Elizabeth Tower is one of the world’s most famous landmarks. The historic home of ‘Big Ben’, it was designed by Augustus Pugin in a neo-gothic style and completed in 1859. Standing at 315ft tall, it continues to occupy a prominent position in London’s unique cityscape.
However, over 160 years of wear and tear, including bomb and weather damage, has meant essential repairs were needed to return the structure to its original splendour. Refurbishment commenced in 2017 and is due to be completed in 2022.
With the entire building requiring restoration, it’s been a massive undertaking for those involved in the project, particularly the extensive and delicate masonry repairs. These ranged from full stone replacement on the façade to the installation of new limestone floor in the iconic belfry.
These highly-specific tasks required a team of stoneworkspecialists to ensure they were carried out with the highest levels of skill, care and precision. To deliver, principal Contractor Sir Robert McAlpine immediately turned to long-time conservation partner DBR (London) Limited.
DBR has delivered a variety of plasterwork, stonework and joinery repairs across the interior and exterior of the entire tower, replacing over 1,000 stones on the outside. These were hand-carved from scratch, by DBR’s talented team of stonemasons, on-site.
The project team also re-applied nearly 500m2 of lime plaster inside the tower, covering the entire mechanism room, where the clock’s workings and other intricate parts are located, and has removed and re-boarded its timber-panelled ceiling. This re-plastering also included all four dial rooms. A daunting undertaking, as each one measures57m2, the same size as the clock faces themselves.
This work was also complemented by a sensitive fire door upgrade. DBR, a leading expert in this particular construction niche, installed a system which met modern regulations, without significantly altering the appearance of the original doors.
Leaving no stone unturned
Within the tower, the team stripped the entire structure oftoxic lead paint, and has cleaned the façade using a mix of cutting-edge steam cleaning and micro abrasive systems, specifically designed for work on historic fabric.
Adrian Attwood, Executive Director of DBR comments, “Removing the lead paint was quite a feat, especially in the narrow spiral staircase which rises from ground level to the belfry. Each part of the project throws up its own, unique set of challenges. For example, our masons also removed and replaced the belfry floor with new Hopton Wood limestones labs, and installed a new patent slate roof over the entrance of the staircase, which, due to the way it’s structured, is akin to a complicated jigsaw puzzle and required great attention to detail and skill.”
To assist with the ongoing conservation work, DBR has used asset lifecycle information & construction management software platform, Zutec, which allows the on-site project team access to all essential drawings and documents, helping to categorise each repair and track the heritage assets throughout the life of the project.