Blog > The History of London Big Ben

January 23, 2013

Big Ben has become one of most prominent symbols of the city in the history of London.  It has also become one of the best know sites in all of England. The title of “Big Ben” is often used to refer to the clock and clock tower but is actually the nickname for the great bell of the clock. It is a short trip from your Safestay Hostel.  It can easily be reached by bus. Including walking time it is less than 20 minutes or take the tube (subway) right to the site.

You will find Big Ben which is actually the Elizabeth Tower at the north end of Westminster Palace. The Palace is home to the Houses of Parliament. The Tower was built in 1858 and is the third largest free standing clock tower in the world. Every capital can use a symbol like Big Ben.

Elizabeth Tower actually contains the largest four faced chiming clock in the world.

In 2012 the Clock Tower was renamed the Elizabeth Tower in honor of the Diamond Jubilee of Queen Elizabeth II. It was a tribute made to her in celebration of the 60th anniversary of her reign. This was considered entirely appropriate by the members of Parliament who voted for the measure since Queen Victoria had the large west tower at Westminster Palace named after her. This would occur during her own Diamond Jubilee in 1897.

Queen Victoria who reigned from 1837 to 1901 known as the Mother of Modern European Royalty was the great great grandmother of Queen Elizabeth II. Incidentally Prince Phillip husband to Queen Elizabeth is also a great great grandchild of Queen Victoria. That would make Elizabeth and Prince Philip third cousins. Not uncommon among European royals.

Elizabeth Tower was part of the plan for the new Westminster Palace after the old one was largely destroyed by fire in 1834. This was envisioned by Charles Barry the chief architect of the project although the Tower itself would actually be designed by Augustus Pugin.

The Tower was built in the style of Gothic Revival and is roughly 16 storeys high standing an impressive 96 meters tall which is about 315 feet.  Big Ben is a true showcase of the history of London.

The interior of the Tower is not open to foreign tourists despite its popularity. Residents of the United Kingdom can arrange a tour through their member of Parliament but this must be arranged well in advance. Since there is no lift (elevator) escorted guests must climb the 334 limestone constructed steps.

Due to changes in ground conditions and the construction of the Jubilee Line tube extension which magnified the tilt the tower now leans slightly to the northwest. The Tower has tilted an additional 0.9mm each year since 2003 making it quite visible to the naked eye at present.

The hour hand of the clock is 2.7 meters long (9 feet) and the minute hand is 4.3 meters long (14 feet).

The clock is known for its reliability and despite being hit and damaged during the Blitz in 1941 still managed to keep time accurately. The only major disruption came in 1976 due to a breakdown in a regulator. It took 26 days over 9 months to fix the clock.

In addition to the Great Bell “Big Ben” the belfry has 4 smaller bells which play “Westminster Quarters” on the quarter hours.

As of 2008 it has been recognized as the most popular landmark in the United Kingdom in a survey as well as being the most iconic film location in London.

On July 27 2012 Big Ben chimed 30 times beginning at 8:12 a.m. to welcome the beginning of the 30th Olympiad Games which began in London on that day.