Monday, May 31, 2010

It Keeps on Ticking

Magnet # 256:  Big Ben

Material:  Plastic

Purchased By:  Dad

It stands in one of the busiest areas in the world, often ignored by the natives, but photographed by many a tourist, as it is an internationally recognized landmark that has appeared in many a film or television show set in London. And it was on this very day in 1859 that Big Ben began ticking and its Great Bell began chiming.  Of course, some might argue that Big Ben really refers to the nine foot tall bell that hangs inside the bell tower and is pretty much never seen by the public, but with time, the name of the Great Bell has expanded to refer to the entire giant clock and tower located at the Palace of Westminster's north end.  Nowadays, mention Big Ben and pretty much everyone you're speaking to will picture the same image that's depicted on this magnet, but it is interesting to learn the origins of the name, and the structure itself.

The Palace of Westminster has been a very important site strategically and politically ever since it was built in the eleventh century.  After it suffered a second great fire in 1834, Parliament made plans to rebuild on what remained of the original structure.  It was at this time that it was decided that a giant clock tower would be built almost as an afterthought, but the creation of the structure created a great deal of competition and invention.  Charles Barry was working as the architect on the project, and when he invited a particular clockmaker to design and create the clock, others in the field demanded a competition.  However, it was so difficult to create the perfectly accurate clock that was expected that the Astronomer Royal was brought in to help with its creation.  Finally, one of the most accurate clocks ever was installed in the clock tower at the Palace of Westminster.  And the Great Bell was an equally difficult challenge.  The first bell produced for the project cracked and was unable to be repaired, but another was created at the Whitechapel Bell Foundry and it would be their largest ever, even if it, too, would crack just two months after it began ringing high atop London.  But it remains in place to this day and is the true Big Ben of the Palace of Westminster.  So just who was the Big Ben in whose honor the bell and, later, the clock tower were named?  Well, that's believed to be Sir Benjamin Hall, the commissioner of works at the time the bell was installed.  He was also a Member of Parliament and he made important sanitary and environmental upgrades in the city of London during his tenure.  Hall, a tall and imposing man himself, was nicknamed "Big Ben" and it's thought that his fellow members of Parliament named the bell after him in appreciation of his hard work on their country's behalf.  Not too many public servants can claim such an honor, especially not one that has lasted so long.  Big Ben just celebrated its 150th anniversary last year, and it has become one of the most recognizable symbols of its city.  Big Ben has continued faithfully over the decades, although events such as bad weather and the Blitz have temporarily silenced its chimes or dimmed its clock faces.  The clock was wound by hand until 1913, but an electric motor now ensures its continuation and accuracy.  Although the great fire of 1834 may have succeeded where Guy Fawkes and his conspirators failed, destroying nearly all of the Palace of Westminster, the seat of the British government, it also made the creation of Big Ben possible.  And now, Britain has a very striking, reconstructed complex for its Houses of Parliament to meet in as well as one of the largest and most impressive four-faced clocks in the world to keep ticking the minutes by, inspiring them to remember the past and strive for an even better future.


  1. Love this one too.

    I find it funny that like the Statue of Liberty, Big Ben is often one of the notable landmarks in disaster movies to get blasted to oblivion. Its hard being famous sometimes. :-)

  2. Ha - I almost mentioned the Dr. Who episode where it gets rammed by a spaceship! Yes, Big Ben has certainly had a good deal of trouble on the big and small screens.