Big Ben is the most iconic clock in all the world. It is located in London, England, and it rang for the first time on May 31, 1859. You may think that you know all there is to know about Big Ben, but you might not. Here are 15 huge facts about Big Ben.
At some point, the clock tower started being called, Big Ben. However, the name doesn’t refer to the clock or the tower. It actually refers to the largest of the five bells. Big Ben is 7-feet tall and is 9-feet in diameter. It weighs close to 14-tons. Big Ben rings in E-natural, while the other four chime in B-natural, E-natural, F-sharp, and G-sharp.
Big Ben’s Clock Tower Has Gone By Many Names
Although the whole structure is often referred to as Big Ben, for most of its life, it has been known simply as The Clock Tower, and the Victorian Press usually refers to it as St. Stephen’s Tower. In 2012, it took on a new name, Elizabeth Tower, in celebration of Queen Elizabeth’s Queen II’s 60-year reign. It has also been known as the Great Clock of Westminster. Big Ben has more names to keep up with.
The Bell Got Its Name From One Of Two Famous Bens
The original Ben that the bell was named after is a mystery. Many believe that the bell was named after Sir Benjamin Hall, a 19th-century engineer, and politician who was also very large. According to the story, Hall gave a speech on what the bell should be named, and he finished by saying, “Why not call him Big Ben and have done with it?” His name is inscribed on the bell, which gives this story validity. The other Ben is Benjamin Caunt, a champion heavyweight bare-knuckle boxer in the 19th century.
An Engineer and a Lawyer Designed the Clock’s Movements
You would think that the English government would have had a top clockmaker create the clock. Instead, Royal Astronomer Sir George Biddell Airy came up with specification so the clock. The movement was designed by Sir Edmund Beckett Denison, who was a lawyer, politician, and a railway promoter.
The Clockmaker Invented a New Mechanical System For Big Ben
Sir Airy hired a clockmaker named Edward John Dent to bring Sir Denison’s design to life. Sadly, in 1852, Dent passed away, one year before he was able to finish the job. The project was passed down to his stepson, Frederick Rippon Dent. Using Beckett’s Denison’s design, he managed to build the double, three-legged gravity escapement that eventually became the standard design for all clock towers.
Only Residents Of the UK Are Allowed Inside the Tower
Big Ben is one of England’s most popular tourist spots. However, if you don’t live in the UK, you cannot go inside the tower. Also, you need to be sponsored by a Member of Parliament of the House Of Lords. At the moment, none of this really matters because renovations are being made, and all tours have been suspended until 2021.
Reaching the Top Of the Tower Isn’t Easy
If you are lucky enough to be allowed to see Big Ben up close, you better be ready for a climb. There are no elevators. To get to the top, you need to climb a spiral staircase that has 334 steps.
It Took Over a Day To Get Big Ben In the Belfry
Getting a 14-ton bell into the belfry was no easy feat. When they tried taking it up the 334 steps, it cracked. This meant that they had to find another way to get it to the top. In the end, they used precise angling and winching up the 200-foot high climb, which wasn’t easy. The whole job took 30-hours.
The Tower Leans
Over the last 160 years, Big Ben now has a noticeable tilt. It leans about a foot an a half off the center, pointing to the northwest. Experts believe that the lean is due to the drying out of the London clay beneath the tower.
A Stack Of Coins Keep The Tower On Point
Big Ben doesn’t use modern methods to keep the time. It uses the old-fashioned method, the lucky penny. It is located on top of Big Ben’s swinging pendulum, making sure that it swings at a steady rate, keeping correct time. If just one coin is removed, it can change the time by 0.4 seconds per day. In 2009, three of the ten coins were replaced with a five-pound coin. This was done in honor of London hosting the 2012 Olympics.
The Clock Went Into Hiding During Times Of War
Typically, Big Ben is a beacon of English pride that is lit up at night and rings on the hour. During times of war, the clock goes into hiding. The lights are dimmed, and the chimes are silenced to keep invading enemies from attacking the clock. During World War I, the face of the clock was dark, and the chimes were silent for two years. During World War II, the face was dark, but the bells still chimed.
German Bombs Couldn’t Stop the Clock From Ticking
Although steps were taken to draw attention away from Big Ben, the German military managed to drop a bomb on the clock tower. It resulted in the destruction of the House of Commons chamber and damaged Big Ben’s roof and dials. Fortunately, the clock remained functional.
Time Was Stopped By Birds
In 1949, a flock of starlings decided to perch on Big Ben’s minute hand. So many birds gathered together that their weight caused the clock to slow by over 4 ½ minutes. The issue was fixed within a few hours.
The Clock’s First Major Shutdown Occurred in 1976
Over the years, the bells and chimes of Big Ben have taken breaks. It took over 100 years for the clock to have its first significant breakdown. In August 1976, general wear and tear threw the mechanisms into dysfunction, which led to failures over the next nine months. In May 1977, Big Ben was back in service.
Ben Stopped Chiming In 2017
In late August 2017, Big Ben went silent. They were silenced intentionally to protect the people working on the clock. It is going to be a four-year project, and the clock will be dismantled piece by piece.