Leaning tower of London? Big Ben is tilting

Mon Oct 10, 2011 12:38pm EDT
 
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LONDON (Reuters) - British landmark Big Ben is leaning to such an extent that the tilt can now be clocked with the naked eye, according to a report commissioned by London Underground and the Parliamentary Estates Department.

The 96 meter (yards) high clock tower of the Houses of Parliament -- known colloquially as Big Ben, the name of the great bell it houses -- is sinking unevenly into the ground, causing it to lean toward the northwest.

"The tilt is now just about visible. You can see it if you stand on Parliament Square and look east, toward the river. I have heard tourists there taking photographs saying 'I don't think it is quite vertical' - and they are quite right," emeritus professor and senior research investigator at Imperial College, London, John Burland, told the Sunday Telegraph.

The level of the tilt has accelerated since 2003, increasing to 0.9 mm a year, compared to the long-term average rate of 0.65 mm a year, the report revealed.

These levels are not considered to be unsafe.

"If it started greater acceleration, we would have to look at doing something but I don't think we need to do anything for a few years yet," Burland said.

Years of underground developments have contributed to the clock tower's tilt, according to the report.

This includes the construction of an underground car park in the early 70s and an extension of the London Underground Jubilee Line, as well as changes in ground conditions.

The tilt has resulted in the formation of cracks in the walls and ceilings of parts of the House of Commons, including the Minister's Wing.   Continued...

 
<p>A man looks through a telescope opposite Big Ben and the Houses of Parliament, in central London May 6, 2011. REUTERS/Toby Melville</p>