Ok, so everyone that follows our blog will know that The Clean Team is a British run professional window and glass washing company.  Yes we love Dubai with its high rise building and fancy villas, but London is still our home and where life started for us.  So, when we read about the world famous Big Ben having a clean-up, it really put a smile on our face.  A historic icon, being cleaned by rope access.  Isn’t it just great. 


In the absence of scaffolding or expensive lifts, the way to access the opaque glass clock-face is to abseil. Usually in the UK, abseilers maintain oil rigs.  The Westminster icon may be more gentle than the sea, but the main hazard is that the clock doesn’t stop for them. 


Mike McCann, the person responsible for the Clock, says: ‘They will have to dodge the hands.’  Such is the size of the clock that the tip of the 14 foot copper minute hand travels at a foot a minute.  Wow.


The name Big Ben was originally only for the bell.  Now it is used for the bell and the clock.  The tower was completed in 1858, at the time it was the tallest building in Europe, at 314 feet high, excluding churches. 


Installed in the year 1859, the hands, two-and-a-half tons of cast iron, were too heavy for the clock to function. They had to be changed with lighter hands made of gun metal, before being changed again to the present day copper style ones.


The bell, too, was a problem. The first version, 16 tons of alloy which was not really suitable, sounded too tinny and broke when tested.  The second, 13-ton, version, cracked after four months’ use. Surprisingly, after so many years, the crack is still there – and gives the bell its distinctive sound.


Big Ben is a weight-driven clock; the weights are two-and-a-half tons. Until 1913, they were required to be wound by hand – it took two strong individuals thirty two hours throughout the course of a week. Now, with the use of modern technology, an electric motor does the job.


It is, of course, accurate as expected – but not always reliable. We understand it has stopped at least a dozen times through causes as various as a broken parts, a mislaid workers hammer and, strangely a cheese sandwich left in the machinery.


More recently, the tower was renamed Elizabeth Tower after the Queen to celebrate her Diamond Jubilee.


So, next time you see this London landmark, remember, in the summer of 2014, four workers, wearing helmets and climbing equipment, were buffing, washing and shining the three hundred and twelve pieces of glass that make up the iconic clock face.  Before this, it was last cleaned in 2010.  These brave individuals had to be terribly careful.  The glass panels over the clock face are very thin and fragile.  Originally the dials were lit by gas, which was very dull. Birds can fly into them and break them.


I wonder what I’d rather do, rope access down the Burj Khalifa in Dubai, or Big Ben in London?  One thing is for sure, four men cleaning glass of the UAE’s most famous building wouldn’t be enough!

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