Monday, 27 April 2009

A Big Ben and the King of Clocks ...


Dear Mr Postman thank you for visiting today .. it's kind of you to ask after my mother - we had her moved next to the window .. so she can get some breeze, she feels the heat very badly .. she will enjoy this story of a London icon ...

As the world's most famous timepiece celebrates its 150th anniversary - a forthright statement of faith in a masterpiece of Victorian Engineering that was deemed so ambitious at the time of its inception that many clock-makers thought it could never be built .. - now .. "why should it not last forever?"!

Big Ben was born 150 years ago this year .. that it was ever completed was a triumph of perseverance and ingenuity over ill-fortune and acrimony. Lawsuits and cracked bells abounded .. the first bell cracked on testing -had to be broken up and recast. The second bell cracked too - but would be patched and turned a quarter-turn .. and so the bell behind the "bongs" was born .. and has given all but uninterrupted service ever since.

It has its own website .. any other bell you know has its own site?? .. and from here is described thus:

During 2009 Parliament celebrates the 150th anniversary of its world famous Clock Tower, Great Clock and Great Bell.

The name Big Ben is often used to describe the tower, the clock and the bell but the name was first given to the Great Bell. 1859 was the beginning for all three elements when the Clock Tower was completed, the Great Clock started on 31 May and the Great Bell’s chimes were heard for the first time on 11 July.


As part of the rebuilding of the Palace of Westminster after the fire of 1834, the Office of Works called for a "noble clock, indeed a king of clocks, the biggest the world has ever seen, within sight and sound of the throbbing heart of London". The Astronomer Royal also insisted on one that would be accurate to within a second, which was all very well for a small indoor clock, but a tall order for such a huge one, which would constantly be exposed to the elements. Most clock-makers at that time thought that it was impossible.

The man who proved otherwise was not even a professional clock-maker. Edmund Beckett Denison was a leading barrister and gifted amateur horologist who got himself involved in the selection of the final design, by the clock-maker Edward Dent. Denison's greatest contribution was to design a means of ensuring that the pendulum was separated from the movement of the hands, so that it was not affected by the weather. His ground-breaking invention, which is called a double three-legged gravity escapement, is the reason that Big Ben keeps such good time.

Accurate Big Ben may be, but it is not immune to failure. Over the years it has been stopped by snow, mechanical failure and builders who have left paint pots where they shouldn't!; and on one occasion it was slowed down by a flock of starlings settling on the minute hand .

The man charged with looking after it - a Mr McCann, rejoicing in the title 'Keeper of the Great Clock' - checks Big Ben .. by, guess what?, ringing up the speaking clock!! It is wound three times a week by hand, as it is not possible to wind while it is chiming ... and if adjustment is required .. an old pre-decimal penny is placed on or removed from the pendulum: adding one speeds up the clock by two-fifths of a second a day!!

The famous bell in the Clock Tower (St Stephen's Tower) of the Houses of Parliament weighs 13.5 tons and was named after Sir Benjamin Hall, Chief Commissioner of Works in 1856, when it was cast - Hall himself was called "Big Ben" on account of his size!

The sound of Big Ben was first broadcast in 1923, and has since become a national institution. Dent clocks are still used on iconic landmarks of London .. one of latest ones being on the new St Pancras Station .. and can be seen in my post "Incense Sticks, Candles, HourGlass and Bells .. what's the Connection?"

It is an icon .. and I hope I've satisfied Giovanna's curiosity re Big Ben after her visit in 2007 .. her Imperfect Action was not finding out more about it!!

The information for this article came mostly from The Week - the last word 10 January 09, from the article first appearing in The Times: Bong! Big Ben still rings out 150 years on- written by Valentine Low on January 1st 2009.


Thank you Mr Postman .. that was most interesting .. my mother will have something to say about the story and we'll laugh .. as I'm sure she's heard its sonorous tones more often than most of us ...

Hilary Melton-Butcher
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8 comments:

positively present said...

Wow, that's really interesting! I had no idea it had it's own website. I've never seen the clock in person but it always reminds me of Disney's Peter Pan (which is a great film, if you haven't seen it). Thanks for the info!

Hilary Melton-Butcher said...

Hi Positively Present .. thanks .. no nor did I .. but I'd got the article to read to Mum and was amazed at the info. I tried to put a video up of the chimes .. but failed - for now .. I'll have to do bell sounds later on!!

Peter Pan .. we used to go every year to the pantomime .. another English Christmas type of theatre .. very traditional .. and I loved the book .. though I've seen Disney's Peter Pan too ..

Glad you enjoyed it .. thanks for visiting!

Hilary Melton-Butcher
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Jacques said...

Imagine having a world famous clock named after you!

Marketing Unscrambled, learn to earn 14 said...

Hilary, what a great story of "Big Ben" Giovanna will love it. Thank you for all the great information. It is beautiful to look at that is for sure. (Only seeing it is photos) Great job, Great job.
Dan and Deanna "Marketing Unscrambled"

Hilary Melton-Butcher said...

Hi Jacques .. it would be quite surprising .. to suddenly find the bell of Jacques to ring out! Clock foundries are very interesting and I guess they've got other bells nicknamed ..

Interesting thought .. there is Big Bertha - the gun!

Thanks for visiting ..

Hilary Melton-Butcher
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Hilary Melton-Butcher said...

Hi Dan and Deanna .. it is rather interesting isn't it! We've got such wonderful engineering, architectural feature with so many tales attached. Very glad you enjoyed the information .. and it's beauty with the London Eye in the background.

Plan a visit sometime .. see it for real?!

Thanks - Hilary Melton-Butcher
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Peter Baca said...

Hi Hilary,

Interesting post on Big Ben! The Big Ben website was very interesting....had everything you would ever need to know!

I will put it on my to do list when I am in London!

Best Regards

Pete Baca
The Car Enthusiast Online

Hilary Melton-Butcher said...

Hi Pete .. so glad you liked it .. I didn't explore the Big Ben website - but thought it looked interesting .. Mum was interested to hear about it ..

Great to see you here in London sometime .. in a couple of years .. I'll have the red Bentley and I can chauffeur you all around!?

all the best - Hilary Melton-Butcher
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