Big Ben is one of the most famous icons of London. The tower clock is also known for its accuracy, with only about two seconds off from the right time. The clock chimes every fifteen minutes and emits deep bongs to mark the hour. But why is this tone so unique?
The tone emitted by Big Ben’s bell is unique because of its crack. The bell cracked two months after its installation in 1859. The bell was oriented so that the hammer would never strike the crack.
Building Big Ben
The original Palace of Westminster burned down in 1834. When the parliament decided to rebuild it, architects were invited to submit their designs for the new palace. Sir Charles Barry won the contest, but his design didn’t include a clock tower. Barry sought the help of Augustus Pugin to add a tower.
Rebuilding the palace started on September 28, 1843, and was only completed in 1859 after construction delays totaling five years. In 1846, they held a competition to find a suitable design for the tower’s clock since Barry couldn’t design it himself. Clockmaker Edmund Beckett Denison’s design won the competition, and Edward John Dent was appointed to build the clock. Dent’s stepson Frederick completed the construction after his death. The clock’s construction was completed in 1854. (Source: The Culture Trip)
The first bell was cast at Warners of Norton and was initially called Royal Victoria. It was built in 1856, but a year after, it developed a 1.2m crack during testing. The bell’s manufacturer and clockmaker Denison argued over who was responsible for the damage. A year later, a second bell was cast. This time it was constructed by the Whitechapel Bell Foundry.
Londoners first heard the great clock’s strikes on July 11, 1859. Since then, it has been continuously working, receiving regular maintenance to ensure it continues to work. (Source: UK Parliament)
How Did Big Ben Get its Name?
No one can accurately pinpoint how Big Ben got its name, but there are two different theories on how the excellent bell tower got its famous nickname. Some think that the bell tower was named after Sir Benjamin Hall. Hall was the first commissioner of works. He was a huge man known in the house as Big Ben.
The other theory was that it was named after a heavyweight boxer, Benjamin Caunt. Caunt was also known as Big Ben. The nickname was given to anything the heaviest or largest in its class.
In 2012, the clock tower was renamed the Elizabeth Tower in honor of her majesty Queen Elizabeth II’s Diamond Jubilee. (Source: Visit London)
Why Does Big Ben have a Unique Tone?
The bell’s sound when it is struck has a unique tone. The sound is credited to a flaw as old as the bell itself. What we hear now is the second bell, cast by the Whitechapel Bell Foundry, which was created because the first bell cracked. (Source: UK Parliament)
The bell was installed and was used in 1859; however, it cracked in the same year. The damage was due to Beckett, the clockmaker, disregarding the advice from the foundry. He installed a hammer twice as heavy as was necessary.
The heavier hammer caused an eight-foot rupture to the bell after continuous striking in the same place. No one wanted to shoulder the expense or the burden of uninstalling the bell and making repairs on it. In 1863, the Astronomer Royal Sir George Airy came up with an idea. Airy recommended turning the bell ninety degrees and having the hammer size reduced. The hammer wouldn’t be striking the crack, and the smaller hammer wouldn’t cause any damage. (Source: Prospect Magazine)