The above photograph is one of the iconic images of London. The majority of people including Londoners refer to the whole tower as Big Ben but the correct name is the Elizabeth tower although previously it was known as the Clock Tower. It is one of the two towers incorporated in the Palace of Westminster.
At the time that the construction was completed, the name Big Ben was a nickname given to the great bell inside the tower. There are two theories for the name’s origin. The most likely was that the Great Bell was named after Sir Benjamin Hall, First Commissioner for Works 1855-1858. In fact this is the second great bell installed as the first one cracked almost immediately when put to use. The second weighing slightly less at 13½ tons was finally in regular use from 1863.
The Palace of Westminster itself is often called the Houses of Parliament. In fact the houses are two separate chambers within the Palace. The democratically elected House of Commons is the legislative chamber where the majority political party forms the government of the United Kingdom. The other chamber is the unelected House of Lords, which acts purely as a revising chamber and which must ultimately defer to the will of the House of Commons.
After the old Palace of Westminster was largely destroyed by fire on the night in 1834, Charles Barry was appointed as the chief architect for a new palace, which was built in a Neo-gothic style. However Barry turned to Augustus Pugin for the design of the clock tower and the clock itself. The tower was finally completed in 1859.
The clock dials are set in an iron frame 23 feet (7.0 m) in diameter, supporting 312 pieces of opal glass, rather like a stained-glass window. Some of the glass pieces may be removed for inspection of the hands. The surround of the dials is gilded. Under each clock dial there is a Latin inscription carved in stone: “Domine Salvam fac Reginam nostrum Victoriam primam” which means “O Lord, save our Queen Victoria the First.”
The chimes of the clock are world famous and are used regularly by the BBC. There are quarter bells, which as the name implies, sound the 15 minute intervals in the hour whereas the great bell chimes the actual hour.
For further information go to www.parliament.uk
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