The Weather Project by Olafur Eliasson, at the Tate Modern. Photo: Getty
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Here's why London should bid to be the next City of Culture

London is home to the biggest galleries, the most famous museums and some of the country's most famous cultural destinations. But in outer London, many venues are struggling and deserve a moment to shine.

London should bid to be Britain’s next European City of Culture. It would help to promote the capital’s creative and cultural sectors and create new jobs in these areas; it could revitalise the arts and cultural offer outside of Zone One reeling from huge local government cuts; it could help to draw in the next generation of Londoners to a wide range of new cultural activity and, properly planned, it could be a year-long celebration of the best of Britain and the very best of London’s cultural scene.

Bidding will open at the beginning of 2017 for the honour of being the 2023 European City of Culture, due to take place in Britain. With elections galore between now and then it might be easy for the idea of a London bid to be quietly ignored. London after all is a top European city of culture already and this award is usually a consolation prize for cities in need of a little regeneration or so some have claimed.

Outside of Zone One where the National Theatre, the big museums and art galleries sit, Outer London’s museums, theatres and other cultural activity are under huge pressure as local government and Arts Council cutbacks have had a profound impact.

A European City of Culture bid backed by the big Zone One institutions could help to regenerate and expand Outer London’s arts scene, creating jobs and inspiring new art spaces and cultural ‘quarters’ from Hounslow to Dagenham and Sutton to Redbridge. Museums and theatres struggling in Outer London could be supported by the big Zone One institutions for a year of Zone 2 to Zone 6 cultural excitement. Given the success of the Tate St Ives or the Tate Liverpool, how about the Tate Croydon and the Tate Harrow; even for just one twelve month period.

Why do the great collections of modern and old Masters have to stay firmly within the Circle Line? Why not an Impressionist display in the Dulwich Picture Gallery or the National Opera and Ballet Rambert performing at the Fairkytes Centre in Hornchurch or the Kingston Rose Theatre. And for one year only why couldn’t we bring a bit of Glastonbury to London’s Outer London parks. Instead of a farmer’s field in Somerset, why couldn’t Kasabian, Dolly Parton or Ed Sheeran - last year’s Glastonbury headliners – perform in the great parks and open spaces of outer London – Hackney Marshes, West Ham Park or the green spaces of Epping Forest?

A City of Culture bid is an opportunity to provide a stage to London’s young and emerging artistic talent and to give younger Londoners a chance to access the best of arts and culture on their doorstep, and through their schools and colleges, instead of having to travel just into central London.

Inevitably the campaign against London will be that we don’t need such status and that other cities need it more. London is one of Europe’s top (if not already better than Paris and Rome) cultural destinations, but City of Culture status would help to draw in more tourists to Britain’s wider cultural and arts scene – starting in London but venturing out beyond the capital.

70,000 jobs depend on London’s creative and arts scene. With increasing automation, this sector offers one source of more decent jobs in the future. Putting business and job creation at the heart of any bid ought to be part to be part of the next Mayor’s vision for a European City of Culture bid.

European City of Culture status also offers a platform for co-operation with emerging economies and a further opportunity to promote London and, from there the rest of the UK, to the India’s and China’s, the Brazil’s and South Africa’s.

I have discussed the idea that London should bid with a diverse mix of London’s art and business figures; from Neil MacGregor, director of the British Museum to Courtney Pine, Britain’s premier jazz talent and Digby Jones, former Director General of the CBI and Trade Minister. All think the idea of a bid has real merit.

It is for the next Mayor of London to bring London’s great and good together and shape a vision for a City of Culture bid whilst beginning to look for the individual figurehead to lead the necessary London Culture Company.

London cannot rest on its laurels. The Olympics gave London a global stage to perform on but they are now firmly in the past. The world has moved on and London’s leadership needs to look to the future. European City of Culture status offers a further platform to boost London’s economic, social and cultural opportunities. It’s a chance to put Outer London in the artistic spotlight, and to give the next generation of Londoners a huge chance to enjoy the richest range of art and culture.

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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.