Big Ben; The famous clock in the World

Articles > Big Ben; The famous clock in the World


It is situated in Westminster, London, England. It is a clock tower. It is also known as the Elizabeth Tower. The name Elizabeth Tower was given to it in the year 2012 to mark the Diamond Jubilee of Elizabeth II, Queen of United Kingdom. It is designed in neo-Gothic style and was designed by Augustus Pugin. It was completed in the year 1859. From that time it was the largest and most accurate four-faced striking and chiming clock in the World.


                                                                               Fig 1: Big Ben; the Clock Tower in London

                                                                                                courtesy: Wikipedia

The building

The tower is 96 meters (315 feet) tall. One has to climb 334 steps from the ground level to reach the belfry. The whole tower base is square-shaped having 12 meters (39 feet) on each side. All four clocks are having dials of 7 meters (23 feet) in diameter. The Tower’s 150th  anniversary was celebrated on 31st May 2009. The whole tower consists of a total of 11 floors. The clocks use the original Victorian mechanism and also use an electric motor as a backup.

The dials of the clocks were designed by Augustus Pugin taking inspiration from Benjamin Lewis Vulliamy. Each of the dials is made of cast iron sections and bolted together. The whole frame of the dial contains 315 pieces of opalescent glass. Originally the dials were backlit by using gas lamps when the Parliament was sitting. They have been illuminated from dusk until dawn since the year 1876. At the base of each dial, a Latin inscription was there whose meaning is to pray Lord to keep their Queen Victoria the First. At the time of completion, the frame and hands were painted as Prussian blue, but in the year 1930, it was painted black to prevent the effect of pollution.


                                                                                      Fig 2: a close view of the clock face

                                                                                                  courtesy: GETTY


The tower is designed in the art of Gothic Revival style. 61 meters from the bottom of the tower consists of brickwork with sand-colored limestone cladding. The remaining portion of the tower’s height is a framed spire of cast iron. The tower stands on a raft foundation having a square size of a dimension of 15.2 meters (50 feet). It is made of 3-meter thick concrete at a depth of 4 meters below the ground level. The volume of the interior portion is about 4650 cubic meters. Though it is one of the most famous tourists attraction all over the world, the interior portion of the tower is not open to overseas visitors. But residents of the United Kingdom were able to pay a visit through their Member of Parliament before current repair works. The tower has no existing lift though one is being installed, so visitors have to climb up the 334 limestone stairs to the top.


                                                                                       Fig 3: Big Ben sounding experiment

                                                                                                  Courtesy: GETTY

It is reported that the tower leans slightly to the north-west by roughly 230 millimeters over 55 meters in height. It gives an inclination of about 1 in 240. This is because of the changes in the ground condition. There is an increase in tilt due to the tunneling action for the Jubilee line extension. Experts believed that the tower’s lean would not be a problem for another 4000 to 10000 years. The tower oscillates in a direction towards east and west annually due to thermal effects.

Cultural Significance

The Clock Tower has become the cultural symbol of the United Kingdom, especially in visual media. When a filmmaker wishes to indicate a generic location in the country, a famous way to do this by showing an image of the tower often with a red double-decker bus or black cab in the foreground. In a survey done in 2008, it was found to be the most popular landmark in the United Kingdom. It is also known as the iconic film location in London. The sound of the clock chiming is also used in audio media. The clock tower is the focal point of New Year celebrations in the United Kingdom, with radio and television stations airing their chimes to welcome the New Year. For example, in the welcome ceremony of 2012, the clock tower is lit with fireworks that exploded at every toll of Big Ben. On Remembrance Day, to mark the 11th hour of the 11th day of the 11th month and the start of the two minutes silence, the chimes of Big Ben are broadcast. The chimes of Big Ben are also used at the state funerals of monarchs on three occasions.

Some interesting facts about Big Ben


The houses of Parliament and iconic Big Ben are some of the most famous landmarks in the United Kingdom. The tower has stood freely for over 150 years. The clock tower is famous for its reliability and accuracy. Everyone eagers to have a look at the fascinating sight of the famous tower near-by, especially at night when the clock faces are illuminated.


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