Big Ben is the world-known name used for the Great Bell of the clock at the north end of the Palace of Westminster in London. It is one of the instantly recognizable landmarks in the city. Every year, it attracts millions of tourists and has become one of the most prominent symbols of the United Kingdom. Technically, the name Big Ben was first given to the huge hour bell inside the Clock Tower (officially known as Elizabeth Tower), which weighs more than 13 tons (13,760 kg). However, it is often extended to refer to the clock and the tower itself.
The massive hour bell was probably named after Benjamin Hall – a Welsh civil engineer and politician and the First Commissioner of Works. He was responsible for many environmental and sanitary improvements in London and oversaw the later stages of the rebuilding of the Houses of Parliament, including the installation of the bell in the clock tower. However, according to some sources, the bell was named after Benjamin Caunt, a British heavyweight boxing champion.
In 1844, after the Palace of Westminster was destroyed by fire the year before, a decision was made that the new buildings for the Houses of Parliament should include a tower and a clock. The first attempt at a massive hour bell cracked, so the metal was melted down and recast, but the second bell cracked as well. Then, a lighter hammer was used and the bell rotated to present an undamaged section to the hammer.
The Clock Tower
The clock – the largest in Great Britain – is famous for its reliability and the accuracy of its mechanism, designed by Edmund Beckett Denison. It is a remarkable fact that even when the nearby House of Commons was bombed during World War II, the tower survived and clock kept on striking the hours. There is a phrase in Latin under the clock which in translation means O Lord, keep safe our Queen Victoria the First.
The clock tower – constructed between 1843 and 1858 – rises 316 ft high (96m) and consists of a 200ft (61m) high brick shaft topped by a cast iron framed spire. The clock faces are 180ft /55m above ground level. Each of its dials is seven metres in diameter and there are 312 pieces of glass in each of it. As regards the minute hands, they are 4.2 metres long and weigh about 100 kg (including counterweights), and the numbers are approximately 60cm long.
It is a tradition for the chimes of Big Ben to be broadcast by the BBC on the 31 December. The first time that was done was in 1923. In 2009 was the 150th anniversary of the tower, the clock and the bell. It was marked with a light projection and received extensive media coverage in Great Britain and abroad, thus connecting Big Ben with a wide range of audiences.
In the beginning of next year, the Clock Tower will fall silent for a couple of months due to the start of one of the biggest refurbishment projects in its history. To be fair, this is not the first time it has stopped. In August 1976 its chimes were silenced for nine months due to its breakdown caused by one of its weights. However, the planned £29 million “facelift” is said to provide the best opportunity yet to make sure the clock continues ticking for at least another 150 years. Other notable London attractions close by are London Eye and Westminster Abbey.