When Was Big Ben Built?
Big Ben was built in 1859. It is the bell that chimes the hours in the Clock Tower of the British Houses of Parliament, London, and is so called because Sir Benjamin Hall, as the Chief Commissioner of Works, was the minister responsible for its installation. The famous deep, resonant boom of the bell is regularly broadcast by the BBC all over the world.
The way to Big Ben is up a spiral staircase of 334 steps. The Roman numerals on the clock face are two feet high and the pendulum is 13 feet long. Big Ben itself weighs 13½ tons. When the clock was installed, two men used to wind it every week. The clock still uses its original Victorian mechanism, but an electric motor can be used as a backup.
The main bell, officially known as the Great Bell, is the largest bell in the tower and part of the Great Clock of Westminster. It is the largest four-faced chiming clock and the third-tallest free-standing clock tower in the world. It celebrated its 150th anniversary in May 2009, during which celebratory events took place.
Elizabeth Tower, previously called the Clock Tower but more popularly known as Big Ben, was raised as a part of Charles Barry’s design for a new palace, after the old Palace of Westminster was largely destroyed by fire on the night of 16 October 1834. The new parliament was built in a neo-gothic style. Although Barry was the chief architect of the palace, he turned to Augustus Pugin for the design of the clock tower, which resembles earlier Pugin designs, including one for Scarisbrick Hall in Lancashire.
The design for the tower was Pugin’s last design before his final descent into madness and death, and Pugin himself wrote, at the time of Barry’s last visit to him to collect the drawings: “I never worked so hard in my life for Mr Barry for tomorrow I render all the designs for finishing his bell tower & it is beautiful.”
Big Ben is the nickname for the Great Bell of the clock at the north end of the Palace of Westminster in London and is usually extended to refer to both the clock and the clock tower. The tower is officially Elizabeth Tower, renamed to celebrate the Diamond Jubilee of Elizabeth II in 2012; before that, it was known simply as the Clock Tower.
When completed in 1859, it was, says horologist Ian Westworth, “the prince of timekeepers: the biggest, most accurate four-faced striking and chiming clock in the world”. It stands 315 feet (96 m) tall, and the climb from ground level to the belfry is 334 steps. Its base is square, measuring 39 feet (12 m) on each side. Dials of the clock are 23 feet (7.0 m) in diameter. On 31 May 2009, celebrations were held to mark the tower’s 150th anniversary.
Big Ben is the largest of six bells and weighs 13½ long tons (13.7 tonnes; 15.1 short tons). It was the largest bell in the United Kingdom for 23 years. The origin of the bell’s nickname is open to question; it may be named after Sir Benjamin Hall, who oversaw its installation, or boxing heavyweight champion Benjamin Caunt. Four quarter bells chime at 15, 30 and 45 minutes past the hour and just before Big Ben tolls on the hour.
A British cultural icon, recognised all over the world, the tower is one of the most prominent symbols of the United Kingdom and parliamentary democracy, and it is often used in the establishing shot of films set in London. The clock tower has been part of a Grade I listed building since 1970 and a UNESCO World Heritage Site since 1987.
On 21 August 2017, a four-year schedule of renovation works began on the tower, which are to include the addition of a lift. There are also plans to re-glaze and repaint its dials. With a few exceptions, such as New Year’s Eve and Remembrance Sunday, the bells are to be silent until the work has been completed in the 2020s.