The Tower of Big Ben, at the north-eastern edge of the British Houses of Parliament, on the bank of the Thames at Westminster Bridge, is a dominant point of the London skyline. It has become a symbol of the city and of all things British.
The gothic revival tower was designed by Augustus Pugin for architect Charles Barry’s rebuild of the Palace of Westminster, which had been destroyed by fire in 1834. The stone-clad, brick structure is topped with a framed spire of cast iron. The clock faces and gilded dials, also designed by Pugin, are set in a 7 metre frame and covered with 312 pieces of opal glass. Gilded inscriptions at the bas e of the clock-face read “Domine salvat fac reginam nostram Victoriam Primam” “God save Victoria the first, our Queen”
The clock’s mechanism was designed by lawyer and amateur horologist, Edmund Beckett Deniston. It is famously reliable, ticking its way even through the Blitz without missing a beat. The only major breakdown occurred on August 5, 1976, due to metal fatigue, which put the clock out of action until May 9, 1977.
The name Big Ben, now applied to the tower and the clock, comes in fact from the largest of its bells. Officially, and appropriately, known as the Great Bell, it weighs 14.5 tonnes. It was cast by Warners of Cripplegate, in Stockton-on-Keys on August 10, 1856. The bell is thought to have been named either after Sir Benjamin Hall, commissioner of works at the time or the contemporary heavyweight boxer, Benjamin Caunt.
Big Ben is the largest four-faced chiming clock in the world. It is probably the famous and reputedly the most reliable. It is the certainly the arbiter of British time; it rings in every New Year; its chimes echo up and down the Thames, marking the time for the people who live and work within earshot; they echo through radios across the nation and millions of timepieces tick to its beat.
It is possible to tour the tower and see the great clock and its bells from the inside but only by prior arrangement. UK residents can arrange a visit by writing to their MPs and overseas visitors can request a tour by writing, 3 months in advance, to;
Clock Tower Tours, 1 Parliamentary Works services Directorate, 1 Canon Row, London, SW1A 2JN