British technicians finish repair work on chimes of Big Ben

Big Ben is back to normal.

The melodic quarter-hour chimes from Britain's Houses of Parliament that precede the famous bonging of the 13-ton Big Ben bell have been silenced by repairs since early June.

On Wednesday technicians fitted two new hammers to the largest of the four bells that have marked the quarter hours from parliament's clock tower since 1859.

Keeper of the Great Clock Mike McCann said the melodic chimes replicated on many a mechanical clock or doorbell in homes around the world resumed just after 4 p.m. (1500 GMT).

The chimes had been silenced while the Whitechapel Foundry in east London produced two new hammers for the nearly four-ton quarter bell. The bell needs two hammers because of a repeated note in the tune, said Mark Backhouse, works-manager at the foundry.

"The same note is struck in fairly fast repetition, and to get a big hammer to lift and drop takes time," he said, noting that the head of the hammer alone weighs some 200 pounds (90 kgs).

The Westminster chime tune, said to be based on two measures from Handel's "The Messiah," was composed originally for the bells of Great St. Mary's Church in Cambridge, where a new clock was installed in 1793. The identity of the composer is uncertain, though the leading suspect is William Crotch, a child prodigy who was an assistant organist at King's College in the city.

The characteristic sound is closely identified with England. A live broadcast of the 6 o'clock chimes precedes British Broadcasting Corp. radio's early evening news bulletin. For the past month, the broadcaster has been forced to replace the bongs with birdsong.

In 1962 snow caused the clock to ring in the New Year 10 minutes late, and in 1976 the clock stopped when a piece of its machinery broke. The clock also ground to a halt on April 30, 1997, and once more three weeks later.

In December 1986, one of the quarter-hour bells was silenced by a broken connecting rod, reports AP.