London landmark Big Ben 'falls silent' for renovation works

The iconic bell will only be rung on special occasions over the next four years

London landmark Big Ben 'falls silent' for renovation works

Onlookers gather outside the Palace of Westminster in central London as Big Ben's bongs ring out for the last time before renovation work begins. Picture by: Dominic Lipinski/PA Wire/PA Images

Hundreds of people have gathered in London to watch Big Ben fall silent for controversial renovations that will last four years, the longest period in its 157-year history.

A large crowd of MPs, parliamentary workers, members of the public and tourists clapped and cheered as the bell chimed at noon, before being halted to allow the work get under way.

The House of Commons Commission, which is responsible for maintenance at Westminster, has already announced it will review the timescale of the renovations, after Prime Minister Theresa May voiced her opposition to the move.

Liberal Democrat MP Tom Brake, who answers MP's questions on the commission's behalf, said one concession could be to allow Big Ben to chime on more special occasions.

Plans are already in place for the bell to sound on New Year's Eve and Remembrance Day.

Big Ben could also bong on the day Britain leaves the European Union - 29th March 2019 - after calls from Eurosceptic Conservative politicians.

Parliamentary officials have insisted workers' hearing would be put in jeopardy if the bell continued chiming during the renovations.

They warned that those using the 100-metre-high scaffolding around the tower could also be affected by the 118-decibel bongs.

The work will include installing a lift and repairs to the clock's hands, mechanism and pendulum.

It is expected to cost £29m (almost €32m), but MPs have voiced fears the bill could rocket to £60m (€65m).