Big Ben: A Look at London’s Iconic Clock Tower

The clock tower of the Palace of Westminster, also known as Big Ben, is an iconic symbol in London. It took 13 years to build and was completed in 1856. The tower stands at an impressive height of 316 feet.

A spire made with iron frames supports the weight of the bells within the tower. There’s a staircase inside that leads up to the belfry level, providing excellent views once you reach the top.

The clock faces themselves are quite remarkable – each is 23 feet in diameter and composed of many small pieces of opal glass. The numbers on these clocks stand two feet high.

An inscription in Latin below each clock face translates to “God save our Queen Victoria I.” At its time of construction, the clock mechanism was the largest in the world and is still among the largest today.

Big Ben, the hourbell, was named after Sir Benjamin Hall due to his bulkiness, much like the bell itself. Cast in 1858 by George Mears of the Whitechapel Bell foundry, it measures 8 feet in diameter and weighs 13.5 tons. The process of hoisting this massive bell up the tower took over 36 hours to complete. Despite cracking after just two months of use, instead of recasting the bell, they simply gave it a quarter turn and used a lighter hammer to strike the hours.

A Symbol of Hope

The chimes of Big Ben hold significant historical importance too. The first BBC radio broadcast of these chimes took place on New Year’s Eve in 1923. Permanent microphones were later placed within the tower, allowing listeners across the globe to hear the familiar sound of Big Ben during World War II when it became a symbol of hope and home for the BBC World Service listeners worldwide.

Today, one of the best times to see Big Ben is at night when the clock faces are illuminated, reflecting against the facade of the Palace of Westminster facing the Thames. This view from either Westminster Bridge or the opposite bank of the river can be truly breathtaking.

Featured Image by Photo by Andrea Piacquadio

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