Time to abolish the City of London?

The Tory politician calls for the abolition of the corporation that governs London's square mile and

So at long last after endless media speculation we have a decision from Gordon Brown: Crossrail will be built.

Never mind whether this project is still viable or practical having been first proposed fourteen years ago. Never mind that it has no benefit at all for most actual Londoners as opposed to commuters from the Home Counties.

The Government has bullied and cajoled the City Corporation, the business community and the Mayor of London to stump up the £16 billion required to fund this bribe for the election that never was.

The few days running up to the announcement that gave the go ahead to the project was a typical British bodge job. The deputy director of the CBI appeared on the Today Programme to announce they were very happy with the proposals for a supplementary business rate in London only to have three of his largest retail members, Tescos, Sainsburys and John Lewis partnership on the phone within an hour saying how cross they were.

The Lord Mayor of London was prevailed upon to call an extraordinary meeting of the Court of Common Council for the first time in living memory to roll over to the Government’s demands that the City Corporation cough up £300 million of their accumulated wealth , the so called “City cash” to make up the perceived shortfall.

The role of the City Corporation or the Corporation of the City of London as it has just rebranded itself, in this whole matter bears some investigation.

Unlike proper Local Authorities the Corporation has no Leader of the Council and indeed was immune from the provisions of the 2000 Local Government Act and therefore has an unofficial leader in the Chairman of its Policy and Resources Committee currently Mr Michael Snyder.

As the City of London does not have any Party Politics it is replaced by the much more vicious personality politics and Michael Snyder who is currently serving the final year as Chairman has his fare share of critics.

Indeed his nickname among his many enemies on the Court of Common Council is 'Lord Voldermort' and just like his two predecessors (Michael Cassidy who bizarrely thought he could run for Mayor of London in 2000, and Dame Judith Mayhew whose reward for doing the Government’s bidding was a disastrous period as Master of Kings College) is perceived to have become far too powerful and in his desperation to receive a knighthood regularly pops round to Number 10, City Hall and the Treasury to charm Messrs Brown, Livingstone and Darling.

Apparently the City Corporation holds about £1 billion in City Cash the interest for which pays for the many (on the whole excellent) services that the City provides to the rest of London and also for the endless and lavish hospitality dished out to the Great and the Good at Guildhall, Mansion House and sundry Livery Halls, (I suspect that my invitations to such functions will now cease to the benefit of my substantial waist line).

This money built up over Centuries is held in trust by the Corporation on behalf of all the people of London and quite why the current members of the Corporation feel they can surrender it at the behest of this current Government I cannot understand. The exact figures remain a mystery as the matter as with so much City Corporation business was discussed in secret.

Whilst the tradition, pomp and ceremony of the City of London adds much to our Capital's life, the politics of the Corporation would benefit considerably from more openness and democracy. Quite why the City Aldermen should reject candidates for the top jobs of Sheriff and Lord Mayor on the grounds that they are Gay, female or an Evangelical Christian is beyond me.

One senior London Tory suggested to me that abolition of the Corporation in its current Political form was long overdue and a number are now saying that the time has come for all three Political parties to run slates of candidates in City elections to give the voters a proper choice.

Crossrail may well benefit the Corporation in the short term but the long term Political damage may not be worth a few trains from Maidenhead

Brian Coleman was first elected to the London Assembly in June 2000. Widely outspoken he is best known for his groundbreaking policy of removing traffic calming measures
Getty
Show Hide image

Inside Big Ben: why the world’s most famous clock will soon lose its bong

Every now and then, even the most famous of clocks need a bit of care.

London is soon going to lose one of its most familiar sounds when the world-famous Big Ben falls silent for repairs. The “bonging” chimes that have marked the passing of time for Londoners since 1859 will fall silent for months beginning in 2017 as part of a three-year £29m conservation project.

Of course, “Big Ben” is the nickname of the Great Bell and the bell itself is not in bad shape – even though it does have a huge crack in it.

The bell weighs nearly 14 tonnes and it cracked in 1859 when it was first bonged with a hammer that was way too heavy.

The crack was never repaired. Instead the bell was rotated one eighth of a turn and a lighter (200kg) hammer was installed. The cracked bell has a characteristic sound which we have all grown to love.

Big Ben strikes. UK Parliament.

Instead, it is the Elizabeth Tower (1859) and the clock mechanism (1854), designed by Denison and Airy, that need attention.

Any building or machine needs regular maintenance – we paint our doors and windows when they need it and we repair or replace our cars quite routinely. It is convenient to choose a day when we’re out of the house to paint the doors, or when we don’t need the car to repair the brakes. But a clock just doesn’t stop – especially not a clock as iconic as the Great Clock at the Palace of Westminster.

Repairs to the tower are long overdue. There is corrosion damage to the cast iron roof and to the belfry structure which keeps the bells in place. There is water damage to the masonry and condensation problems will be addressed, too. There are plumbing and electrical works to be done for a lift to be installed in one of the ventilation shafts, toilet facilities and the fitting of low-energy lighting.

Marvel of engineering

The clock mechanism itself is remarkable. In its 162-year history it has only had one major breakdown. In 1976 the speed regulator for the chimes broke and the mechanism sped up to destruction. The resulting damage took months to repair.

The weights that drive the clock are, like the bells and hammers, unimaginably huge. The “drive train” that keeps the pendulum swinging and that turns the hands is driven by a weight of about 100kg. Two other weights that ring the bells are each over a tonne. If any of these weights falls out of control (as in the 1976 incident), they could do a lot of damage.

The pendulum suspension spring is especially critical because it holds up the huge pendulum bob which weighs 321kg. The swinging pendulum releases the “escapement” every two seconds which then turns the hands on the clock’s four faces. If you look very closely, you will see that the minute hand doesn’t move smoothly but it sits still most of the time, only moving on each tick by 1.5cm.

The pendulum swings back and forth 21,600 times a day. That’s nearly 8m times a year, bending the pendulum spring. Like any metal, it has the potential to suffer from fatigue. The pendulum needs to be lifted out of the clock so that the spring can be closely inspected.

The clock derives its remarkable accuracy in part from the temperature compensation which is built into the construction of the pendulum. This was yet another of John Harrison’s genius ideas (you probably know him from longitude fame). He came up with the solution of using metals of differing temperature expansion coefficient so that the pendulum doesn’t change in length as the temperature changes with the seasons.

In the Westminster clock, the pendulum shaft is made of concentric tubes of steel and zinc. A similar construction is described for the clock in Trinity College Cambridge and near perfect temperature compensation can be achieved. But zinc is a ductile metal and the tube deforms with time under the heavy load of the 321kg pendulum bob. This “creeping” will cause the temperature compensation to jam up and become less effective.

So stopping the clock will also be a good opportunity to dismantle the pendulum completely and to check that the zinc tube is sliding freely. This in itself is a few days' work.

What makes it tick

But the truly clever bit of this clock is the escapement. All clocks have one - it’s what makes the clock tick, quite literally. Denison developed his new gravity escapement especially for the Westminster clock. It decouples the driving force of the falling weight from the periodic force that maintains the motion of the pendulum. To this day, the best tower clocks in England use the gravity escapement leading to remarkable accuracy – better even than that of your quartz crystal wrist watch.

In Denison’s gravity escapement, the “tick” is the impact of the “legs” of the escapement colliding with hardened steel seats. Each collision causes microscopic damage which, accumulated over millions of collisions per year, causes wear and tear affecting the accuracy of the clock. It is impossible to inspect the escapement without stopping the clock. Part of the maintenance proposed during this stoppage is a thorough overhaul of the escapement and the other workings of the clock.

The Westminster clock is a remarkable icon for London and for England. For more than 150 years it has reminded us of each hour, tirelessly. That’s what I love about clocks – they seem to carry on without a fuss. But every now and then even the most famous of clocks need a bit of care. After this period of pampering, “Big Ben” ought to be set for another 100 or so years of trouble-free running.

The Conversation

Hugh Hunt is a Reader in Engineering Dynamics and Vibration at the University of Cambridge.

This article was originally published on The Conversation. Read the original article.