THE BIG BEN
About Big Ben in
Standing high above the Palace
of Westminster in London, the clock tower commonly known as Big Ben is one
of the most recognizable British icons.
The clock tower has also served
to symbolize the continued functioning of the British government,
particularly in wartime.
As one of the most accurate mechanical
clocks at the time of its construction, Big Ben epitomized the United
Kingdom’s leading position in the march of technological progress during the
Industrial Revolution, and its completion marked an uptick in the evolution
of clocks and timekeeping in Europe.
St. Stephen's Tower is the official name of the structure. There are
various theories surrounding the origin of the nickname "Big Ben," which was originally only given to the
large hour bell.
The most widely accepted is that it was named after Sir Benjamin Hall, the
commissioner of works at the time of the clock tower's construction. Another popular theory is that it was named
after Benjamin Caunt, a heavyweight prize fighter of the time who held the same nickname. In any case the name
stuck, and eventually evolved to apply to the clock, and later, the entire tower.
Big Ben occupies 40 square feet and stands at an imposing height of 320
feet. The clock faces are equally extraordinary for their size, measuring 23 feet in diameter with minute hands
measuring 14 feet in length and hour hands measuring nine feet. Though the structure
itself is impressive, Big Ben's most important aspect is its symbolic status. For example, a light above the clock
shines whenever the Parliament is in session, indicating the continued functioning of the British
That symbolism was particularly notable during the Battle of Britain in
the early days of World War II, as the clock tower remained undamaged and continued to operate in defiance of the
endless waves of German bombing raids.
Each of the clock's four dials is 221/2 feet (7 meters) in diameter, and
the overall length of each of the hollow copper minute hands is 14 feet (4 meters). The clock, which is famed for
its accuracy, seldom shows an error greater than one second.
Ingeniously designed with a special gravity escapement that controls its pendulum, Big Ben
remains a standard for accuracy in mechanical tower clocks.
Today the monumental timepiece is one of London's best-known landmarks, and the deep pealing of
its bell is among the city's most familiar sounds. Londoners and tourists alike know the neo-gothic Victorian
skyscraper as Big Ben, which today is one of the main attractions of England’s capital.