London's Iconic Big Ben

Europe - Editor - 01 October 2013

London's Iconic Big Ben

The iconic clock tower commonly referred to as 'Big Ben' is one of the most readily recognized, most photographed and most visited attractions in London. Previously known as the Clock Tower, the tower at the north end of the Palace of Westminster was renamed the Elizabeth Tower in 2012 to commemorate Queen Elizabeth II's Diamond Jubilee. 'Big Ben' is, in fact, the nickname for the great bell of the clock which rings out every hour on the hour, but over the years has come to refer to the entire clock tower.

The foundation stone for the tower, designed by Charles Barry, was laid in September 1843. It was built from the inside out, with materials from all over the United Kingdom being transported by river to the building site. Cornish granite, Yorkshire Anston stone and Caen stone from Normandy were all used in the construction. The tower was finally completed in 1859, five years behind schedule.

Charles Barry's friend and the Queen’s Clockmaker, Benjamin Lewis Vuillamy, started designing a clock for the tower, and when other clockmakers wanted to get involved it was decided to have a competition to decide who would have the honor of building the clock. The competition took place in 1846 with Astronomer Royal, Sir George Airy, being the adjudicator. The standards for the clock included the requirement that the first stroke of each hour must be accurate within one second in line with the Greenwich Observatory. In the end, Edward John Dent was entrusted with the manufacture of the clock, and his stepson, Frederick, completed it after Dent’s death. Amateur clockmaker and barrister, Edmund Beckett Denison, refined the workings of the clock to ensure its accuracy would not be influenced by the weather and it was installed in the tower in April 1859 and officially declared as keeping time successfully on 31 May 1859.

The first bell intended for the clock tower was tested in the New Palace yard for a period of time before being installed. On 17 October 1857 a crack appeared and it was decided to cast a new bell. As the bell was too large to be moved up the tower's shaft, it was winched up the outside of the tower, an exercise that took 30 hours to complete. It rang out in the tower for the first time on 11 July 1859, but by September of that year it cracked and stood silent for some time. Sir George Airy came up with a solution to the problem and the bell was turned to allow a much lighter hammer to strike a different spot. The crack was prevented from spreading by cutting a small square in the bell. Apart from occasional lapses, Big Ben has marked the hour ever since.

Having your photo taken with 'Big Ben' in the background is a must when visiting London. Spare a thought for the time and effort spent in creating this historic landmark as you smile for the camera.


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