History of Big Ben

The Clock Tower (Big Ben) owes its existence to a fire in 1834 that destroyed most of Parliament. A commission was set up to choose a new building design from 97 submissions and a clock tower dominated Charles Barry's winning plan. The clock swung into action in 1859.

Designing the clock
In 1848, the Astronomer Royal, Sir George Airey, and barrister Edmund Denison (who was an amateur watchmaker) took charge of designing the Great Clock. Clockmaker Edward Dent had the job of building it.

Casting, cracking, chiming
Two attempts were made to cast the Great Bell, or Big Ben as it's more popularly known. Cast in 1856, the first bell was transported to the tower on a trolley drawn by 16 horses, with crowds cheering its progress. Unfortunately, it cracked while being tested (blamed on Denison insisting on an overly heavy hammer) and a replacement had to be made.
The second bell was cast in London's Whitechapel Bell Foundry. In October 1858 the bell was pulled 200ft up to the Clock Tower's belfry, a feat that took 18 hours.
Big Ben first rang in July 1859 but, again, the bell cracked in the following September. However, this time the bell was simply rotated so the hammer didn't strike the crack, which remains to this day.

What's in a name?
No one knows the exact origins of the name 'Big Ben' but the most popular theories are:
1.That the bell was named after Sir Benjamin Hall, the First Commissioner of Works and a tall man known in the House of Commons as Big Ben.
2.That it was given the nickname of a champion heavyweight boxer of the time called Ben Caunt. He fought his last fight in 1857 when the bell, and the debate of what to name it, was in the public consciousness.


Parliamentary Diary.