Big Ben
Saint Stephen's Tower

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The Clock Tower of the Palace of Westminster – officially named Saint Stephen’s Tower – is commonly known as the Big Ben. The tower is one of London’s most famous landmarks.

Big Ben, London
Big Ben

The hour bell was probably named after Benjamin Hall, the First Commissioner of Works. Some sources however claim the bell was named after Benjamin Caunt, a British heavyweight boxing champion.

The clock inside the tower was the world’s largest when it was installed in the middle of the nineteenth century. The name Big Ben actually refers to the clock’s hour bell, the largest of the clock’s five bells. The other four are used as quarter bells.

Big Ben

There were two bells cast as the clock tower’s hour bell. A first, sixteen ton weighing bell was cast by John Warner and Sons in 1856. Since the Clock Tower was not yet completed, the bell was hung temporarily in the Palace Yard. The bell soon cracked, so it was recast in 1858 in the Whitechapel Bell Foundry as a 13.5-ton bell. Unfortunately, soon after this bell was placed in the belfry in July 1859, it cracked as well. This time, instead of yet again recasting the bell, the crack was repaired, and a lighter hammer was used to prevent any more cracks.

Big Ben Clock face
Clock face
Big Ben seen from Parliament Square, London
View from Parliament Square

The Clock

The clock was the largest in the world and is still the largest in Great-Britain. The clock faces have a diameter of almost 25 ft. (7.5 m). The hour hand is 9 ft. or 2.7 m long and the minute hand measures 14 ft. (4.25 m.) long.

The clock is known for its reliability, it has rarely failed during its long life span. Even after the nearby House of Commons was destroyed by bombing during World War II, the clock kept on chiming. The clock’s mechanism, designed by Edmund Beckett Denison, has a remarkable accuracy. The clock’s rate is adjusted by simply adding small pennies on the shoulder of the pendulum.

The Tower

The tower was constructed between 1843 and 1858 as the clock tower of the Palace of Westminster. The palace is now better known as the Houses of Parliament. The clock tower rises to a height of 316 ft. (96 m.) and consists of a 200-ft-high (61 m.) brick shaft topped by a cast iron framed spire. The clock faces are 180 ft. / 55 m. above ground level.


Unfortunately the clock tower is not publicly accessible, but if you’re looking for views over London the London Eye, the Shard or the Monument are currently the best options.

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