The 320 foot high Clock Tower of the Houses of Parliament is one of London’s most popular monuments for any tourist or visitor. The nickname “BIG BEN” is often used to refer to the clock and the clock tower clock itself.
The name though actually relates to the main bell, officially known as the Great Bell, is the largest bell in the tower is better known by the nickname “Big Ben”. The bell weighs over 13 tons, and was cast in 1858 at the Whitechapel Bell Foundry in East London. To this day one of the largest bells they have ever cast. Big Ben was the largest bell in the British Isles until “Great Paul”, a 17 tonne bell currently hung in St. Paul’s Cathedral, was cast in 1881.
The original clock tower was built at Westminster in 1288. The present tower was raised as a part of Charles Barry’s design for a new palace, after the old Palace of Westminster was destroyed by fire on the night of 22 October 1834. Just two months later, Big Ben cracked. A lighter hammer was fitted and the bell rotated to present an undamaged section to the hammer.
The clock tower looks spectacular at night when the four clock faces are illuminated.
• Each dial is 23 feet square (2.13 square metres)
• Big Ben’s minute hands are 14 feet long (4.26 metres)
• The figures on the face of Big Ben are two feet high (0.6 metres)
A special light above the clock faces is also illuminated, letting the public know when parliament is in session.
During the Second World War, the Palace of Westminster was hit by German bombing, on 10 May 1941, a bombing raid damaged two of the clockfaces and sections of the tower’s stepped roof and destroyed the House of Commons chamber. Despite the heavy bombing the clock ran accurately and chimed throughout the Blitz.
The idiom of putting a penny on, with the meaning of slowing down, sprang from the method of fine-tuning the clock’s pendulum. On top of the pendulum is a small stack of old penny coins; these are to adjust the time of the clock. Adding or subtracting coins has the effect of minutely altering the position of the pendulum’s center of mass, the effective length of the pendulum rod and hence the rate at which the pendulum swings. Adding or removing a penny will change the clock’s speed by 0.4 second per day.
The chimes of Big Ben are known throughout the world, were first broadcast by the BBC on 31 December 1923, a tradition that continues to this day.
Author of Young Adult Romance/Fiction book
Across the Pond
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