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Fireworks light up the London skyline over Big Ben and the London Eye just after midnight on Jan. 1 in London, England.Dan Kitwood/Getty Images

The bongs of Big Ben are an iconic part of New Year’s Eve celebrations in Britain, and Sunday will mark the 100th time the sound of Westminster’s famous bell has been broadcast live to ring in a new year.

The tradition began on the evening of Dec. 31, 1923, when BBC engineer A.G. Dryland climbed onto a roof across the street from the Houses of Parliament and held up a microphone as the Elizabeth Tower clock struck 12. “Our bright idea was to let the world hear Big Ben,” Mr. Dryland recalled in an interview in 1936. “Our microphone picked up a good deal of traffic noise but it got the midnight chime good and hearty.”

The sound of Big Ben has been heard across the country and around the world on New Year’s Eve ever since, including during the Second World War.

A set of microphones was installed in the belfry years ago and the bongs are broadcast far more frequently. They can now be heard live at the beginning of the 6 p.m. news on BBC Radio 4 and on important occasions such as Remembrance Sunday.

But New Year’s Eve remains special and the 100th anniversary isn’t lost on Huw Smith, one of three horologists who care for the clock. “It’s quite a monumental event,” he said Thursday.

Mr. Smith, 61, recalled heading to Trafalgar Square on New Year’s Eve as a teenager and waiting to hear Big Ben, even though he now knows his celebration was a little late. “If you think about it, in Trafalgar Square it takes two seconds for the sound to travel up there. So actually we celebrated 12 o’clock and two seconds.”

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In 1999, when the city of London held a giant fireworks display to mark the new millennial, the focus of the celebration shifted to an area around Westminster. That tradition has continued and on Sunday around 100,000 people will line the banks of the Thames to watch the illuminations, which begin with the first strike of Big Ben.

Mr. Smith said getting the timing right requires the clock to be connected to a series of computers and other equipment linked to the fireworks. “We have to have it smack on so we will be up there all evening, making small adjustments.”

Maintaining the 163-year old timepiece also has its challenges.

The current clock dates back to the 1850s, but there has been a clock tower on the site of the parliamentary estate since 1367. It was pulled down in 1698 and replaced with a sun dial.

A fire destroyed the Palace of Westminster in 1834 and when construction of a new building began, the plans included a clock tower with a chiming bell. The first bell developed a crack during testing and a second one was installed in 1859. It first rang out on July 11 of that year.

The bell strikes the note “E” each hour, while a set of different chimes ring G sharp, F sharp, E and B every quarter hour to the lines; “All through this hour, Lord be my guide. And by thy power, no foot shall slide.” The melody is known as the Westminster Quarters.

The bell was supposed to be called Royal Victoria but it became known as Big Ben after Benjamin Hall, the commissioner of works who oversaw the tower’s construction. The clock tower was renamed the Elizabeth Tower in 2012, in honour of Queen Elizabeth II’s diamond Jubilee.

A five-year renovation that began in 2017 kept Big Ben largely silent, except for a handful of days including New Year’s Eve.

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Mr. Smith said the repair work fixed damage that had been done during the Second World War, when the tower was struck by a German bomb. “We didn’t know the extent of the damage until they actually started taking things apart,” he said. The clock’s mechanism was also dismantled and renovated “right down to the last nut and bolt.”

The horologists no longer have to wind the clock up by hand, as four mechanics did in the 1800s. But they still go up the tower every Monday, Wednesday and Friday and start an electric motor.

Mr. Smith has spent each of the past 19 New Year’s Eves in the clock tower, making sure the fireworks get off to a good start. He plans to retire in about six years and isn’t sure what he’ll do on Dec. 31 after that.

“It’s going to be quite strange going out and celebrating,” he said. But no matter where he is, he’ll be listening for the gongs of Big Ben at the stroke of midnight.

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