Big Ben may be one of the most iconic and truly British monuments in all of England. Although most people refer to Big Ben as the Clock Tower, that name was really given to only the bell itself. It was finished in 1859 and rang its first tone on July 11th of that year. The Clock Tower has now been renamed the Elizabeth Tower to honor Queen’s Elizabeth II’s Diamond Jubilee. Certainly worth seeing, it is the world’s largest four-faced clock that chimes.
Use an Oyster card which you can buy from a newsagents, garages, post offices, train stations or hundreds of other locations with prices starting at £2.00. This is also good for buses, London Overground Stations, National Rail Stations, and Tram stops. For 7 days or longer, look at a Travelcard.
- London Underground station (recommended): Closest station is the Westminster, on the District, Circle and Jubilee Lines. Look for the red circle with a horizontal line to mark a station. Maps are available at all the stations.
- Taxis: Taxi fares begin at £5.60 for a 1 mile journey with a minimum charge of £2.40. Booking a taxi by telephone incurs an extra £2.00 charge.
- Double Decker buses: Purchase Pay As You Go tickets starting at £1.35. Discounted fares are available for students and children. Bus routes going past Big Ben include:
Westminster Station – 3, 12.
Parliament Square – 3, 11, 12, 24, 53, 87, 148, 159, 453.
Westminster Abbey – 88, 148, 211.
- Barclay’s Cycle Hire: There’s an access fee plus usage charge. Check their costs page for full details. The nearest Docking Stations to Big Ben are:
– Abbey Orchard Street
– Westminster and Abingdon Green
– Great College Street.
The story of Big Ben begins on the night of October 16th, 1834, when the old Palace of Westminster was destroyed by fire. Built in a Gothic Revival style, the Clock Tower nicely compliments the Neo-gothic technique in which the new Parliament was built. It stands a stately 315 feet tall and commands the view from the River Thames. Although it is not certain, one theory suggested that the 16 ton Big Ben bell was named after Sir Benjamin Hall. A competing theory is that it was named after former heavyweight champion boxer Benjamin Caunt. On May 10, 1941, during a bombing raid by the Germans, two dials of the clock, some of the roof, and a chamber of the House of Commons were damaged. Throughout the war, the clock was never silenced though. The clock tower has been renamed the Elizabeth Tower to honor Queen Elizabeth II’s Diamond Jubilee. It follows a renaming of the large west tower to honor Queen Victoria on her Diamond Jubilee. Unfortunately, international visitors are not allowed to visit the interior; however United Kingdom residents can prearrange a tour through their Member of Parliament.
- The architecture of the clock and the tower was designed by Augustus Pugin. Although Pugin had completed similar building designs, this was his final architectural achievement before he went mad and died.
- The clockmaker who designed the clock mechanism was Edward John Dent, and after he died in 1853, his stepson, Frederick Dent finished the task. The mechanism was newly invented by Edward Dent and included a 660 pound pendulum.
- The mechanism itself weighs 5 tons. A stack of old pennies sits on top of the pendulum and is used to regulate the timing. Each penny changes the timing of the clock by 4/10s second each day.
- The dials are 23 feet in diameter. The clock itself is known for its reliability. At the bottom of each dial there is a Latin inscription in gilded letters saying, “DOMINE SALVAM FAC REGINAM NOSTRAM VICTORIAM PRIMAM.” Translated this means, “O Lord, keep safe our Queen Victoria the First.”
- The original bell was transported by a horse drawn trolley. However, it was not meant to be. The bell was mounted and tested and suffered irreparable damage during that process. A 13 ½ ton replacement bell was cast and hoisted to the tower, but it also cracked after just two months use. It was repaired and rotated slightly so the hammer struck in a different location. This is the bell that is still in use today.
- Since construction, changes in the ground and the construction of an extension of the Jubilee Underground line have now caused the tower to visibly tilt to the northwest.