When talking about the symbols of England, the famous Big Ben tower is immediately presented. This most popular attraction in the capital of Great Britain and is the hallmark of London.
What is Big Ben”
It is under this name that one of the three towers of Westminster Palace is known all over the world – the seat of the Parliament of the United Kingdom, located on the banks of the River Thames. In fact, this is the name of the 13-ton bell, which is located inside it, behind the dial.
The official name of modern Big Ben was “The Clock Tower of the Palace of Westminster.” By the decision of the British Parliament, in honor of the 60th anniversary of the Queen’s reign, this landmark of England was renamed the Elizabeth Tower.
The tower in London with clocks and bells is traditionally popularly called Big Ben. This name explains the origin story.
From the history of the tower
The Clock Tower, built in 1288 in London’s historic Westminster district, originally had a very different look. During a large fire, it burned down, and another was actually built in its place.
Architect Augustin Pujin designed the neo-Gothic style clock tower (elongated structures, columns, many openwork details, spiers) in order to diversify the appearance of the architectural complex and make it more memorable.
The parliament allocated money for the construction of the clock, provided that they will be the most accurate in the world. The clock tower got its name in honor of the construction manager Lord Benjamin Hall . He was tall, noisy, loud-voiced, of a large build, and was often called Big (in English) Ben.
The 96-meter tower, in association with the appearance of the lord, was named Big Ben. The brick tower is topped with a spire and is faced with colored limestone. It rises on a 15-meter concrete foundation. There are no lifts here. The hour dials are installed at a height of 55 meters.
But the key to the popularity of Big Ben is not only in the features of the tower as an architectural structure. She is famous above all for her legendary watches.
Accuracy – the politeness of kings. In London, this saying is especially relevant. Of the hundreds of city dials in the British capital, only the clock on the Big Ben tower is running correctly. Their launch took place in 1859, and they still accurately count the time.
This watch is the largest in the world . There are four dials on Big Ben, according to the number of cardinal points where they naturally look: north, south, west and east.
Each of them is assembled from 312 pieces of glass opal and enclosed in 7-meter steel frames with gilded outer discs. Such mosaicism and fragmentation gives the appearance of windows. These parts are easily accessible, which allows, if necessary, to penetrate into the dials and carry out a preventive examination.
The 2.7 m long hour hands are cast of cast iron, and the 4.2 m minute hands are made of copper. At the base of each of the four dials there is an inscription in Latin: “God save our Queen Victoria.” This is a kind of tribute to the empress, who ruled the country for more than 63 years. It was during this era that the British Empire reached its peak.
Along the entire perimeter there is an inscription: “Praise the Lord!” The watch is very reliable. During the Second World War, during the bombing of London by German pilots, they continued to work, receiving significant damage to the dials.
Symbol of precision and reliability
How is a flawless run ensured and maintained? The watchmaker Edward Dent was engaged in assembling the clockwork. The creators have developed an original mechanism, an important part of which are bells.
The largest bell in the tower of Elizabeth is the main bell – Big Ben, which gave the name to the entire structure. It was cast by master Edmund Denison.
On a cart drawn by 16 horses, the 16-ton bell was solemnly delivered to the place of installation under the cheering of the enthusiastic crowd. Only joy turned out to be premature: during the tests, he cracked. I had to cast another, already 13-ton.
They raised the giant to the tower for a whole day. But he cracked after 2 months. This time, they limited themselves to repairs that lasted 3 years.
To prevent the crack from spreading, a cut was made in it in the shape of a square. Surprisingly, it was this defect that created the unique resonating sound that distinguishes Big Ben from other bells.
It has been regularly ringing every hour for 150 years. The first blow of the hammer on the bell exactly coincides with the first second of the beginning of the hour . Small bells surrounding him help him in this. They play a melody every 15 minutes. Moreover, each quarter of an hour has its own composition of bell chimes.
The pendulum of the clock, weighing 300 kg and almost 4 meters long, is separated from the clockwork. It swings every 2 seconds.
If the clock decides to “cheat”, then a coin is put on the pendulum, an old English penny, which accelerates its movement by 2.5 seconds per day. Swinging for a while with a coin, the pendulum evens out its stroke. Thus, by adding or removing a coin, the caretaker ensures the accuracy of the 5-ton movement. Once, when Big Ben was a second behind, the caretaker nearly resigned.
Interesting events and facts
- One day in 1949, the clock suddenly fell by as much as 4 minutes! It became a real emergency. Everyone began to sin on the mechanism, but it turned out that a flock of starlings had sat down to rest on the minute hand of the chimes.
- The weather makes adjustments to the work of the clock. In 1962, they were heavily iced up. Having decided that chipping off pieces of ice is dangerous, the experts simply turned off the clock until spring. In 2005, due to the terrible heat, the arrows themselves stopped twice.
- On December 31, 1923, the chimes of the Clock Tower of Westminster Palace were first heard on BBC radio, the largest broadcasting company in the world in terms of audience reach. Since then, the sound of Big Ben on this channel is carried twice a day. Moreover, it is broadcast every time exclusively live, thanks to the microphone installed inside.
- It was Big Ben, located in London, that was chosen to proclaim the beginning of the 21st century on the night of December 31, 2000. This watch is the international standard for time.
- To the sounds of Big Ben, the British greet the coming of the New Year, and also mark all the mournful dates and minutes of silence.
- Big Ben once housed a prison for parliamentarians who behaved violently during meetings.
- If an evening meeting of Parliament is taking place at the Palace of Westminster, lights must be turned on at the top of the tower. This tradition was invented by Queen Victoria to see with her own eyes that parliamentarians are busy with work.
- For a long time, the London dial was considered the largest in the world, until the record was broken by a clock placed on a building in Wisconsin, USA. But the Americans did not add a chime to their chimes, so Big Ben still holds the 1st place in the nomination “the largest four-sided chiming clock”.
- Did you know that Big Ben gradually tilts ? Of course, he is far from the indicators of the Leaning Tower of Pisa, but the fact remains. The fact is that from the moment of erection, the state of the soil has changed a lot, which caused the “fall”. The laying of the Jubilee line of the London Underground also played a catalytic role in this process.
- Traveling around London, you will come across many smaller copies of Big Ben. “Clones” began to be installed almost at all city crossroads.
How the tower lives today
Travelers from all over the world find time to come here and admire the architectural splendor of the tower. And, of course, check the time. Guided tours by the government are prohibited here. The attraction is part of the architectural complex of the building of the current Parliament, the highest legislative body of the country.
In order to avoid a terrorist threat, it was decided to deny access. On very rare occasions for British citizens, Big Ben tours are held. Only a member of the House of Lords or a member of the House of Commons should be the organizer. In this case, visitors must make a small feat – climb up a narrow spiral staircase with 334 steps , there is no elevator.
The image of Big Ben in London has long become an independent brand and is widely used in culture and art. Familiar shapes can be seen in movies, TV shows, comics, computer games, as well as on envelopes, postcards, and souvenirs.