Undoubtedly, Big Ben is one of the most iconic and popular landmarks in London and a symbol of everything British. The Westminster Clock Tower is attracting thousands of tourists every year and has been a setting for numerous TV series and movies. But how much do you know about the prominent attraction? Here are some of the most interesting facts and figures to help you explore the hidden side of Big Ben.
1. It’s Not What You Think It Is
Big Ben is actually the bell inside the tower, not the clock itself. The tower is officially known as Elizabeth Tower since 2012 and was renamed as such to commemorate the Diamond Jubilee of Elizabeth II. Before that it was simply referred to as “Clock Tower.” The huge bell is the world’s second largest chiming clock with four faces after the Minneapolis City Hall.
2. “Big Ben” Is A Not Even A Real Name
Although both locals and tourist affectionately refer to it as Big Ben, it is a common misconception. This is a nickname of what is the Great Bell. There are different theories about the origins of “Big Ben”, the most probable being that the bell was named after Sir Benjamin Hall who was the First Commissioner of Works (1855 -1858). According to another theory the name of the Great Bell is a tribute to Ben Caunt – 1850’s champion heavyweight boxer.
3. Big Ben’s Birthday
The Clock Tower was completed in 1859, but due to 5 year delays there were no celebrations for the opening of the tower. Big Ben started working on 31st May 1859, but first chimed the hour on 11th July the same year. With its 95 metre (315ft), the structure is largest clock in the United Kingdom. The Bell inside the belfry is over 7 feet tall and it weighs about the same as an elephant.
4. Big Ben Was Designed By A Lawyer
Surprisingly the clock mechanism itself was not designed by a professional clockmaker, but by the lawyer Edmund Denison. The initial design was developed by Edward Dent, but Denison made various modifications and was credited as chief designer. There is a Latin inscription in gold letters on the bottom of each clock faces that states “DOMINE SALVAM FAC REGINAM NOSTRAM VICTORIAM PRIMAM”. This means “Oh Lord, keep safe our Queen Victoria the First.”
5. This Is Not the Original Big Ben
The Original Big Ben cracked in 1857, because of the weight of the cracking hammer. There are several malfunctions, breakdowns and interruptions. During the World War I the clock face was darkened and the bells were silenced in the night in order to prevent attacks. Again in the World War II the clock face was darkened. In 1949 the clock was slowed down by a flock of starlings.
6. Keeping It Punctual
To ensure that the clock always shows the right time, it is adjusted every year by using old English pennies. If the clock is running fast, a penny is added in the pendulum. If it runs fast, a penny is removed from it.
7. Big Ben’s Cleaning Routine
The cleaning of the clock faces takes place every five years. In order to reach the glass panes the windows washers rappels down the belfry. The clock doesn’t require any fancy cleaning products – only soap and water.