On the 10th April 1858 Big Ben – the bell inside the clocktower at the Palace of Westminster in Britain – was cast. Many people think the name Big Ben applies to the clock itself, but it’s actually only the name of the bell. The tower is officially known as the Elizabeth Tower, renamed from the rather boring ‘Clock Tower’ in 2002 to celebrate Queen Elizabeth II’s Diamond Jubilee.

Big Ben and the clock tower are two of the most evocative symbols of London. The bell has chimed the hours almost non-stop since it first rang in July 1859, over a year after the bell itself was cast at the Whitechapel Bell Foundry.

Weighing 13 and a half tons, the bell is actually damaged. Within two months of being installed, it cracked under the weight of the hammer and repairs took nearly three years to complete. The bell still operates now with the repair in place, and so actually sounds slightly different to what was originally intended.

As for the bell’s nickname, sources disagree on the origin. However, the most commonly accepted explanation comes from a Parliamentary debate. It’s said that a large and imposing politician, Sir Benjamin Hall, made a long and passionate speech about the bell. He was known as ‘Big Ben’ and, on sitting back down, someone else in the chamber shouted out “Why not call it Big Ben and have done with it?”

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© Scott Allsop