Friday, May 25, 2012

The 'Big Brother' of Clock Towers - Famous Landmark of London, Big Ben

The name Big Ben actually only refers to the big bell that is located within the tower but has over time become synonymous with the entire structure. Since its creation the tower has gone on to become a strong icon that is associated with the city of London and England. In 1844, the British parliament unanimously passed the decision to incorporate a clock tower within the Houses of Parliament. But, the specifications that came out of the parliament corridors was a scientific impossibility for even the most adventurous of clock makers -

The first stroke of the hour bell should register the time, correct to within one second per day, and furthermore that it should telegraph its performance twice a day to Greenwich Observatory, where a record would be kept.

Thus started the timekeeping journey of this London landmark - The hour bell of the Great Clock of Westminster, known worldwide as the 'Big Ben'. Big Ben is the most famous and the largest bell ever cast at Whitechapel.

The Westminster timekeeper was conceptualized by Edmund Beckett Denison and finally made functional by Edward John Dent in 1854. The clock features an innovative double three-legged gravity escapement. The daunting task of casting the 13.76 tonne bell was undertaken by George Mears, the master bell founder and owner of the Whitechapel Bell Foundry. Erected during the rebuilding of Parliament, the tower's clock went into service on September 7, 1859.

After guiding the world on gas for almost half a century, the gas lighting of the dials was replaced by electric lighting in 1906. The electric winding followed suit in 1912. With time, Big Ben was embracing the digital technology. Big Ben's clock is lit at night. A second lamp above the face is illuminated anytime Parliament is in session. BBC world service and Big Ben have a long association and this chiming association began way back on 31st December, 1923, when BBC broadcast the arrival of the new with the soothing chimes of Big Ben. The humanitarian face of Big Ben got a face lift during the Second World War, when the hourly chimes instilled a sense of comfort and security in the British population that all was well with Britain. Big Ben chimes are still aired on BBC Radio 4 at certain times.

Big Ben's first journey from its birth place, the Whitechapel foundry, to its new home was marked by enthusiasm and awe. The transportation of the iconic bell to the Houses of Parliament was a memorable even for the Londoners. While the sixteen brightly beribboned horses hauled the mammoth bell over the London Bridge, along Borough Road, and Westminster Bridge, the traffic came to a complete standstill to witness one of the most monumental transportations of all time. Decorate streets and zealous crowds cheered the Big Ben all along the way to its new abode.

Impressive, grand and glamorous this four faced clock stands proud as a symbol of London and the United Kingdom. Created as a part of the new Westminster palace after the original burned down, Big Ben embodies the strong Gothic style that was embraced by the new palace. Apart from being the host to a legend, Westminster Palace is a living guide to the events that have shaped the destiny of modern Britain. The awe inspiring Gothic architecture owes its craftsmanship to 19th-century architect Sir Charles Barry. As part of the UNESCO World Heritage site and Grade I listed, the Westminster Palace houses a stunning blend of modern architecture, legendary furnishings and monumental art works.

Big Ben is one of the most impressive sights of Westminster Palace and it even signals when Parliament is in session by having a light illuminated over its clock face. The clock tower is the world's largest four faced chiming clock and the third largest free standing clock. Big Ben is also a masterpiece of clock technology and has only ever stopped a few times which is an impressive feat considering the age of the clock. Whether you refer to the tower by its official name or simply as Big Ben people across the world will know exactly what you mean. Standing tall by day, Big Ben looks most spectacular at night when it is illuminated causing the clock tower to stand out against the night sky.


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