “bizarre” vigil:
Tory MP Conor Burns, who is the Foreign Secretary’s Principal Private Secretary, suggested that those who intended to ‘bow’ their heads were political has-beens and dismissed the whole row as “nonsense”.
“When you see the footage [on Monday] of our colleagues who gather at the foot of Big Ben you will not see too many colleagues who have careers ahead of them,” Burns told the BBC.
Burns told BBC Radio 4’s Westminster Hour: “There has been the most enormous amount of nonsense talked about this .. Colleagues saying The House of Commons Commission is achieving something that even the Luftwaffe couldn’t achieve, stopping Big Ben.
“Big Ben was silenced for maintenance in 2007, it was refurbished between ’83 and ’85, it blew up in 1976 and was offline for a little while. All I would say about it is I look forward to getting back to September and back down to business.”