BIG BEN, LONDON
Probably the world’s most famous clock, Big Ben is instantly recognizable and a symbol of Britain to the world. It was completed in its distinctive neo-Gothic style in 1859. “Big Ben” is the name of
the main 13.5 tonne bell, which is housed in the clock tower.
It was named for Sir Benjamin Hall, the city’s first Commissioner of Public Works. Hall oversaw the installation of the bell, and his name is even inscribed on its surface.
The tower was renamed Elizabeth Tower in 2012 to commemorate the Diamond Jubilee of Queen Elizabeth II. At 315 feet tall, it was the largest four faced chiming clock in the world when completed. It was also the most accurate clock of its kind and the original Victorian mechanism is still in use.
Probably the most famous sight in London, the tower that adjoins the Houses of Parliament, whilst commonly referred to as “Big Ben”, is actually simply named the “Clock Tower”.
A few fun facts:
-Only one time in history has the time been really wrong. That was in 1949, when a flock of starlings landed on the minute hand and slowed it by four and a half minutes.
-Each of the four clock faces is made of more than 312 pieces of opal glass—that’s 1,248 individual pieces of extremely fragile glass. When it comes to maintenance, the dials get washed every five years. A full team of clock pros rappel from the belfry and spend days polishing every inch of the clock.
-Despite a crack on the bell, Big Ben has continued to ring on the hour, without pause (save for a few times when it was quieted for maintenance) throughout the reins of six monarchs. It even sounded through bombing blitzes during World War II.
-Interior tours of Big Ben are unusually restricted, open only to residents of the United Kingdom. They are free of charge, but each visitor must be sponsored by a member of Parliament or a Member of the House of Lords.
-The Elizabeth Tower has 334 steps over 11 floors up to the belfry (or 399 to the lantern).
-Do you know what the Latin inscription under the clock face means? From left to right: ‘Domine salvam fac reginam nostram Victoriam Primam’, which means ‘O Lord, keep safe our Queen Victoria the First.’
-There’s a hidden musical number behind Ben’s world-famous chimes. The small ‘quarter bells’ that you hear just before the clock reaches the hour are tuned to the pitch of G sharp, F sharp, E sharp and B sharp.The sequence is popularly known as the Cambridge chimes and is borrowed from Handel’s ‘Messiah’.
‘All through this hour, Lord be my guide, And by Thy power, No foot shall slide’