IT’S probably the most famous clock in the world…

And as the arrival of 2022 was marked by the much-loved return of Big Ben’s world-famous ‘bongs’, the iconic sound represented an impressive professional milestone for the Eden Valley crafts-people who carried out the restoration.

For three years, skilled staff at the Cumbria Clock Company carried out painstaking work on the 162-year-old timepiece, now safely returned to Queen Elizabeth Tower in Westminster. 

The clock was entirely stripped down as part of the tower's £80m refurbishment scheme, with more than 1,000 parts transported to the firm’s workshop at Dacre, near Penrith.

A few hours after the bongs marked the turn of the year, Commons Speaker Sir Lindsay Hoyle told Radio 4’s  Today programme how much it matters – both him and to a country proud of its parliamentary heritage. 

“It was worth waiting for,” said Sir Lindsay. He spoke of the beauty of Big Ben, now seen in its original colours.

“It’s been exciting around Westminster when they’ve been trialling the bongs. Some mornings you’d suddenly hear it, after having years of silence. It’s quite eerie, but it’s a wonderful experience to hear the bongs again.”

In earlier interviews, Cumbria Clock Company director Keith Scobie-Youngs described working on the project as “a privilege”.

He said: "We've had the heart of the UK ticking away in this testing shop… in 160 years' time when people are researching the clock they will talk about the first big restoration and how it took place in a small village in Cumbria."

The company – which specialises in all aspects of work connected with church clocks and public clocks – had to ensure tight security for the famous clock as they worked on the restoration.

To deter criminals and Big Ben trophy hunters, the clock and its parts were kept under a close watch, with the help of the firm’s neighbours.

There was, however, one occasion when the clock’s secret location – in a workshop converted from a former stone barn – almost leaked out.

A group of curious ramblers peered through the building’s windows and found themselves staring straight at the fully set-up and ticking clock in a test room. They’d heard rumours that Big Ben might be there.

Mr Scobie-Youngs was able to fob them off. “I just said, it’s not what you think it is,”  he said.

He went on to praise his “brilliant” neighbours in Dacre, who knew that the clock was there – but who helped keep the important work under wraps. “They didn’t want the world’s most famous clock stolen while in the village,” added Mr Scobie-Youngs

Big Ben’s home, in the Elizabeth Tower, is regarded the world over as a symbol of not only the UK but of democracy.