Clock Tower, Palace of Westminster

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The Clock Tower is the world's largest four-faced, chiming turret clock. The structure is situated at the north-eastern end of the Houses of Parliament building in Westminster, London. It is almost universally called "Big Ben" which is actually the main bell housed within the Clock Tower. The Clock Tower has also been referred to as St Stephen's Tower or The Tower of Big Ben or Big Tom. However, St Stephen's Tower is actually towards the middle of the Palace, and is the main point of entry for attendees of debates and committees.


Structure of the clock

The tower was raised as a part of Charles Barry's design for a new palace, after the old Palace of Westminster was destroyed by fire on the night of 22 October 1834. However, although Barry was the chief architect of the palace, he turned to Augustus Pugin for the design of the clock tower, which resembles earlier Pugin designs, including one for Scarisbrick Hall.
The design for Big Ben was, in fact, Pugin's last design

 before his final descent into madness and death, and Pugin himself wrote, at the time of Barry's last visit to him to collect the drawings: "I never worked so hard in my life for Mr Barry for tomorrow I render all the designs for finishing his bell tower & it is beautiful" (Rosemary Hill, God's Architect: Pugin & the Building of Romantic Britain (2007) p 482). The tower is designed in Pugin's celebrated Gothic revival style, and is 96.3 metres (315.9 ft) high.

The first 61 metres (200 ft) of the structure is the Clock Tower, consisting of brickwork with stone cladding; the remainder of the tower's height is a framed spire of cast iron. The tower is founded on a 15 metres (49 ft) square raft, made of 3 metres (10 ft) thick concrete, at a depth of 7 metres (23 ft) below ground level. The four clock faces are 55 metres (180 ft) above ground. The interior volume of the tower is 4,650 cubic metres (164,200 cubic feet).

Due to ground conditions present since construction, the tower leans slightly to the north-west, by roughly 220 millimetres (8.66 in) at the clock face, giving an inclination of approximately 1/250.[1] Due to thermal effects it oscillates annually by a few millimetres east and west. The Palace of Westminster, and the Clock Tower on the north-eastern end, from Westminster Bridge



Clock faces

The clock faces were once large enough to allow the Clock Tower to be the largest four-faced clock in the world, but have since been outdone by the Allen-Bradley Clock Tower in Milwaukee, Wisconsin. The builders of the Allen-Bradley Clock Tower did not add chimes to the clock, so the Great Clock of Westminster still holds the title of the "world's largest four-faced chiming clock." The clock mechanism itself was completed by 1854, but the tower was not fully constructed until four years later in 1858.


The clock and dials were designed by Augustus Pugin. The clock faces are set in an iron framework 7 metres (23 ft) in diameter, supporting 312 pieces of opal glass, rather like a stained glass window. Some of the glass pieces may be removed for inspection of the hands. The surround of the dials is heavily gilded. At the base of each clock face in gilt letters is the Latin inscription: "DOMINE SALVAM FAC REGINAM NOSTRAM VICTORIAM PRIMAM", which means 'O Lord, keep safe our Queen Victoria the First'.

The clock became operational on 7 September 1859.

During World War II, the Palace of Westminster was hit by German bombing, destroying the Victorian House of Commons and causing damage to two of the clockfaces as well as sections of the tower's steeped roof.


The Great Bell

The main bell, officially known as the Great Bell, is the largest bell in the tower and part of the Great Clock of Westminster. The bell is better known by the nickname Big Ben, which is almost universally mistakenly applied to the Clock Tower.

The name Big Ben was given to a 14.5 tonne (16 ton) hour bell, cast on 10 April 1856 in Stockton-on-Tees by Warner's of Cripplegate. The bell was never officially named, but the legend on it records that the commissioner of works, Sir Benjamin Hall, was responsible for the order. Another theory for the origin of the name is that the bell may have been named after a contemporary heavyweight boxer Benjamin Caunt. It is thought that the bell was originally to be called "Victoria" or "Royal Victoria" in honour of Queen Victoria [2], but that an MP suggested the nickname during a Parliamentary debate; the comment is not recorded in Hansard.

Since the tower was not yet finished, the bell was mounted in New Palace Yard but the bell cracked under the striking hammer, and its metal was recast at the Whitechapel Bell Foundry as the 13.76 tonne (13.54 ton (long), 15.17 ton (short)) bell, which stands at a height of 2.2 metres with a diameter of 2.9 metres, and it is still in use today. The new bell, which chimes on A, was mounted in the tower alongside four quarter-hour bells, the ring of bells that ring the familiar changes.


Other Bells

Along with the main bell, the belfry houses four quarter bells which play the Westminster Quarters on the quarter hours. The four quarter bells are G sharp, F sharp, E, and B (see note). They play a 20-chime sequence, 1-4 at quarter past, 5-12 at half past, 13-20 and 1-4 at quarter to, and 5-20 on the hour. Because the low bell (B) is struck twice in quick succession, there is not enough time to pull a hammer back, and it is supplied with two wrench hammers on opposite sides of the bell.

Clock Tower, Palace of Westminster. (2007, November 7). In Wikipedia, The Free Encyclopedia. Retrieved 17:39, November 11, 2007, from