Big Ben is arguably London’s most iconic attraction; however, many people are mistaken about what Big Ben actually is. When tourists visit the Big Ben clock tower, it’s often assumed that the tower itself is Big Ben. In fact, this isn’t the case, and the formerly known Clock Tower has been called the Elizabeth Tower since 2012. It’s rather the largest bell of the tower that’s called Big Ben, whilst the clock is known as the Great Clock. Despite this, this blog will share secrets of “the whole package” rather than just Big Ben the bell.

This way, on your next Big Ben visit, you’ll be familiar with all the jargon and even some fascinating secrets. Read on to see Big Ben in a different light.

Who is Big Ben Named After?

When visiting Big Ben, tourists are often left wondering who the bell is named after. Well, there’s no one answer to this question, but there are a few hypotheses about which Benjamin could have inspired the name of Big Ben.

None of the following hypotheses has been documented well enough to be deemed correct. However, the two main contenders are the MP Benjamin Hall and the heavyweight boxer Benjamin Caunt. This is because Hall was said to be responsible for overseeing the latter stages of rebuilding the Houses of Parliament, including the installation of Big Ben. Meanwhile, it was said that watching Caunt fight was a common pastime among MPS.

Weights and Measures

The Elizabeth Tower has 334 steps over 11 floors to the belfry or 399 to the lantern. Every clock face has a diameter of 7 metres, the minute hands are 4.2 metres long, and the hour hands are 2.7 metres long. Meanwhile, the diameter of Big Ben is 2.7 metres, and the weight is a colossal 13.7 tonnes. Each of the four quarter bells has varying dimensions, so different notes can be achieved.

You Can Go Inside the Elizabeth Tower

If you’re wondering how to visit Big Ben, you might be surprised to learn that you can go inside the Elizabeth Tower. Despite this, these tours have been paused while the tower undergoes extensive refurbishment work. Therefore, for now, you’ll have to rely on tours of Westminster, such as the Westminster and Changing of the Guard Tour, to visit London’s Big Ben.

There’s a Prison Inside the Elizabeth Tower

If you’re looking for reasons to visit Big Ben, a prison probably isn’t the feature that would convince you. However, it is one of the most unusual aspects of the Elizabeth Tower. 114 steps up inside the tower is the Prison Room, but you don’t need to worry about being locked up there yourself.

The prison room was used for MPs who breached codes of conduct, but it hasn’t been used since 1880. This was when elected MP Charles Bradlaugh refused to swear allegiance to Queen Victoria on the bible because he was an atheist. As punishment, he was contained in the prison room overnight.

There was a Crack in Big Ben

In 1859, Big Ben was cracked, just two months after it went into service. This is because the original hammer was around twice the required weight for a bell of that size. Though a lighter hammer was fitted, the damage remained, and Big Ben was slightly rotated to prevent further damage from being done.

The Current Big Ben Isn’t the Original

Big Ben was famously cast at Whitechapel Bell Foundry, but this is just the tip of the iceberg. A 16.5-tonne bell was created and delivered to London before the clock tower was ready. The bell was tested outside the tower for several months. Unfortunately, this bell was broken due to the colossal hammer, meaning it had to be melted down to create a new 13.5-tonne bell. Upon its completion, it then took 32 hours to hoist it up the tower on its side.

The Great Clock Was the Most Accurate of its Time

The Great Clock was the most accurate in the world when it was initially created, thanks to copper penny weights on the clock mechanism. In fact, the clock’s accuracy can be tampered with by two-fifths of a second per day if a penny is added or removed.

Big Ben Has a Twitter Account

Why do people visit Big Ben other than because of its Twitter account? Every hour, on the hour, the Big Ben Twitter account tweets the appropriate number of bongs. Despite this being the only content on the profile, it boasts a significant 485k followers.

There is a Keeper of the Great Clock

The current Keeper of the Great Clock is Steve Jaggs, and it’s his duty to keep the clock maintained and oversee the bi-yearly changing of the time. Similarly, he superintends a team of clockmakers responsible for every clock in the Palace of Westminster.

When Big Ben Has Stopped

There have been a handful of instances in which Big Ben stopped. The most notable is the day of the funeral of Margaret Thatcher. Similarly, in 1941, the worker carrying out the repairs during a bombing raid dropped their hammer, meaning that the clock stopped for 21 hours until the hammer was retrieved. Last but not least, a flock of starlings inhabited the minute hand, which slowed the clock’s movement and resulted in a five-minute delay.

See Big Ben on the Westminster and Changing of the Guard Tour

Big Ben is one of the most notable landmarks on our tour. Learn more about our private tours here or book in for a place on one of our standard tours.

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