Facts about Big Ben

Big ben facts
  1. In a nutshell: Big Ben is a nickname for the bell at Westminster Palace in London, United Kingdom. Big Ben rang for the first time on July 11, 1859
  2. Name: When most English people, as well as tourists, say ‘Big Ben’, they are referring to the clock and clock tower as well as the clockwork in the tower. However, Big Ben is simply a term for the largest of the bells in the tower. This bell is also called the ‘Great Bell’, but since the nickname Big Ben is much more memorable, this name has become the most popular
  3. The origin of the name: The origin of the name Big Ben is unclear, but there are two popular theories, the most plausible being that it comes from British politician and civil engineer Sir Benjamin Hall, who oversaw the hanging of the original bell and had his name engraved on it. The other theory is that the name comes from the boxer Benjamin Caunt, who was called ‘Big Ben’ and was heavyweight champion at around the same time the bell was forged and erected.
  4. Elizabeth Tower: From its construction in 1834 until 2012, Big Ben’s tower was called ‘Clock Tower’. For Queen Elizabeth’s (Elizabeth II of Great Britain) Diamond Jubilee, the tower was renamed ‘Elizabeth Tower’. It is sometimes colloquially referred to as St Stephen’s Tower, although the real St Stephen’s Tower is a small tower above the public entrance to the Palace of Westminster
  5. Tick tock: The original bell weighed 16.3 tons and was dragged to the tower by 16 horses to the cheers of the crowds in 1856. Unfortunately, the bell broke during testing and was replaced by a 13.76-ton bell
  6. Biggest bell: Big Ben was the largest bell in Britain from its construction until the hanging of ‘Great Paul’, a 16.75-ton bell forged in 1881 and now hanging in St. Paul’s Cathedral in London
  7. Ur: The dial is 7 meters in diameter and consists of an iron frame with 312 pieces of opal glass. Some of the glass pieces can be removed to inspect the watch hands
  8. Watch hands: At the bottom of each clock hand is the following inscription in gilded letters: DOMINE SALVAM FAC REGINAM NOSTRAM VICTORIAM PRIMAM. The inscription is in Latin and means: “O Lord, keep our Queen Victoria the First safe”. The minute hand is 2.7 meters long and the hour hand is 4.3 meters long
  9. Kimen: Big Ben rings every 15 minutes and its chimes can be heard up to 5 miles away
  10. Time setting: On top of the pendulum is a small stack of old British penny coins, which are used to set the time. Adding or removing a coin changes the speed of the clock by 0.4 seconds per day. If the clock is running too fast, you add a coin, and if it’s running too slow, you remove one
The clock face of Big Ben is 7 meters in diameter
Attribution: DAVID HOLT – Flickr.com

Big Ben’s dial is 7 meters in diameter and consists of an iron frame with 312 pieces of opal glass. Some of these glass pieces can be removed to inspect the watch’s hands


Big Ben’s history

September 28, 1843: Construction of the two bell towers begins

February 1952: Clockmaker Edward John Dent wins the right to design Big Ben in a competition

1853: Edward John Dent passes away, but his stepson, Frederick Dent, completes the bell in 1854

August 6, 1854: A 16.3-ton bell is forged in Stockton-on-Tees (Northern England) by John Warner & Sons. In 1857, a 1.2 meter long crack appears in the bell, which is impossible to repair

April 10, 1859: George Mears forges the new 13.3-ton bell at the Whitechapel Bell Foundry (London)

1859: The bell tower is completed (5 years later than planned)

May 31, 1859: The clock starts keeping time

July 11, 1859: Big Ben rings for the first time

September 1859: Two months after the bell was put into use, it cracks after a blow from the bell hammer. The bell does not ring for the next four years. In 1863, the bell starts ringing again, but the hammer now strikes an undamaged part of the bell. The crack from 1859 is still in the bell today

1923: Big Ben’s ring is broadcast for the first time to Brits over the radio by the BBC on New Year’s Eve

August 5, 1976: Nine months of repair begins

2007: Seven week repair

2009: Big Ben celebrates its 150th birthday, which is marked with various events throughout the year

September 12, 2012: The ‘Clock Tower’ is renamed the ‘Elizbeth Tower’ for Queen Elizabeth’s Diamond Jubilee (her 60th year on the throne)