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50 Fascinating facts about Big Ben!

A London icon built in honour of Queen Victoria, Big Ben has been ringing every fifteen minutes since the mid-19th century, keeping Londoners punctual to this day! Read on and become a Big Ben expert.

Big Ben is easily accessible off our main routes. So, buy your bus tour tickets and hop off at stop 10 on the yellow route or stop 3 on the blue route to see first-hand the legendary clock tower!

 

  1. While everyone knows this iconic landmark as Big Ben, the structure used to be known as “The Clock Tower”. In 2012, however, the official name was changed to Elizabeth Tower, marking the historic Diamond Jubilee of Queen Elizabeth II.
     
  2. Although Big Ben is commonly used to refer to the tower as a whole, the nickname actually refers directly to the clock tower’s largest bell, weighing a staggering 13.7 tons.
     
  3. The tower was designed by the English architect Augustus Pugin and completed in 1859.
     
  4. Literally towering at a height of 96 meters, Big Ben features 334 steps for those willing to take the challenge of climbing from the ground floor to the belfry!
     
  5. Pretty appearances aside, the clock featured on the tower is renowned for its precision and accuracy. Upon its completion, the clock was known around the world as both the largest and most accurate four-faced chiming clock on the planet.
     
  6. The origin of the bell’s nickname is uncertain. One popular account states that it was named after Benjamin Caunt, a heavyweight boxing champion. Another contends that it was named after Sir Benjamin Hall, a Welsh Civil Engineer who oversaw the construction.
     
  7. Big Ben still uses its original Victorian mechanism to ring the bells. However, the tower features a modern electric motor as a back-up in case the old mechanism fails, keeping the clock’s fellow Londoners punctual! 
     
  8. The base of each clock dial features the Latin inscription: Domine Salvam fav Reginam Nostram Victoriam Primam. This translates to 'O Lord, keep safe our Queen Victoria the First'.
     
  9. The clock stopped at 10:07 p.m. on 27 May 2005, most likely due to an extremely hot temperature of 31.8 degrees Celsius.
     
  10. During a test in 1857, the original bell cracked. A second replacement bell was cast shortly after in April of the following year.
     
  11. This replacement bell cracked as well in 1859. Those in charge of the bell solved the issue by rotating the bell a quarter of the way clockwise and using a lighter hammer to chime it.
     
  12. 23 light bulbs illuminate each of the clock faces. Every light bulb on each clock face enjoys a lifetime of over 60,000 hours. That’s almost 7 years!
     
  13. The clock accurately broadcasts the time to local on-lookers, correct to within a single second.
     
  14. The clock tower was struck by a German bomb in 1941. While minor ornamental work became tarnished, attempts to destroy the clock completely proved unsuccessful.
     
  15. Despite the clock’s renowned accuracy, severe weather conditions have altered the time at which the bells chime. On New Year’s Eve in 1962, of all days, heavy ice and snow caused a delay in the chime, making Big Ben to ring a whole ten minutes late.
     
  16. While Big Ben famously draws tourists from all around the world, the tower’s interior is only accessible to United Kingdom residents. To exercise this right, residents must arrange a tour through their Member of Parliament well in advance.
     
  17. Because ground conditions have altered since Big Ben’s original construction, it tilts slightly to the north-west by roughly 230 millimetres. For all those concerned, experts say that the tower’s lean should not be a problem for about another 5,000 to 10,000 years.
     
  18. Various thermal effects throughout the year cause the tower to oscillate a few millimetres east and west.
     
  19. Journalists often referred to the tower as St. Stephen’s Tower during the reign of Queen Victoria, alluding to the fact that MPs would sit at St. Stephen’s Hall.  All House of Commons affairs were thus described as 'news from St. Stephen’s'. In Welsh, this usage continues, with the Westminster district known as 'San Steffan'.
     
  20. Breaking tradition, the Roman numeral denoting 4 o’clock is depicted as IV and not IIII, unlike most Roman numeral clock dials.
     
  21. Clock maintenance experts use penny coins to make tiny adjustments to the time. Adding or removing a penny coin can change the clock's speed by up to 0.4 seconds a day!
     
  22. To ensure accurate time keeping, workers hand wind the clock three times a week. Each winding takes workers about 1.5 hours to complete.
     
  23. Paying tribute to one of Britain’s most well-respected statesmen, the bells were silenced during the funeral of former Prime Minister Winston Churchill.
     
  24. The clock experienced its first and only major breakdown in 1976. When the air brake speed regulator failed, it caused significant damage to the clock and required a shutdown for a total of 26 days over 9 months.
     
  25. Making Big Ben stand out proudly in the London skyline, both the clock’s dials and belfry are illuminated at night.
     
  26. Big Ben serves as the focal point of New Year celebrations in the United Kingdom.
     
  27. Big Ben chimed 30 times on 27 July 2012 8:12 am to welcome the 30th Olympic Games.
     
  28. Snapshots and pictures of Big Ben are often used in film and television to establish that a scene is about to take place in London.
     
  29. Big Ben has been undergoing major renovations since August 2017 and has since silenced its chimes. The bell is expected to resume tolling in 2022.
     
  30. While Big Ben has been silenced, it will nevertheless continue to strike on important dates such as Remembrance Sunday and New Year’s Eve.
     
  31. When Brexit occurred on 29 March 2019, various conservative MPs wanted Big Ben to chime. After several weeks of talks, Big Ben ultimately did not chime.
     
  32. The tower’s belfry houses 4 quarter bells. These bells are tuned to G-sharp, F-sharp, B, and E.
     
  33. Each quarter bell has a different tone so that people can recognize which quarter hour it is without having to actually look at the clock.
     
  34. The large bell itself strikes to the musical note of ‘E’ every hour on the dot!
     
  35. While Big Ben is the nickname of the bell, it is officially called the Great Bell.
     
  36. 1 January 1924 was the first time that Big Ben’s chimes were broadcast over the radio.
     
  37. The window panes that form each of the four clock faces are so fragile that even a bird crashing into them could break them.
     
  38. Originally, each dial was supposed to be made out of cast iron. That material proved too heavy, so instead they used gunmetal for the hour hand and a hollow copper equivalent for the minute hand, due to its larger size.
     
  39. Big Ben holds the record for being the largest bell cast by East London’s Whitechapel Bell foundry. Aside from Big Ben, the foundry is also famous for casting America’s treasured symbol of independence, the Liberty Bell.
     
  40. Legend says that if Big Ben ever strikes 13 times, the lion statues in Trafalgar Squares will come to life. Depending on the version of the story, these lions will either defend or ravage the city!
     
  41. The last time Big Bell fell silent before the most recent repairs was in 2007, also for maintenance repairs.
     
  42. To transport the bell originally, Big Ben went on a journey down the River Thames on a barge.
     
  43. After the bell’s river cruise, 16 horses subsequently drew the bell across the bridge and dropped it off at the Clock Tower.
     
  44. The bell tower features its own prison cell, supposedly designated for unruly MPs.
     
  45. Each clock face is truly a glasswork masterpiece, made up of 312 opal glass shards.
     
  46. The current renovations will provide the bell tower with its first ever toilet.
     
  47. It took 6 years to complete construction of the tower after its foundation was dug in 1843.
     
  48. So far, Big Ben has chimed during the reign of British monarchs Victoria, Edward VII, George V, Edward VIII, George VI, and currently Elizabeth II.
     
  49. To comply with wartime blackout rules, the clock faces remained unlit during World War II.
     
  50. During George V’s Christmas broadcast on the Empire Service, in 1932 Big Ben’s chimes were heard by an international audience for the first time.

To this day, Big Ben continues to attract visitors from all over the world! To see this historic sight in person, hop on our buses and hop off at stop 10 on the yellow route or stop 3 on the blue route. Take the opportunity to see the world’s most famous clock tower by booking your London sightseeing tour.