One of the most recognized landmarks in the world, Big Ben is actually not the name of a building but rather a bell, or rather a nickname for the Great Bell of the clock at the north end of the Palace of Westminster in London. The original bell was badly cracked and melted down and recast to create the bell currently in position at the Elizabeth Tower. Cast in the Whitechapel foundry in 1858, Big Ben first rang out on 31 May 1859. In September of that same year the bell was cracked and remained silent till a smaller and lighter hammer was fitted. Big Ben was then rotated so that an undamaged section could be struck by the lighter hammer to create the ring we hear today.
While the name Big Ben is often used to refer to the clock tower, it officially named the Elizabeth Tower in honor of the Diamond Jubilee of Queen Elizabeth II. Renaming of the tower in honor of Queen Elizabeth II was supported by 331 MPs including senior members of the three main parties. Similarly, the large west tower was renamed Victoria Tower in honor of the Diamond Jubilee of Queen Victoria in 1897. During the reign of Queen Victoria the tower was often referred to as St. Stephen’s Tower since Members of Parliament originally sat at St. Stephen’s Hall, but prior to 2012 it was officially known as the Clock Tower.
The Tower houses one of the largest four-faced chiming clocks in the world and was completed in 1859. Part of Charles Barry’s vision for a new palace after the previous Palace of Westminster was partially destroyed by fire in 1834, was a large tower which he turned to Augustus Pugin to design. The 315 foot tall tower was the last design by the famed Pugin and celebrated the gothic revival style. The four clock faces tower above the city at 180 feet from the ground, and the 334 limestone steps to the belfry of the tower are off limits to the regular tourist. United Kingdom residents may however schedule a tour through their Member of Parliament.
“Big Ben” Facts
- Each of the 4 dials have a diameter of 7 meters (23ft).
- The minute hands are 4.2 meters (14ft) long.
- Each of the numbers are 60cm tall.
- There are 312 pieces of glass in each clock dial.
- A special light above the clock faces is illuminated when parliament is in session.
- Every 31 December since 1923 BBC has broadcast the chimes of Big Ben to ring in the New Year.