Big Ben is a colloquial term commonly used to describe the large bell inside the clock mechanism located at the northern extremity of the Palace of Westminster in the United Kingdom‘s capital, London. Although the moniker ‘Big Ben’ is often informally used to denote not just the bell but also the clock and the clock tower itself, the tower’s official name is the Elizabeth Tower. The tower was rechristened in 2012 in honor of the Diamond Jubilee of Queen Elizabeth II. The Elizabeth Tower is remarkable for several reasons; it is home to the world’s largest four-faced chiming clock and ranks as the third tallest free-standing clock tower globally.
Historical Context and Renaming
The Elizabeth Tower has not always gone by that name. Initially, it was simply referred to as the Clock Tower. It was renamed Elizabeth Tower in 2012 to commemorate Queen Elizabeth II’s Diamond Jubilee, marking 60 years on the throne. The decision to rename the tower was made by the British parliament, and it pays homage to the long-standing tradition of British monarchs making significant impacts during their reigns.
Components of the Tower
The Bell: Big Ben
The bell that is often referred to as Big Ben is not just any bell; it is a 13.5-ton behemoth made from a mixture of tin and copper. This bell is the main component that chimes to mark the hour. The term “Big Ben” originally referred solely to this great bell but has been extended in popular parlance to include the entire structure.
The Clock Mechanism
The clockwork mechanism that powers Big Ben is a marvel of 19th-century engineering. It is both highly precise and extremely reliable, with a margin of error of just two seconds per week. The clock uses a gravity-driven pendulum and was among the most accurate time-keeping devices of its era. The faces of the clock are illuminated, making it visible at night and a landmark at all hours.
The Tower: Elizabeth Tower
The tower that houses both the clock and the bell stands at a height of 315 feet (96 meters). This makes it the third tallest free-standing clock tower in the world. It is designed in the Gothic Revival style, which was prevalent during the time of its construction in the mid-19th century. The tower is made primarily of brick and limestone and has become an iconic symbol of both London and the United Kingdom as a whole.
Technical Specifications and Achievements
The Elizabeth Tower is renowned for holding the largest four-faced clock that not only chimes but also tells the time. It has become a symbol of punctuality and reliability, values that hold significant cultural importance in the United Kingdom.
Significance in Popular Culture
Big Ben and the Elizabeth Tower have transcended their functional roles to become cultural icons. They are frequently featured in literature, films, and television shows. The chimes of Big Ben are broadcast by the BBC and have been since New Year’s Eve 1923, marking the passage of time in a way that has become deeply embedded in British culture.
Accessibility and Tourism
The Elizabeth Tower and Big Ben are among London’s most visited landmarks. However, it is worth noting that the interior of the tower is not open to the general public. Tours are generally reserved for UK residents and must be pre-booked through a Member of Parliament.
In summary, while Big Ben is the name commonly used to refer to the large bell within the clock at the Palace of Westminster’s north end, it is technically incorrect to use the term for the clock and tower. The official name of the tower is the Elizabeth Tower, renamed in 2012 to honor Queen Elizabeth II’s Diamond Jubilee. The Elizabeth Tower is home to the world’s largest four-faced chiming clock and is the third tallest free-standing clock tower globally.
By delving into the details, it becomes evident that Big Ben and the Elizabeth Tower are not just architectural marvels but also symbols of British culture, engineering prowess, and a long-standing monarchy. The complex interplay between the tower’s various components—from the 13.5-ton bell to the intricately designed clock mechanism—make it a unique and awe-inspiring structure. It stands not only as a monument of the past but also as an enduring symbol that will likely continue to play a significant role in the cultural and historical landscape of the United Kingdom for generations to come.