Although the famous clock tower is one of London’s most iconic landmarks, it has only been around since 1859. It was incorporated into the redesign of the Palace of Westminster following a devastating fire that destroyed most of the parliamentary complex in 1834.
The clock tower has been called the Elizabeth Tower since 2012, when it was formally renamed to honour Queen Elizabeth II’s diamond jubilee. Big Ben is the nickname of the Great Bell, which is responsible for the iconic bongs that have punctuated time in Westminster for more than a century and a half.
Before the queen’s diamond jubilee in 2012, the tower was officially – and rather unoriginally – called the Clock Tower. Not wanting to be dull, the Victorians called it St Stephen’s Tower after St Stephen’s Hall, the Westminster Palace meeting place of the House of Commons before the fire of 1834.
Big Ben fell silent in 2017 to enable essential conservation work to be carried out. Don’t worry, the bongs will be back in 2021 – but this is not the first time the Great Bell has gone quiet. Ben was also silenced when repairs took place in 1976, 1983-85 and 2007. Some disgruntled tourists have taken to TripAdvisor to complain about the scaffolding while the repairs take place.
Each clock face is a staggering seven metres in diameter. That’s more than one and a half times the height of London’s new double-decker routemaster buses.
Virginia Woolf’s novel Mrs Dalloway is set in England shortly after World War I. Big Ben features throughout the story; its bongs mark important plot points and emphasise the passage of time.
Although the modern Palace of Westminster was completed during the reign of Queen Victoria, people could be forgiven for thinking it looks a little medieval. That’s because architect Charles Barry designed the tower in the hauntingly beautiful Gothic revival style.