Wednesday, June 10, 2009


I’m not surprised to hear that Michelle Obama and her daughters were very keen to visit Big Ben during their private tour of London this week. With its distinctive chimes, Big Ben is one of London’s most famous landmarks and a very popular tourist attraction. The famous icon recently celebrated its 150th anniversary. It is the biggest chiming clock tower in the world. However the name, “Big Ben” actually refers to the 13.5 tonne bell inside rather than the clock itself. The death of the monarch is usually marked by the tolling of the bell. Big Ben is a magnificent piece of Victorian engineering that was built to last for hundreds of years. The famous clock tower in Parliament Square and the Palace of Westminster were commissioned in 1834, after a fire destroyed most of the original Houses of Parliament. The clock was designed by Edmund Beckett Denison, a member of Parliament. It was completed in 1854 and installed in 1859, after the clock tower was completed. The bell was made in Whitechapel and sent out its first chimes in July of that year. Many people believe the clock is electronic, but this is not the case. Big Ben is clockwork and driven by weights which need regular winding. The clock is wound by hand three times a week on Monday, Wednesday and Friday. The whole process takes over an hour as it isn’t possible to wind the clock whilst it is chiming. The clock’s hour hand was famously immobilised in 1944 when a flock of starlings chose it for a perch! The clock face is usually cleaned by abseilers about every five years. Westminster’s famous landmark clock was silenced for the first time in 51 years in August 2007, when the final phase of work to clean the four clock faces and replace parts took place in preparation for the clock’s 150th anniversary celebration. London tourists and spectators were surprised to see engineers and workers abseiling down the south clock face to repair and clean it. Big Ben was named Britain’s favourite attraction in a recent poll and still holds a special place in many people’s hearts. Big Ben’s chimes can be downloaded as a ringtone at:-


SandyCarlson said...

Big Ben is an amazing bit of science and art. The anecdote about the starlings is a great reminder of how vulnerable even the mightiest of machines can be.

Naomi said...

It certainly is Sandy. You wouldn't think that starlings could immobilise a big clock like that!