Beyond the bell: What are the most fascinating Big Ben facts?

Time, as they say, waits for no one. But what if I told you there’s a place where time not only stands still but also captures the very essence of history and innovation? That place is none other than the iconic Big Ben! 

Join us on a whirlwind adventure as we peel back the layers of this majestic timepiece, uncovering the quirkiest, most astonishing, and downright fascinating Big Ben facts that have been hiding in plain sight.

Big Ben refers specifically to the Great Bell inside the tower

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When people say “Big Ben”, they’re often referring to the entire clock tower, but the real star of the show is the Great Bell housed within. In fact, Big Ben is the bell – the tower itself is properly named Elizabeth Tower.

The Great Bell weighs 13.7 tonnes

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Big Ben’s Great Bell is no lightweight in the world of bells. At a staggering 13.7 tonnes, it’s like having a small herd of African elephants hanging out in the clock tower.

Casting a bell this immense requires masterful craftsmanship. The fact that it was achieved in the mid-19th century is a testament to the skill and dedication of the artisans behind Big Ben.

It was completed in 1859 and took 13 years to build

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In an era before modern technology, the construction of the Elizabeth Tower was a testament to Victorian-era engineering prowess. It’s like a gigantic puzzle, each piece crafted with precision to fit together perfectly.

The tower’s construction was temporarily halted due to financial issues and the infamous “A Great Bell” crack. The latter led to the casting of the even larger Great Bell, which we now lovingly call Big Ben.

The Great Bell was transported to the tower by a team of 16 horses

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This feat of transportation happened back in 1858 when Victorian engineering was in its heyday. 

Think of it as a 19th-century superhero team-up – 16 horses, with their sinewy strength, pulled together to transport the hefty Great Bell.

The clock’s face is the largest four-faced chiming clock in the world

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The tower’s clock face isn’t playing around. Each of its four faces spans a whopping 23 feet (7 meters) in diameter. That’s like having a massive double-decker bus for each numeral on the clock!

It used to be called “The Clock Tower”

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The old name “The Clock Tower” was pretty straightforward, but it lacked the charm and character of “Big Ben”. The tower was renamed the “Elizabeth Tower” in 2012, in honour of Queen Elizabeth II’s Diamond Jubilee. 

So, if you’re trying to keep up with London’s landmark name changes, “The Clock Tower” has long retired from the stage.

Each clock face is 23 feet in diameter

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When we say Big Ben’s clock faces are big, we mean BIG. Those 23-foot clock faces have become symbols of London, popping up in movies, postcards, and tourists’ selfies from around the world. They’re a visual stamp that says, “I’ve been to London, and I’ve seen Big Ben!”

It has a distinctive hourly chime known as the “Westminster Chimes”

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The “Westminster Chimes” are those delightful melodies you hear every hour, and they’re like London’s way of saying, “Time to stop and listen!”

The “Westminster Chimes” are inspired by a tune from Handel’s Messiah, by the way, and were first used in 1793 at the Church of St. Mary the Great in Cambridge. So, Big Ben’s chimes carry a piece of musical history.

The clock mechanism was designed by Edmund Beckett Denison

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Edmund Beckett Denison was a Victorian clock genius, and when he lent his talents to Big Ben’s timekeeping, he sprinkled a dash of magic into its mechanism.

Denison’s design combined cutting-edge innovations with timeless craftsmanship. He crafted a mechanism that was not only accurate but also robust enough to withstand the test of time.

Big Ben is incredibly precise

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The clock mechanism within Big Ben is engineered with such precision that it loses or gains just a few seconds a week. That’s right, you can practically set your schedule to it!

Here’s where it gets even more jaw-dropping. The pendulum’s length is adjusted daily to account for temperature variations. So, whether London is basking in the summer sun or shivering in winter, Big Ben keeps its cool when it comes to accurate timekeeping.

The tower leans slightly to the northwest due to construction settling

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While it’s not quite Pisa’s famous leaning tower, Big Ben has its own unique tilt, leaning about 8.66 inches off the vertical. 

While Big Ben’s chimes may be its most famous feature, its slight lean adds a layer of intrigue to this timeless landmark.

The clock face of Big Ben went dark in 1939

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In the tumultuous days of World War II, blackout measures were essential to protect London from enemy bombings. This meant all lights had to be extinguished to keep the city hidden under a cloak of darkness.

Big Ben, being a symbol of London’s resilience, wasn’t exempt from these safety precautions. Its clock face, which had shone brilliantly for decades, was dimmed to prevent it from becoming a navigational landmark for enemy aircraft.

The tower’s lighting is energy-efficient, using LEDs

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Big Ben has swapped out traditional lighting for state-of-the-art LEDs. These little wonders are not only energy-efficient but also last longer than your average lightbulb. 

By making the switch to LEDs, Big Ben is reducing its carbon footprint and energy consumption. It’s a small change that has a big impact on the environment.

It contains 334 limestone steps to reach the top

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Forget the gym, Big Ben’s spiral staircase is your ultimate cardio challenge! Climbing these 334 steps is like scaling a historical Everest, minus the oxygen tanks.

As you ascend, you’ll spiral your way up inside the tower. It’s like a journey through time, with each step bringing you closer to the history and grandeur of Big Ben – or, admittedly, an asthma attack.

Big Ben has appeared in many movies, including the James Bond film “Skyfall”

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In “Skyfall”, James Bond finds himself racing against time with Big Ben as his backdrop. It’s a thrilling moment that combines British icons with high-octane action.

Big Ben’s appearances in films like “Skyfall” are a testament to its status as a global symbol. When it graces the silver screen, it’s like seeing an old friend in a new adventure.

The tower’s bells are adjusted using old British coins

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Instead of fancy tuning tools, Big Ben relies on good old British coins to fine-tune its melody. These coins, which might have languished in pockets and purses, find a second life as musical maestros. Each coin adds or subtracts a fraction of a second, ensuring Big Ben keeps perfect time.

On New Year’s Eve, Big Ben’s chimes ring out to welcome in the new year

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When the clock strikes midnight on New Year’s Eve, Big Ben doesn’t hold back. Its deep, resonant chimes fill the air, marking the transition from one year to the next with a magnificent symphony of sound.

The tower’s bells are tuned to the notes E, A, D, and G, which are the same notes as the fifth octave of a piano

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If you’ve ever tinkered with a piano, you’ll know that the notes E, A, D, and G are like old friends. Big Ben’s bells resonate with the same musical familiarity, turning the tower into a colossal musical instrument.

In 1970, a bomb exploded in the basement of the tower

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The 1970 bomb was a startling wake-up call that even London’s most cherished landmarks were not immune to the tumultuous times.

Thankfully, the damage was repaired, and Big Ben continued its role as London’s timekeeper. The restoration work was a testament to the city’s commitment to preserving its rich history.

The Latin inscription under the clock face reads “DOMINE SALVAM FAC REGINAM NOSTRAM VICTORIAM PRIMAM”

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Those fancy Latin words translate to “O Lord, keep safe our Queen Victoria the First”. The inscription is a nod to Queen Victoria, who was on the throne when Big Ben’s construction began.

In 2008, the Elizabeth Tower and the Palace of Westminster were designated as a UNESCO World Heritage Site

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Being declared a UNESCO World Heritage Site is like winning the Oscars of the architectural world. What’s doubly exciting is that both the Elizabeth Tower and the Palace of Westminster snagged this prestigious status. It’s like a one-two punch of architectural awesomeness.

It chimed 30 times to welcome the 30th Olympic Games

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Big Ben is known for keeping time, not counting down laps. But on this special day, it temporarily transformed into a musical maestro, celebrating the world’s most significant sporting event.

The first time Big Ben’s chimes were broadcast over the radio was on January 1, 1924 

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Back in 1924, radio was all the rage. It was the Internet of its day, and Big Ben decided to jump on the broadcasting bandwagon, making it one of the first landmarks to do so.

This broadcast marked the beginning of a tradition. Big Ben’s chimes continue to be broadcast over the radio on special occasions, a living record of history.

The bell tower features its own prison cell

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Long ago, when the Palace of Westminster housed lawbreakers and politicians under one magnificent roof, they needed a place to cool off their heels. Hence the prison cell!

But keep in mind that this is no longer in use and isn’t part of the usual tourist trail, so it’s like a hidden treasure within the tower, waiting to be discovered by those who venture off the beaten path.

Legend has it that if Big Ben tolls 13 times, the lion statues at Trafalgar Square will spring to life

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We all love a good dose of whimsy, and the idea of statues coming to life is pure enchantment.

Every city has its share of folklore and urban legends, and this one adds a sprinkle of whimsy to London’s intricate tales.

Each clock face is made up of 312 opal glass shards

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Opal glass diffuses light beautifully, ensuring the clock face shines like a radiant gem, day and night.

So, the next time you’re looking up at the tower’s majestic clock faces, remember that they’re exquisite works of art, crafted with precision and adorned with opulence. 

The tower’s intricate stonework includes carvings of roses, thistles, and shamrocks, representing England, Scotland, and Ireland

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The tower’s carvings are a powerful symbol of the United Kingdom’s unity. They’re like a reminder that even though these nations have their distinct identities, they’re all part of one grand family.

And if you ever forget your geography, just look up at Big Ben (or Elizabeth Tower, as it were). It’s a crash course in the cultural and botanical diversity of the UK.

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