The Houses of Parliament and the clock tower, commonly called Big Ben, are among London's most iconic landmarks.
Technically, Big Ben is the massive bell inside the clock tower, which weighs more than 13 tons (13,760 kg).
Big Ben: London's Clock Tower
- The clock tower looks spectacular at night when the four clock faces are illuminated.
- Each dial is 23 feet square (49.15 square metres)
- Big Ben's minute hands are 14 feet long (4.26 metres)
- The figures on the face of Big Ben are two feet high (0.6 metres)
- A special light above the clock faces is also illuminated, letting the public know when parliament is in session.
- Big Ben's timekeeping is strictly regulated by a stack of coins placed on the huge pendulum.
- Big Ben has rarely stopped. Even after a bomb destroyed the Commons chamber during the Second World War, the clock tower survived and Big Ben continued to strike the hours.
- The chimes of Big Ben were first broadcast by the BBC on 31 December 1923, a tradition that continues to this day.
The History of Big Ben
The Palace of Westminster was destroyed by fire in 1834. In 1844, it was decided the new buildings for the Houses of Parliament should include a tower and a clock. The bell was refashioned in Whitechapel in 1858 and the clock first rang across Westminster on 31 May 1859.
Just two months later, Big Ben cracked. A lighter hammer was fitted and the bell rotated to present an undamaged section to the hammer. This is the bell as we hear it today.
London's Favourite Landmark: Why Ben?
The origin of the name Big Ben is not known, although two different theories exist.
The first is that is was named after Sir Benjamin Hall, the first commissioner of works, a large man who was known affectionately in the house as "Big Ben".
The second theory is that it was named after a heavyweight boxing champion at that time, Benjamin Caunt. Also known as "Big Ben", this nickname was commonly bestowed in society to anything that was the heaviest in its class.
Visiting Big Ben in London
The clock tower is not open to the general public. However, it is possible for UK residents to arrange a visit by writing to their MP. Applications should be made in writing, as far in advance as possible, to:
House of Commons
It is not possible for overseas visitors to tour the clock tower.