Take a Tour of Big Ben and See How the Amazing Clock Works

Big Ben is almost synonymous with London as the very mention of the city conjures images of Big Ben, which is also borne out by the fact that it has become one of the most prominent symbols of the UK, having been made quite frequently the establishing shot of films set in London. Although Big Ben is loosely used to refer to the clock and the clock tower, it is actually the nickname of the clock at the north end of the Palace of Westminster in London. The tower was previously known as the Clock Tower but in 2012, it was renamed as Elizabeth Tower to celebrate the Diamond Jubilee of Elizabeth II. The chiming clock is four-faced and is the second largest such clock in the world, behind Minneapolis City Hall. The construction of the tower was completed in 1858 and its 150th anniversary was celebrated on 31 May 2009 with many celebratory events.

Clock Dial
The Great Clock of Westminster has a large dial in which the hour hand is 9 feet long and the minute hand is 14 feet long. Designed by Augustus Pugin, the clock dials are set in an iron frame 23 feet in diameter and it supports 312 pieces of opal glass, looking like a stained-glass window. The glass pieces have been set such that some of them can be removed to enable inspection of the hands. The surround of the dials is gilded and at the base of each clock dial, is the Latin inscription in gilt letters – DOMINE SALVAM FAC REGINAM NOSTRAM VICTORIAM PRIMAM, which means “O Lord, keep safe our Queen Victoria the First”. Most Roman numeral clock dials show the ‘4’ position as ‘IIII’ but the Big Ben clock faces depict ‘4’ as ‘IV’.

Movement and Clock Mechanism
The clock movement and its mechanism is extremely reliable having been designed by expert designers and constructed by famous clockmakers who invented the double three-legged gravity escapement and used it instead of the deadbeat escapement and remontoire as was originally designed. This innovation’s escapement provides the best separation between pendulum and clock mechanism. The pendulum which is 13 feet long and weighs 330 kg is installed within an enclosed windproof box under the clock-room. It is suspended on a strip of spring steel 1/64 inch in thickness and it beats every 2 seconds.

If you are visiting London, there is a lot that you can see but visiting Big Ben should be high on your agenda. For a comfortable stay in the city at a convenient location close to most of the attractions, The Marble Arch by Montcalm London Hotel would be your best option.

The mechanism for the clockwork is in a room below and weighs 5 tons. The adjustment of the time of the clock is done through a small stack of old penny coins that have been placed on top of the pendulum. By adding or removing a penny, the position of the pendulum’s centre of mass will be lifted or lowered and hence the rate at which the pendulum swings will be increased or decreased. It will change the clock’s speed by 0.4 seconds per day.

Two of the clock’s dials and sections of the tower’s stepped roof were damaged during a German bombing raid on 10 May 1941 that also destroyed the House of Commons chamber. Despite the heavy bombing, the clock ran accurately and chimed throughout the Blitz. During World War I, the bells were silenced and the clock face was not illuminated to avoid being hit by German Zeppelins. Even during World War II, the clock face was not illuminated on many occasions. There have been other malfunctions, breakdowns and interruptions in its operations due to several reasons.

Big Ben Tours
Big Ben is one of the prominent must-visit items on the list of any tourist and if you do not just wish to have a glance at it from outside and see what is there inside the tower, you should take a tour of Elizabeth Tower. The name ‘Big Ben’ is the nickname of the Great Bell inside the stunning tower, which is one of the most iconic sights in the city, which offers a spectacular view and has a colourful and inspiring history.

When you take a guided tour of Big Ben, you will need to climb 334 steps in order to reach the top of the 62 metre high clock tower so that you can hear the strike of the hour. Your tour will also take you to see the mechanism room where the working of Big Ben’s clock is explained. If you are a UK resident, you are free to take such a tour which is also free but if you are a visitor from abroad, you will need to get sponsored by a Member of Parliament or a Member of the House of Lords. Moreover, the tours tend to get sold out nearly six months in advance and as such you may need to wait for your turn.

The other criteria include that you have to be over 11 years old and have the physical capability to be able to climb all 334 steps without any help. You will not be allowed to take the tour if you have a heart-related illness or if you are in the later stages of pregnancy. You should also arrive with sensible footwear.

Did you like this? Share it:
Responses are currently closed, but you can trackback from your own site.

Comments are closed.