Big Ben, London, UK Tourist Attractions and Travel

Big Ben, one of the world's largest four-faced clocks, is also one of London's best-known landmarks. The building is known as the Palace of Westminster and the clock tower is sometimes called St Stephen's Tower, although it is commonly referred to as Big Ben. Big Ben is actually the massive bell inside the clock tower, which weighs in at over 13 tons (13,760 kg). The name, which originally referred to the hour bell, was given in honor of Sir Benjamin Hall, the commissioner of works when the bell was installed in 1856.

 Big Ben travel, London Tourist Attractions

Famous around the world for keeping impeccable time, the Big Ben Clock Tower was fully operational on September 7th, 1859.  The Big Ben Clock is used to ring in the London New Year and is a rallying point for the New Year's celebration of the entire country of England.  The BBC also broadcasts the chiming of the bells on Remembrance Day to mark the 11th hour of the 11th day of the 11th month; the end of World War I.  A famous symbol of Parliament and all things English throughout the world, the Big Ben Clock is visible from many locations in London and is well worth visiting.

Big Ben picture, London, UK, Westminster Palace

Big Ben attractions

Big Ben the 320 foot high Clock Tower is named after the largest bell, weighing over 13 tons, and was cast in 1858 at the Whitechapel Bell Foundry in East London. To this day one of the largest bells they have ever cast. Each clock face is over 7m in diameter. When the Houses of Parliament | sits by night a light in the Clock Tower burns above Big Ben. Old pennies act as counterweights to ensure Big Ben keeps time to the nearest second. The Gothic masterpiece that are the present Houses of Parliament, were constructed between 1840 and 1888. North of the Palace is Westminster Abbey.


Big Ben is one of London's best-known landmarks, and looks most spectacular at night when the clock faces are illuminated.  You even know when parliament is in session, because a light shines above the clock face. The four dials of the clock are 23 feet square, the minute hand is 14 feet long and the figures are 2 feet high.  Minutely regulated with a stack of coins placed on the huge pendulum, Big Ben is an excellent timekeeper, which has rarely stopped. The name Big Ben actually refers not to the clock-tower itself, but to the thirteen ton bell hung within.  The bell was named after the first commissioner of works, Sir Benjamin Hall. This bell came originally from the old Palace of Westminster, it was given to the Dean of St. Paul's by William III.  Before returning to Westminster to hang in its present home, it was refashioned in Whitechapel in 1858. The BBC first broadcast the chimes on the 31st December 1923 - there is a microphone in the turret connected to Broadcasting House.  During the second world war in 1941, an incendiary bomb destroyed the  Commons chamber of the Houses of Parliament, but the clock tower remained intact and Big Ben continued to keep time and strike away the  hours, its unique sound was broadcast to the nation and  around the world, a welcome reassurance of hope to all who heard it. There are even cells within the clock tower where Members of Parliament can be imprisoned for a breach of parliamentary privilege, though this is rare; the last recorded case was in 1880. The tower is not open to the general public, but those with a "special interest" may arrange a visit to the top of the Clock Tower through their local (UK) MP.

 Big Ben tourism

The hour bell weighs 13 tons (13,760 kg) and is nine feet (2.7 m) in diameter and 7.5 feet (2.3m) high. It was cast at Whitechapel Bell Foundry in 1858, and rang for the first time from its spot over Westminster Palace on May 31, 1859. The clock tower is 316 feet (96 m) high. The dials of the clock are 23 feet (7 m) square; the minute hand is 14 feet (4.25 m) long and the figures are 2 feet (.6 m) high. It is a particularly accurate timepiece, and has rarely stopped in its long history.


When Parliament is in session, a light shines above the clock face. At night, the four clock faces are illuminated, making it a particularly impressive site.


UK nationals may climb the clock tower by prior arrangement; contact a local MK by calling: 020·7219·3000. Visitors from abroad can request a tour by writing at least three months in advance to: Clock Tower Tours, Parliamentary Works Services Directorate, 1 Canon Row, London, SW1A 2JN, England.

 Big Ben travel

How to get there:


By tube and rail: The closest tube station is Westminster, via District, Circle or Jubilee lines. The station is fully wheelchair accessible. Victoria, Charing Cross and Waterloo mainline stations are about a 20-minute walk away, and have connecting buses.


By bus: The closest stops are near Parliament Square on Victoria Street (opposite the Houses of Parliament) and near Trafalgar Square in Whitehall. All buses are wheelchair accessible.


By car: It's not recommended to arrive by automobile, since parking is scarce and expensive and the site is within the London congestion charge zone. If you choose to bring a car, there is a parking lot near Victoria Tower; spaces for disabled parking can be booked in advance. There are also disabled parking spaces on Great Peter Street, Smith Square, and by Methodist Central Hall on Matthew Parker Street. If you need to drop someone off, you may stop briefly just before the entrance to Victoria Gardens, towards Millbank.


By bicycle: Bicycles are not allowed within the parliamentary estate, but there are bike racks in front of 7 Millbank.


When most people heat the words "Big Ben" they immediately conjure up an image of the striking Victorian Gothic structure of the clock tower of the Palace of Westminster (the Houses of Parliament). Let's clear up a common misconception first; technically speaking, the name "Big Ben" does not refer to the famous tower, nor to the four huge clock faces of this London landmark; instead, it refers to the largest of the five bells inside the clock tower, whose chimes are such a familiar sound to listeners to BBC radio over the years.

 Big Ben attractions

The tower was begun following the disastrous fire which destroyed the old Palace of Westminster in 1834. Charles Barry was given the contract to rebuild the Palace, and his designs included a clock tower.


The Clock Tower


The clock tower looks spectacular at night when the four clock faces are illuminated. Each dial is 23 feet square, the minute hand is 14 feet long and the figures are two feet high. A special light above the clock faces is also illuminated, letting the public know when parliament is in session.


Big Ben's timekeeping is strictly regulated by a stack of coins placed on the huge pendulum. Big Ben has rarely stopped and even after an incendiary bomb destroyed the Commons chamber during the Second World War. The clock tower survived and Big Ben continued to strike the hours.

 Big Ben tourism

The chimes of Big Ben were first broadcast by the BBC on 31 December 1923, a tradition that continues to this day.


Big Ben History


The Palace of Westminster was destroyed by fire in 1834. In 1844, it was decided that the new buildings for the Houses of Parliament should include a tower and a clock. The bell was refashioned in Whitechapel in 1858 and the clock first rang across Westminster on 31 May 1859.


Just two months later, Big Ben cracked. A lighter hammer was fitted and the bell rotated to present an undamaged section to the hammer. This is the bell as we hear it today.


Why Ben?


The origin of the name Big Ben is not known, although two different theories exist.


The first is that is was named after Sir Benjamin Hall, the first commissioner of works, a large man who was known affectionately in the house as 'Big Ben'.

 Big Ben travel

The second theory is that it was named after the champion of the prize ring at that time, Benjamin Caunt. Also known as 'Big Ben' this nickname was commonly bestowed in society to anything that was the heaviest in its class.


The Tower


The clock tower of the Palace of Westminster took 13 years to build, and was completed in 1856. The tower is 316 feet high. The spire that rises above the belfry is built with an iron frame, and it is this frame which supports the weight of the bells. A staircase rises up inside the tower, and a climb is rewarded by excellent views from the belfry level. Several small rooms are built into the lower part of the tower, including a small prison cell.


The Clocks


The cast iron frame of the clock face was designed by AW Pugin, who was responsible for much of the Gothic decorative elements of the Palace of Westminster. The dials are 23 feet in diameter and the faces themselves are not solid, but is composed of many small pieces of opal glass, assembled like a stained glass window. Several of the central pieces of glass can be removed to allow inspection of the hands from inside the clock tower. The numbers on the clock faces are each two feet high. An inscription in Latin below each clock face translates as "God save our Queen Victoria ".

 Big Ben tourism

At the time of its construction the clock mechanism was easily the largest in the world, and it is still among the largest today. The clock mechanism, designed by Edmund Beckett Denison, has proven to be remarkably accurate over the years, allowing small adjustments to the clock's rate to be made by placing pennies on a small shoulder of the clock's pendulum!


The Hour Bell


Big Ben - the hour bell - is said to have been named after Sir Benjamin Hall, Commissioner of Works, who was known for his bulk, as is the bell! The first Big Ben hour bell was complete before the tower, so the bell was hung in New Palace Yard. After repeated public ringing the bell cracked, and had to be replaced by the current bell.


Facts and figures


The hour bell of Big Ben is 8 feet in diameter, weighs 13.5 tons, and was cast in 1858 by George Mears of the Whitechapel Bell foundry.

 Big Ben attractions

The bell had to be placed in a special wooden frame, turned on its side, and hoisted up the centre of the tower to the belfry. So heavy was Big Ben that the process took over 36 hours to complete. The bell began ringing the hours in July of 1859, but it cracked after only two months of use. Instead a recasting the bell, it was simply given a quarter turn, and a lighter hammer used to strike the hours.


The Chimes


The first BBC radio broadcast of the Big Ben chimes was on New Year's Eve, 1923. Later, permanent microphones were placed in the tower, and the sound of Big Ben became a familiar one to listeners, assuming great significance during WWII, when the chimes became a symbol of hope and home to BBC World Service listeners around the world.

 Big Ben travel

The best time to see Big Ben may be at night, when the clock faces are illuminated, as is the facade of the Palace of Westminster facing the Thames. The effect from Westminster Bridge or the far bank of the Thames can be breathtaking.


Tourists planning to visit Big Ben National Park will enjoy visiting this visual symbol of the United Kingdom.  Recent photos of the Big Ben Clock Tower often show the London Eye Millennium Wheel in the background; a nearby attraction that is also worth visiting.  Big Ben has and continues to stand tall as a powerful British icon and place for celebration.

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