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Big Ben

Community Veteran
Posts: 18,545
Thanks: 191
Registered: 12-08-2007

Big Ben

Big Ben is 150 years old today and to celebrate there will be a special birthday greeting projected onto its tower at sunset tonight.  Although Big Ben is used to describe the tower it is actually the nickname of the bell.
http://news.bbc.co.uk/1/hi/england/london/8145668.stm
7 REPLIES
Community Veteran
Posts: 3,486
Registered: 02-10-2008

Re: Big Ben

At least the Beeb get it right - calling it the clock tower - but officially it's St Stephen's Tower
It's an interesting feature - I watched it earlier
Community Veteran
Posts: 18,545
Thanks: 191
Registered: 12-08-2007

Re: Big Ben

Alongside Buckingham Palace and the Tower it has to be one of the iconic landmarks of London and recognised around the world.
Community Veteran
Posts: 3,486
Registered: 02-10-2008

Re: Big Ben

If you watch the video - they say that it started to become the icon in 1919 - after the sound of Big Ben was heard on armistic day - not quite sure how as there wasn't broadcast radio then ?
Community Veteran
Posts: 18,545
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Registered: 12-08-2007

Re: Big Ben

An American friend of mine was on a coach trip around London and as they passed Big Ben he checked his watch and said to his wife, 'That clock's fast'. Embarrassed
Community Veteran
Posts: 3,486
Registered: 02-10-2008

Re: Big Ben

Not sure how accurate they keep the clock ?
had a quick look on their website and couldn't find it
Community Veteran
Posts: 18,545
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Registered: 12-08-2007

Re: Big Ben

Within 2 seconds a day apparently and they have an interesting way to correct it.  Found this article that explains it.

Big Ben's Reliability
Big Ben is famous for its accuracy. With only a few hiccups over the years, how does it stay so reliable?
We have its designer, Edmund Beckett Denison, to thank.  The clock mechanism, made to Denison's requirements by clockmaker Edward John Dent, was completed before the tower itself was finished. This meant Denison had time to experiment.
In the construction of a clock there are two areas where the greatest precision is critical: the escapement (which allows the power of the weights to escape to the hands) and the pendulum, which maintains a regular beat - allowing the clock to keep time.

Instead of using the escapement originally designed, Denison invented the double three-legged
Inside Clock Face
The clock face
©TopFoto.co.uk
gravity escapement. This method provides the best separation between pendulum and clock mechanism. Together with an enclosed, wind-proof box sunk beneath the clockroom, Big Ben's pendulum is well protected from snow, ice and pigeons on the clock hands, and keeps remarkably accurate time.
Originally, the time kept by Big Ben was to be telegraphed to Greenwich so the clock's performance could be compared with the exact time kept by the Royal Observatory. Big Ben's clock received a signal from the observatory once on every hour, allowing the operator in the clock room to note and make up for any error.
In the Astronomer Royal's report for that first year, he noted that "the rate of this clock may be considered certain to much less than one second per week".
If the clock were left to its own devices, it would drift very gradually and go out of time, but penny coins are added to or taken away from the clock's pendulum to fine-tune the accuracy. Even to this day, old pennies, phased out of British currency by decimalisation in 1971, are used.
By using halfpennies the effect is halved. This system has been very effective throughout the life of the clock. Unfortunately, it is no longer possible to compare the clock's rate with a signal from the observatory because the special telegraph line was destroyed by the Luftwaffe during the second world war. It was not considered worth the expense of renewing it, since after 75 years of daily comparison, the clock's accuracy had been demonstrated!
In fact, the clock rarely varies by more than two seconds a day, but usually it is exactly on time.
Community Veteran
Posts: 18,545
Thanks: 191
Registered: 12-08-2007

Re: Big Ben

I thought it might be interesting to know how the bell became known as Big Ben.  There are a number of theories.  Here is something I found that may give a clue:

There are different theories about how the bell actually came to be named. At almost 16 tonnes, it would have appeared colossal and it is believed to have been inscribed with the name of "Sir Benjamin Hall MP Chief Commissioner of Works". (Sir Benjamin did a lot to smooth relations between the clockmaker and the architect during difficult times and furthered the progress of the clock.)

It has been suggested that some of the workmen responsible for testing the bell were very  impressed with its great size and on seeing the name Benjamin on the inscription, decided to call it Big Ben.

The inscription of the present, second Big Ben bell (the first one cracked) does not show the name of Benjamin Hall - by the time it was cast he was no longer Chief Commissioner.
House of fun

There is another, better-known story of a special sitting held in the Commons to decide on a name for the bell in 1857. This seems to have run into a long session, and Members were becoming increasingly tired of the whole thing, when the Chief Commissioner of Works, Sir Benjamin Hall, MP for Marylebone, launched into a long ramble on behalf of the government. 

He was popular with both sides of the house, had a good sense of humour, and was very tall at 6ft 4in (with a stomach to match) and was affectionately known as "Big Ben". The story goes that as Benjamn Hall was speaking, a backbencher, longing to see the end of the debate, interrupted and said, “Why not call it Big Ben?” 

According to the tale, the house erupted with laughter and the name stuck. It is a shame, but there is no mention of this episode in Hansard (the official record of debates in Parliament), so we'll never know if this is what really happened.

There is also the possibility that the bell was named after Benjamin Caunt, a heavyweight prizefighter who was very popular at the time. At one stage he weighed 17 stone, and he too earned the nickname "Big Ben". 

Which story do you believe?