Address: Westminster, London SW1A 0AA


Time: Tours

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Phone: 0207 219 4272

Entry Price: Free

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900m from Charing Cross

50m from Westminster

Big Ben is the name given by the public to the clock or clock tower on the north side of the Houses of Parliament. It’s not an official name and is actually the nickname of the bell inside the tower, believed to have been named after Sir Benjamin Hall, the Commissioner of Works or Benjamin Caunt, a boxing champion.

The origin of the Clock Tower can be traced back to October 1834, the night Parliament burnt down. Designs were invited for the new building and four hundred entries were received with the one selected being by Charles Barry. The committee then asked Barry to add a clock tower and he chose Augustus Pugin for the task. Pugin produced one in a Gothic style to a height of 316ft.

The clock and mechanism were a different matter. The committee chose Astronomer Royal George Airy to oversee the task. He recruited lawyer and amateur horologist Edmund Denilson to work with him with Denilson inventing the double three-legged gravity escapement to facilitate the required accuracy. Francis Dent was chosen to build the clock. It was 23ft in diameter.

In 1856 five bells were cast, one large bell for the hour strike and four small for the quarter hours. The main bell weighed 16 tons, 2 tons more than specified, and sat in New Palace Yard waiting for the tower to be completed. When testing in the yard in 1857, Denilson used a 6 cwt hammer instead of 4cwt because of the increase in size, and cracked the bell! In 1858 a new one was cast out of the old one and weighed 13.5 tons.

It was assembled in the tower in 1859, but this cracked after three months. It was turned slightly so the hammer hit a different spot and has continued this way until today. Electric lighting and winding had been introduced by 1912. The clock and chiming are focal points on occasions such as New Year celebrations and television news programmes.

For a visitor to London, this is possibly the most essential landmark to see, with a host of others being within walking distance.

Click on the pics below for an enlarged view and use the arrow towards the right edge of each pic to go on to the next.