Big Ben is the nickname for the great bell of the clock at the north-eastern end of the Palace of Westminster in London, and is often extended to refer to the clock or the clock tower as well. Big Ben is the largest four-faced chiming clock and the third-tallest free-standing clock tower in the world. It celebrated its 150th anniversary in May 2009 (the clock itself first ticking on 31st May).
A clock tower was built at Westminster in 1288, with the fine-money of Ralph Hengham, Chief Justice of the King's Bench.
The present tower was raised as a part of Charles Barry's design for a new palace, after the old Palace of Westminster was destroyed by fire on the night of 22 October 1834.
The new Parliament was built in a Neo-gothic style. Although Barry was the chief architect of the Palace, he turned to Augustus Pugin for the design of the clock tower, which resembles earlier Pugin designs, including one for Scarisbrick Hall. The design for the Clock Tower was Pugin's last design before his final descent into madness and death, and Pugin himself wrote, at the time of Barry's last visit to him to collect the drawings: "I never worked so hard in my life for Mr. Barry for tomorrow I render all the designs for finishing his bell tower & it is beautiful.?
- The tower is designed in Pugin's celebrated Gothic Revival style, and is 96.3 meters (315.9 ft) high (roughly 16 stories).
- The bottom 61 meters (200 ft) of the Clock Tower's structure consists of brickwork with sand colored Anston limestone cladding.
- The remainder of the tower's height is a framed spire of cast iron. The tower is founded on a 15-metre (49 ft) square raft, made of 3-metre (9.8 ft) thick concrete, at a depth of 4 meters (13 ft) below ground level.
- The four clock faces are 55 meters (180 ft) above ground.
- The interior volume of the tower is 4,650 cubic meters (164,200 cubic feet).
Despite being one of the world's most famous tourist attractions, the interior of the tower is not open to the general public due to security concerns, although from time to time press and other VIPs are granted access. However, the tower has no elevator, so those escorted must climb the 334 limestone stairs to the top.
Significance in popular culture
The clock has become a symbol of the United Kingdom and London. The sound of the clock chiming has also been used this in audio media, but as the Westminster Quarters are heard from other clocks and other devices, the unique nature of this sound has been considerably diluted.
The Clock Tower is a focus of New Year celebrations in the United Kingdom, with radio and TV stations tuning to its chimes to welcome the start of the year. Similarly, on Remembrance Day, the chimes of Big Ben are broadcast to mark the 11th hour of the 11th day of the 11th month and the start of two minutes' silence.
Londoners who live an appropriate distance from the Clock Tower and Big Ben can, by means of listening to the chimes both live and on the radio or television, hear the bell strike thirteen times on New Year's Eve. This is possible due to what amounts to a offset between live and electronically transmitted chimes since the speed of sound is a lot slower than the speed of radio waves. Guests are invited to count the chimes aloud as the radio is gradually turned down. The Cavendish London is an ideally located Big Ben Hotel for breaks in London.
A survey of 2,000 people found that the tower was the most popular landmark in the United Kingdom, Big Ben was polled as the Most Iconic London Film Location.††