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Facts You Didn’t Know About Big Ben

Fireworks around Big Ben | © melis/Shutterstock
Fireworks around Big Ben | © melis/Shutterstock
Big Ben is one of the most famous landmarks in the United Kingdom. While many people think it’s a clock tower, they’re mistaken. Here are a few fun facts about Big Ben that will set the record straight.

Big Ben is barely 150 years old

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.

It’s really called the Elizabeth Tower

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.

Queen Elizabeth II at The Epsom Derby © STR/EPA-EFE/REX / Shutterstock

Victorians called it St Stephen’s Tower

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.

Regular repairs are needed to preserve the landmark

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.

Big Ben conservation works at the Houses of Parliament aka Westminster Palace in London, UK © Gaid Phitthayakornsilp / Shutterstock

Each clock face is seven metres in diameter

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.

Cleaners work on the huge clock face of the Elizabeth Tower © Christine Matthews/Geograph

Virginia Woolf used Big Ben’s chimes as a literary device

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.

Big Ben was designed in the Gothic revival style

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.

The Houses of Parliament © Hernán Piñera / Flickr