Where is Big Ben? - History, Location, Facts

Updated:31 Aug, 2022

Hola, guys! This year is 2022 and will fade soon same as these past years. The Pandemic turned the world around. These days’ time passes just like water does in one’s palm. Oh well! Talking about the time just made me remember Big Ben. Now if you haven’t heard about it, let me guide you further into the knowledge. Big Ben is the popular striking clock of the North. It stands in London with the dignity of 163 years. 

However, the name ‘Big Ben’ was never given to the tower nor the clock but instead to the largest of the five bells behind the clock faces. So, ‘Big ben’ was originally the title for the bell but the vastness of the World and drifting time eventually led to the acknowledgment of the Whole tower as Big Ben. That is why in this article we are going to study both the Bell and the Tower as a whole.

Big Ben - Overview:

Completed in 1859, it became one of the most iconic clock towers all over the world and stands in Westminster Provinces, London, England with coordinates 51.5007˚N 0.1245˚W. Upon its completion, it became the ‘largest striking and chiming clock in the World’ as of 1859. The Tower was built in the Gothic Revival style of architecture under Augustus Welby Pugin as its architect. Gothic Revival aka Neo-gothic came up in the 1740s and became popular in starting of the 19th century. The faces of the clock tower are so massive that they are listed as 3rd largest clock faces in the United Kingdom and rank 33rd all over the World. Along with this, in 1987, it was also listed as UNESCO World Heritage Site.

Big Ben - History:

When the Westminster Palace was destroyed by fire in 1834, it needed a serious reconstruction and huge renovation. Charles Barry was hired to design the Palace’s new look, he decided it to be in neo-Gothic style. He along with Augustus Welby Pugin completed the design and also included a clock tower at the northern end of the Palace. On 28th September 1843, they laid the foundation stone for the clock tower. The tender to the making of the clock tower led to disputes between many famous clockmakers. 

So, in 1846, Sir George Airy hosted a competition as a referee to decide who will gain the tender to the clock tower, as a result, Edward John Kent turned out victorious and by 1854 completed the clock mechanism for the clock tower. With the clock mechanism being ready, the clock tower needed a bell which is when they cast a 16 tons bell that was named Big Ben but it was damaged during a test run in 1857 so then it was reshaped with a reduced weight of 13.5 tons. 

On 31st May 1859, the tower work was completed and the bell was installed. It was 11 July, the same year, when Big Ben first chimed. By September, it was again damaged and was shut for the next 3 years. During that time, the hour chiming was made with one of the quarter bells. In 1863, To Sir George Airy’s Idea, the size of the striking hammer was reduced and the bell was turned 90˚ so that the hammer strikes the bell in a different spot. Again the Hourly heavy chiming continued this time with a slightly different tone.

Big Ben - Design:

It stands at 96m HAGL with a clock at 55m AGL which makes it the 3rd tallest tower in the United Kingdom and the 22nd tallest tower in the World. It has a square base, each side measuring 12.2m, with a concrete foundation of 3.7m thickness and an iron-tiles coated spire mounting on top. The tower was constructed with Anston limestones and bricks cladding the exterior. It has 11 floors and a series of 290 stone steps to reach the clock room, another 44 steps to get to Belfry, and additional 59 steps to reach the top of the spire. 

The Belfry holds 4-quarter bells; each one rings every quarter hour, and a larger bell is popularly known as Big Ben, which rings every hour. On the exterior, above the clock faces there are decorated shields representing the countries of the United Kingdom as- for England, a shield with ‘the Red and White rose’ is laid; for Northern Ireland, a shield with ‘Shamrock’ is laid; for Scotland, a shield with ‘thistle’ is laid; and for Wales, a shield with 'leek' is laid. 

In 1873, Acton Smee Ayrton, a British Barrister, installed the Ayrton Light, which was lit whenever the Houses of Commons were at work after sunset. There runs a ventilation shaft from the bottom of the tower to the Belfry, which measures 2.4m by 5m approximately, initially built for drawing cool air to the Palace. The latest 2017 renovation project includes the installation of an elevator into this shaft for the convenience of inspectors and engineers.

Big Ben: Present Status

The Tower was formally known as St. Stephen’s Tower but in 2012, the House of Commons, the lower House of the Parliament of the United Kingdom, voted for the ‘change of name’ from St. Stephen’s Tower to Elizabeth Tower in honor of her diamond jubilee year over the Throne. Thus, since then it was officially named Elizabeth Tower. 

The Clock was shut in 2017 for 4 years of restoration work until 2021 and the scaffoldings were erected; the motive of the restoration was to make further technical installations and modifications to preserve the iconic structure for the upcoming future generations. Because of the heavy criticism, one of the clock faces was always at work powered by the backup electric motor and was visible. 

On December 2k21, the scaffoldings from the clock faces were totally removed and the striking bells were back with their quarterly and hourly chiming on the perfect occasion of New Year's Eve. Today in 2k22, the Clock Tower is again attracting people from across the Seas with its new look after the past 4 years of restoration work.

Big Ben - Facts:

  • The striking hammer was damaged in 2007 for the first time.
  • The origin of the name of the bell is unknown, but there are two possible theories. The first one says it might be named after the heavyweight boxer, Benjamin Caunt, who was also known as ‘Big Ben’, another theory says, the bell might be named after a Welsh civil Engineer who also served in the House of Commons, Sir Benjamin Hall, he too was known as ‘Big Ben’ around him.

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