Nothing says “London” more emphatically than the 318-foot tower housing the giant clock and its resounding bell known as Big Ben. It’s as iconic a landmark as Tower Bridge. The tolling of Big Ben is known throughout the world as the time signal of BBC radio. Below it, stretching along the Thames, are the Houses of Parliament, seat of Britain’s government for many centuries and once the site of the royal Westminster Palace occupied by William the Conqueror. Tours of the parliament buildings offer a unique chance to see real-time debates and lively political discussions. From Parliament Square, Whitehall is lined by so many government buildings that its name has become synonymous with the British government.
Why is Big Ben called Big Ben?
The origin of the name Big Ben is not known, although two different theories exist.
- The first is that is was named after Sir Benjamin Hall, the first commissioner of works, a large man who was known affectionately in the house as “Big Ben”.
- The second theory is that it was named after a heavyweight boxing champion at that time, Benjamin Caunt. Also known as “Big Ben”, this nickname was commonly bestowed in society to anything that was the heaviest in its class.
In August 2017, refurbishment work commenced on Elizabeth Tower and Big Ben. The work is due to last three years. During this time, the tower will be scaffolded and the clock mechanism will be stopped for several months (no chiming or striking), with the exception of some special events including New Year’s Eve and Remembrance Sunday.
How tall is Big Ben?
Elizabeth Tower stands at more than 96 metres (105yrds) tall, with 334 steps to climb up to the belfry and 399 steps to the Ayrton Light at the very top of the tower.