While most refer to the Bell Tower itself as “Big Ben,” it is actually just the bell that is Big Ben, or the “Great Bell,” as it is officially known. (The Bell Tower itself was renamed the “Elizabeth Tower” in 2012 in honor of Queen Elizabeth II’s Diamond Jubilee.) Big Ben resides at the north end of Westminster Palace, which houses Parliament. The clock in the Elizabeth Tower is called the Great Westminster Clock. Now that you have all the names straight, who’s on first?
Those identified Big Ben were: Julie Kimbrell, Pat Kimbrell and Sherry Blanton of Old School Antique Mall in Sylva, N.C.; Teresa Bland; Ted Carlton of Utah; and Jim Pruett of Eastbrook Flea Market and Antique Mall in Montgomery, Ala.
In 1834, a fire destroyed most of the Palace of Westminster and reconstruction of it was completed in 1858, and the construction of the Bell Tower was completed in 1859. Big Ben’s casting was completed in 1856 so it was stored near the Palace of Westminster where it was tested by ringing. Unfortunately, a much-too-heavy 600-pound hammer was used to strike the lower rim (Big Ben does not use a clapper), which caused a four-foot-long crack. The 16-ton Big Ben was rendered inoperable, and a new bell had to be cast. “Big Ben I” was melted down and used to make “Big Ben II.”
After being transported to the Tower on a trolley pulled by 16 horses and cheered by crowds along the way, the jubilation ended abruptly. Big Ben was too big—his 9-foot width was too wide for the shaft to the belfry, even though “Big Ben II” had slimmed been down to 13.5 tons. Finally, a happy ending was achieved when the bell was turned on its side and raised outside the Tower to the belfry—a 30-hour ordeal requiring a gang of workmen.
Well, it wasn’t a completely happy ending. After a few short months of ringing service, “Big Ben II” also cracked. Again, the hammer was too heavy; it weighed twice what it should have been.
Rather than go to the expense of creating Big Ben III—and take another 30 hours to raise it to the belfry—the crack was cut out of Big Ben II, leaving a vertical slot on the lower rim. Now, a hammer of correct weight strikes the bell and yields a slightly different tone.
But the headaches did not end there. After the clockworks and bell were installed, it was found that the hands of the clock were too heavy for the mechanism to move them. They were recast—still too heavy. The third time, fortunately, was the charm.
The 13.5 ton Big Ben bell.
The Elizabeth Tower that houses the Big Ben bell. (Photo: EzykronHD.)