Big Ben will have its facade renovated in time to announce New Year in London

Big Ben’s hands will emerge from a veil of scaffolding in time to fulfill their most important role throughout the year: heralding the arrival of the New Year to thousands on the streets of London and to millions watching on television.

The world-famous clock tower, housed in the British Houses of Parliament, has been hidden for three and a half years, during which hundreds of artisans repaired the masonry, replaced metalwork and repainted and restored the gilt, the biggest renovation since it was built in 1859.

Nick Sturge, project manager for special projects at construction company Sir Robert McAlpine, said removing the scaffolding was “a huge milestone” in the £79.7 million undertaking.

“By New Year’s, people will start to see a big difference: they will start to get their tower back,” he said. “The roofs will be fully visible, as will the four facades of the clock.”

Big Ben, the largest and most accurate four-fronted bell clock when it opened, is a symbol of London and UK parliamentary democracy around the world, as well as being one of the most photographed sites in the city.

The renovation includes replacing all the panels on the clock’s facades, Sturge said, and the hands, numerals and other details have been repainted a bright blue instead of the black so familiar to Londoners.