How Londoners past and present came together to build – and restore – Big Ben


The Elizabeth Tower – better known as Big Ben – is close to completing its biggest conservation effort in 160 years. One of the most recognisable landmarks in the capital, much of the work to restore the Tower has come from companies and individuals within the city.

The Elizabeth Tower is rooted in London and remains one of its most recognisable landmarks. As one of the city’s most instagrammed locations – with over 2,000,000 posts a year – it can easily lay claim to being one of the capital’s most iconic monuments, one that thousands of Londoners gaze up at each day.

But it’s not just a tourist attraction – and it’s certainly much more than a clock. The Elizabeth Tower has been keeping unusual skills and trades alive in the capital since it was built – reflecting the changing industries and inhabitants of the capital which it looks over.

Back in the 1840’s, iron for the roof was fashioned by Jabez James of Lambeth who also made the mighty bell-frame for the five bells, as well as the four cast iron dials. Decoration and gilding was undertaken by F. Crace & Son, whose offices were based in Marylebone. Fast-forward over a century and a half later and when it came to restoring the glass in the clock dials and repairing the stone, it has been teams from London that have helped to recreate what the Londoners of the 1850’s will have seen from below.

Peckham-based DBR London Limited have played an important role in repairing the intricate stonework that passers-by will see across the tower. Their stonemasons have spent years carving replacement stones, pinnacles, and buttresses, as well as making repairs to the lime plaster inside the building and cleaning the existing stone – a skill that originated in the East End of London and one that was originally handed down from generation to generation.

Adrian Attwood, Executive Director of DBR London Limited said: “DBR’s highly skilled teams of conservation managers, stonemasons, stone cleaners and plasterers, along with our apprentices, have worked tirelessly throughout the project producing exemplary work. We are immensely proud of their achievements and for the privilege of working on such an iconic and world-renowned building. Being part of this challenging project, safeguarding its historic fabric for the future, is a once in a lifetime experience.”

With the East Dial of the tower now revealed, Londoners across the Thames in Lambeth and Waterloo are able see the handywork of another London company. Hoxton-based Reyntiens Glass Studio lent their expertise to the Tower, cutting 324 pieces of white opalescent glass by hand, carefully installing each piece after the metalwork was cleaned and repainted.

John Reyntiens, Owner of Reyntiens Glass Studio said: “From the clock faces and the Ayrton Light to all the leaded lights on Elizabeth Tower, we’ve been honoured and thrilled to be involved in this project. It is so exciting for me and my dedicated team to share the fruits of our labour with the public as the scaffolding comes down.”

The tower is, of course, nothing without its bells. After the original Great Bell developed a crack, it was removed and melted down to create the replacement bell which hangs in the clock tower’s belfry today – Big Ben. The bell we now hear was cast in East London by George Mears at the Whitechapel Bell Foundry on 10 April 1858. At 13.5 tonnes, it was 2.5 tonnes lighter than the first. In fact, all the bells in the Tower come from the East of the city – with John Warner’s foundry in Cripplegate casting each of the quarter bells, too.

Both Parliament and its teams from across the city are delighted to gradually unwrap the Tower over the coming months, returning the iconic landmark to its former glory – and ensuring the bells of Big Ben can be heard once more.