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Big Ben: The Iconic Clock We Always See in London Pictures

Updated on September 23, 2015

Located in the northern side of the Westminster Palace, the Big Ben, initially known as the Great Bell, has now been ticking for over 150 years witnessing the celebrations, jubilees, anniversaries as well as the dark moments of Britain. In visual media, this icon is used to indicate a universal location in a country with a red double decker bus or black cabs in the foreground. Moreover, the clock plays in important role in London's welcoming of the new year as its arms strike 12, sending everyone into jubilation. Those who can witness it live manage to do so every year, with many others wanting to go there and "feel the moment."

Inside the Iconic Big Ben
Inside the Iconic Big Ben

History Of Big Ben

Back in 1834 when the Palace of Westminster caught fire, a competition was held which was open for the public to design the architecture of the new Palace. Charles Barry’s “Gothic” style was picked unanimously which consisted of the clock tower known as the Elizabeth Tower today.

A well reputed clock maker, Benjamin Lewis Vulliamy was hired in order to implement the design of the clock. The task was to construct a clock consisting of 30 feet wide dials, quarter chimes to ring at 8 bells and hours to strike on a bell, weighing 14 tons. Certainly he was overwhelmed by the offer to construct the biggest clock in the world back then, however it left the other enterprises melancholy, since they wanted it to be an open competition as well. Subsequently, a referee was suggested to be appointed to prepare the specifications of the clock. Hence, George Airy got the honour of becoming the referee and produced a description for Big Ben, demanding a strike of the first blow of every hour to be correct to a second. Consequently, tenders were obtained from three makers including Vulliamy, Dent and Whitehurst.

Though Airy constantly favoured Dent, Edmund Beckett Denison was appointed as a co-referee in 1849. Both came into an agreement that Dent was the most capable of working on the clock they had proposed. The specifications were re-created and Dent was asked to brush up his estimate. After 3 years, Dent was eventually given the contract. Following the death of Edward John Dent in 1853, his step son took over the contract. Though in 1854, the mechanism was ready to be installed, the tower was not constructed. After several delays and troubles, the clock finally became operational on 7th of September 1859.

Facts

  • On 5th August 1976, the shaft of the clock broke because of the metal fatigue in the tube that bridged the connection between the fly-fan and the chiming train. The whole chiming mechanism got destroyed with various parts and metal pieces dispersed in the clockroom. The debris flew with such force that it penetrated to the room that was above the clockroom. The clock had to be built again, with only choices such as a change of electric motor left. The restructuring and remake of the clock took a whole year!
  • The casting for Big Ben was done on 10th April 1858. It officially started working on 31st May 1859, and struck its first hour on 11th July 1859.
  • The width of a single dial of the clock is 23 feet. The numbers are two feet in size, the minute hand is 14 feet in length and the hour hand is 9 feet long. Each face of the clock is inscribed with “DOMINE SALVAM FAC REGINAM NOSTRAM VICTORIAM PRIMAM” meaning “Oh Lord, keep safe our Queen Victoria the First” in gold. Every face of the clock consists of 32 glass panes, i.e. 1248 pieces of glass altogether.

This unique representation of London has been named as the most “iconic film location in London”. Besides, in 2008 a survey was carried out of 2000 people, in which Big Ben was named as the most famous landmark of Britain. Visitors from all around the world come to visit the renowned icon and use it as a perfect backdrop for their pictures. There are various minicab services and private car hire services to facilitate the visitors. Every year millions of sight seekers visit and admire the 150 year old tower that experienced the history of Britain like no human can with more occasions yet to come.

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    • Larry Rankin profile image

      Larry Rankin 2 years ago from Oklahoma

      I would love to see Big Ben personally someday. Great read!

    • Readmikenow profile image

      Readmikenow 2 years ago

      Really enjoyed reading this. Learned information I did not know about Big Ben.

    • sajupalu profile image

      Sajesh 2 years ago from India

      Informative writing. Truly, Big Ben carries its part of the history. The London people can’t a day without this clock. Celebration also forms after hearing the chimes.

    • Lady_E profile image

      Elena 2 years ago from London, UK

      An Enjoyable read. We can't usher in the New Year in UK, without our Big Ben....infact we can't even start the massive firework displays, until the the clock has chimed. :-)

    • profile image

      takim titus 2 years ago from Nigeria

      Woow great history

    working

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