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Big Ben History

A Short History of Big Ben's Timekeeping

History of the Tower

The History of this iconic landmark is as dramatic as its stunning architecture. It all begins in 1834 when a fire ravaged the Palace of Westminster, destroying the majority of the buildings.

When the time came to rebuild, there was an open invitation to architects and, after much debate, Charles Barry was chosen. Parliament asked him to add a clock tower to his design and he was happy to oblige them. Unfortunately, he was not a clockmaker and after a few attempts to find one, Parliament chose George Airy to find one.

Airy wrote up an exhaustive list of requirements that the clock should meet. Among them was the desire that the hourly strike would be accurate to within one second. Many felt that this, and Airy’s other requirements were impossible to realize.

Then Edmund Beckett Denison, an amateur clockmaker, began work on the problem. Along with Edward Dent, he designed a clock that featured a double three-legged gravity escapement. This was an innovative step in clock-making.’

The Bell was originally made by Warners of Cripplegate but unfortunately it cracked under testing. This bell was smashed up and re-cast by the Whitechapel Foundry and became what is now known as ‘Big Ben’ or ‘The Great Bell.’ When it was transported to Westminster, it was placed on a trolley and pulled along by sixteen horses. Crowds of cheering people lined the streets.

It was so wide that it had to be turned on its side to be pulled up the tower. It took a team of men thirty hours to winch the behemoth bell up into the belfry. Finally it was done.

But then, disaster struck. The Bell cracked just three months in. For four years it sat silently in the Tower while the smaller bells chimed the hours away.

Then the hammer was changed, the crack was prevented from spreading and the Bell was rotated by a fractional amount. Big Ben was ready to sing out once more. But the crack has left a lasting impression and gives the Bell its off-key, unique sound to this day.

On 25 June 2012 it was announced that the tower was to be renamed the Elizabeth Tower in recognition of the Diamond Jubilee of Queen Elizabeth II.


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