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Admire Big Ben’s mighty clock; An iconic London landmark |20 Images

It’s an iconic London landmark, situated at the end of a three-hour walking tour of Westminster. So it’s no surprise that Big Ben has become something of a synonym for London, with people using the term to refer to anything in and around the capital.

But what is Big Ben? Well, put simply, it is the bell which was originally housed inside Elizabeth Tower — or “Big Ben” – which today stands at the base of Parliament Square. It was named after then-Prime Minister Benjamin Disraeli, who famously suggested the name.

When it was installed in 1859, the clock’s chimes were designed as a memorial to Queen Victoria — nicknamed “the little empress” as she famously disliked change. Her successor, however, King Edward VII, had suggested that it should be a memorial to his father and predecessor, George IV.

Big Ben is set at the top of the Victorian Gothic tower of Elizabeth Tower – better known as ‘Big Ben’ – which stands at the corner of Parliament Square and Whitehall in central London. Big Ben was designed by Sir Charles Barry and built in 1858-9. The 13.7 tonne cast iron bell is the largest in the UK.

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Admire Big Ben’s mighty clock; An iconic London landmark
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Admire Big Ben’s mighty clock; An iconic London landmark
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Admire Big Ben’s mighty clock; An iconic London landmark
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The clock is set 72 feet (22 meters) above the ground and can be seen for 12 miles around its home city. It strikes the hour on each hour between 7am and midnight, although there is a short pause between 4pm and 5pm, so it is clear from any of London’s many bridges or buildings that time keeps ticking on.

Big Ben comes from a tradition of clock tower bells in England; British ports were often protected by massive towers with bells that would alert would-be invaders to danger.

The first UK tower clock was a 15-metre (49 ft) tall structure built in Bristol in 1663, with the first London tower being constructed in 1680. The original Elizabeth Tower was built between 1903 and 1909, to replace a wooden structure that had been erected on the same spot after the Great Fire of London in 1666.

The new tower took longer than expected, and the final design by Sir Horace Jones was not unveiled until October 1910. Work began on completing it just six months later and Big Ben struck its first peal on January 2nd, 1911. At this point it cost £75,000 ($137,000), yet by 2014 it had reached £29million ($50million).

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Admire Big Ben’s mighty clock; An iconic London landmark
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Admire Big Ben’s mighty clock; An iconic London landmark
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Admire Big Ben’s mighty clock; An iconic London landmark
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Admire Big Ben’s mighty clock; An iconic London landmark
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Admire Big Ben’s mighty clock; An iconic London landmark
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The tower’s clock mechanism has taken several forms since its initial installation in 1859. Before its recent restoration, the most recent version was installed in 1999 and was capable of using electric motors to drive a pendulum. However, the permanent maintenance team were forced to replace it after an internal gearbox failed, which left it running at half speed.

In actual fact the real “Big Ben” is a 3ft (1 m) bronze ball which hangs from one corner of the top of Elizabeth Tower on a hanger weighted by thousands of tiny balls, called marbles. As each chiming chime passes over it, these marbles bounce up and down, causing the ball to bounce as well. The reason for this feat of design is that when the marbles are in motion it creates a very loud noise which reverberates across the city. The ball also acts as a counterweight, keeping the chimes swinging at exactly the same rate.

In 2009 Big Ben was silenced to save money on maintenance. Almost in anticipation of its own demise, tabloid newspapers suggested variously that the bells were being silenced because they were too loud, or simply to appease foreign tourists who found them annoying. The Speaker of House of Commons, John Bercow quashed these ideas by stating that Big Ben would remain out of action for “as long as necessary”.

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Admire Big Ben’s mighty clock; An iconic London landmark
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Admire Big Ben’s mighty clock; An iconic London landmark
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Admire Big Ben’s mighty clock; An iconic London landmark
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The clock’s silence lasted for three years, although a few chimes were played for special events such as New Year’s Eve and Remembrance Sunday. The BBC were also permitted to play the bells in order to perform a live concert outside the building, while others were sounded to mark the birthdays of HM The Queen, HRH Prince Philip and Her Majesty’s Diamond Jubilee.

During its “silent” period the clock was fitted with scaffolding that obscured the view of tourists and passers-by alike. This was replaced in 2011 by a set of fake scaffolded made of bamboo which hid it from view. However, this was dismantled in 2012 once it became clear Big Ben was returning to its old self.

Big Ben is the symbol of London, and there are many other landmarks that are linked to the city, including Westminster Abbey (the meeting place of Parliament), Nelson’s Column and St Paul’s Cathedral, Buckingham Palace is also the official home of HM The Queen.

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Admire Big Ben’s mighty clock; An iconic London landmark
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Admire Big Ben’s mighty clock; An iconic London landmark
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Admire Big Ben’s mighty clock; An iconic London landmark
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Admire Big Ben’s mighty clock; An iconic London landmark
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Admire Big Ben’s mighty clock; An iconic London landmark
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Admire Big Ben’s mighty clock; An iconic London landmark
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Admire Big Ben’s mighty clock; An iconic London landmark
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