The Elizabeth Tower (previously called the Clock Tower), named in tribute to Queen Elizabeth II in her Diamond Jubilee year, is more popularly known as Big Ben and on May 31st 1859, it went into full operation.
Despite being one of the world’s most famous tourist attractions, the interior of the tower is not open to overseas visitors, though United Kingdom residents are able to arrange tours (well in advance) through Members of Parliament.
However, the tower has no lift, so those escorted must climb the 334 limestone stairs to the top, so if you’re interested in taking the climb. I hope you’re in good shape before you start.
The clock and dials were designed by Augustus Pugin set inside an iron frame, which supports 312 pieces of opal glass, rather like a stained-glass window. Some of the glass pieces may be removed for inspection of the hands. The surround of the dials is gilded. At the base of each clock dial in gilt letters is the Latin inscription: DOMINE SALVAM FAC REGINAM NOSTRAM VICTORIAM PRIMAM, which means, “O Lord, keep safe our Queen Victoria the First.”
The clock’s movement is famous for its reliability. The designers were the lawyer and amateur horologist Edmund Beckett Denison, and George Airy, the Astronomer Royal. Construction was entrusted to clockmaker Edward John Dent; after his death in 1853 his stepson Frederick Dent completed the work, in 1854, but the tower was not complete until 1859.
The pendulum is installed within an enclosed windproof box beneath the clock room, and weighs in at 660 pounds and beats every 2 seconds.
In 2008 a survey of 2,000 people found that the tower was the most popular landmark in the United Kingdom. It has also been named as the most iconic film location in London, but how did Big Ben arrive at its nick name?
The origin of Big Ben’s name is probably rooted to a fellow by the name of Sir Benjamin Hall. Hall was reportedly a large man (6 ft. 4 in. or 1.93 m, with a girth to match) and over saw the construction of the clock tower.
On the side of the great bell there was also supposedly the inscription “Sir Benjamin Hall MP Chief Commissioner of Works” in his honor, so the workers and others took to calling the bell, “Big Ben”.
Another possibility in the parliaments of our time could have been a fellow by the name of Benjamin Caunt, a very popular heavyweight boxing champion in the 1850s in London, who was also nicknamed “Big Ben”.
As to why the clock tower was built in the first place, in 1834, a fire destroyed the Palace of Westminster then the seat of the British government leaving only a few parts of the palace standing. The next year, with reconstruction well on its way, Parliament opted to include a clock tower in the redesign.
In lieu of the today’s story, one of my favorite clock quotes is from an anonymous author, “Unlike clocks, hours have no reverse motion.”
In other words, it’s not the future your afraid of when time creeps in, it’s repeating the past that makes you anxious, which holds no reverse motion to change things around in your favor, which means stop looking at the clock and enjoy your life while you can.
Written and Designed by JD Mitchell