BIG BEN FACTS & FIGURES

Explore the Clock Tower (left) with your mouse. We've hidden loads of facts and figures, but you'll have to find them for yourself!

GFAQs* (*Guy Fox-Answered Questions)
People from around the world have submitted these questions via our website. While we've provided answers to them, we are NOT the official experts on Big Ben. If you're looking for verification, or if you're writing a thesis on Big Ben, the Palace of Westminster website will provide you official information.

If YOU have a question, by all means, send it in! Click here to contact Guy Fox.

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The Birthday

Which date is Big Ben's birthday?

Big Ben has several birthdays!
Big Ben was cast on 10th April 1858 (Birthday #1); the Great Clock started working on 31st May 1859 (Birthday #2); and Big Ben first chimed the hour on 11th July 1859 (Birthday #3).

Is there going to be a birthday party?

We hope so! We think Big Ben deserves a fireworks display and a big birthday cake (chocolate, of course). You can find out more about the official plans to celebrate Big Ben's anniversary on Parliament's website (click here).
Why not make your own birthday party for Big Ben! Tell your friends about this website and get them to join in the "virtual" birthday party.

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The Bell

How old is Big Ben?

He was cast on 10th April 1858, so he's 151 years old.

Is Big Ben one of Britain’s famous landmarks?

Yesirree! Without a doubt, Big Ben is a very famous – and beloved – British landmark; he was voted #1 in a 2008 survey.

Where is Big Ben located?

Big Ben is the giant bell in the belfry of the Clock Tower at the Palace of Westminster

What is the name of the Bell?

Big Ben!

Who named Big Ben?

Londoners did. SUPPOSEDLY, the bell was going to be named Victoria after Queen Victoria, but Londoners started calling the bell "Big Ben" and the name stuck. (Giving nicknames is still a London custom -- just think about "the Gherkin"!)

Where was Big Ben made? When was Big Ben made?

Big Ben was cast at Whitechapel Bell Foundry, in East London, on 10th April 1858. It took him two weeks to cool, and once he was ready, they transported him to Westminster on a horse drawn carriage. Londoners lined the route and cheered as the bell went past.

How much does Big Ben weigh?

He weighs about 13 and a half tons, about the same as a small elephant.

How tall is Big Ben? How wide is Big Ben?

Big Ben is 2.28 metres tall (7 feet six inches) and 2.75 metres wide (9 feet). That's right -- he's wider than he is tall!

How loud is Big Ben?

If you're standing in the belfry when it rings, you can feel the vibration all the way from your head to your toes.

Can you hear Big Ben inside the Houses of Parliament?

Yes, if you listen. But it's not as loud as you'd think. It's actually easier to hear it OUTSIDE!

What materials is Big Ben made out of?

Tin and copper, plus pieces of the old Big Ben, which was broken up after it cracked.

What colour is Big Ben?

Kind of grey, with some green marks and a bit of old pigeon poo.

Does the clapper inside ever need to be replaced?

Big Ben doesn't have a clapper. He hangs very still from the belfry, and he is struck by a hammer from the outside.

Who owns Big Ben?

You do!
If you are a citizen of the UK, and if you pay taxes, you are one of the owners of Big Ben. In fact, you own the whole clock tower and the Houses of Parliament too!

How much is Big Ben worth?

We think he's priceless.
But we're checking with the Whitechapel Bell Foundry to find out how much he'd cost if they made him today.

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The Belfry

Do the quarter bells have names?

Nope. There are four nameless quarter bells which chime every quarter hour.

What is the melody that the quarter bells chime?

It's called the "Westminster Chimes," and believe it or not, it comes from an aria (I Know that My Redeemer Liveth) in Handel's "Messiah."

Would it ever be possible to change the chimes to a different tune?

The Westminster Chimes are world-famous, so there would probably be a public outroar if the chimes were changed. It is possible to change the chimes -- you would have to detach the cables connecting each bell to the chiming train and then attach the cables to different bells.
If you're really interested in making a new tune, you should give our "Do-It-Yourself Belfry" a try. Click here.

What is the furthest you can hear the bells?

Hard to say. Some people who live near Tower Bridge report that they can hear Big Ben on a quiet evening. In the 1860s, when London was quieter, the sound would have been clearer. There are even reports that a sentry on guard at Windsor once heard the bell chime.

Why does one of the chimes sound odd?

We think you're talking about the 13th chime in the hour sequence. This bell, which chimes twice in succession (chime 12 and 13), has two hammers. We think perhaps you're interpreting the double strike as an odd sound.

Where were the quarter bells made?

The quarter bells were cast by Warners Foundry at their foundries in Stockton-on-Tees and Cripplegate in September 1856.

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The Clock

What is the official name of the clock?

The Great Westminster Clock.

How accurate is the clock?

It is accurate to within one second. When you hear the first chime of Big Ben, that marks the hour on the dot.

Who designed the clock?

Edmund Beckett Denison. He worked with Edward Dent on the design. Edward Dent had proposed a clock design, and Edmund Beckett Denison made lots of modifications, so he deserves the credit as designer. And here's the best part -- he was a LAWYER not a clockmaker. And he intentionally did not patent his new escapement -- which meant other turret clockmakers could use the new technology for their clocks.

What makes the clock work?

Are you ready for this?! GRAVITY.
There are huge weights on long cables that attach to each train of gears. The clock engineers wind the cables three times a week, and as gravity pulls the weights down, the trains rotate. Their rotation is regulated by the escapement and the swinging pendulum. As long as the clock is properly wound, and as long as gravity keeps working (which looks likely), the Great Westminster Clock will keep on ticking!

How is the Great Clock kept in time?

The clock engineers phone up the speaking clock to check the time, then they make adjustments to the clock. They add pennies to the pendulum to speed it up or remove them to slow it down.

Are the hands made of metal and are they heavy? How big are the hands? How much do the hands weigh?

Each Hour Hand (the short one) is 2.7 metres long and weighs about 300 kilogrammes (600 pounds).
Each Minute Hand (the long one) is 4.2 metres long and weighs about 100 kilogrammes (220 pounds).

How big each number is in comparison to everyday object like car, double decker bus etc?

The numbers on the dials are about 2 feet tall.

How long does it take to adjust for daylight savings?

Not too long actually. They use the adjustment as an opportunity to do some maintenance on the Great Clock. They stop the clock at 10:00 pm and perform the maintenance, then they start it back up at 2:00 am, NEW time.

How much does the clock weigh?

The clock mechanism weighs 5 tons.

Who looks after the Great Westminster Clock & Big Ben?

There is a whole team of people, including the Keeper of the Great Clock and several clock engineers. They have to wind the clock three times a week and make sure the clock is maintained. They also ensure the clock keeps correct time and is reset for Daylight Savings Time; plus, every so often they have to change all those lightbulbs which illuminate the faces at night!

What makes the bells chime?

The Great Westminster Clock has three trains of gears: the GOING Train, the CHIMING Train and the STRIKING Train. The Going Train keeps time and moves the hands on the faces; at quarter past, at half past, at quarter to and on the hour, it tells the Chiming Train to pull the cables which make the quarter bells chime. Also, on the hour, it tells the Striking Train to pull the cable to make Big Ben chime.

How do the Clock Faces get cleaned? How often do they get cleaned?

With soap and water! About every five years, a team of window washers abseil (rappel) from the belfry, down to the faces of the clock, and wash each face. They have to be careful not to break the glass! Or to lean on the hands. We asked our contact at the Clock Tower how much it cost to clean the four faces, and he says, "Less than you'd think."

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The Clock Tower

What is the tower called which Big Ben sits in?

The "clock tower." A lot of people think it's called "St. Stephen's Tower," but they are wrong.

Who designed the Clock Tower?

Charles Barry and Augustus Welby Pugin.

How long would it take me to climb it?

About half an hour, if you're fit. If you're not fit, you probably wouldn't want to make the climb. After 334 steps you can sure hear your heart pounding!

Why did the clock break down in 1976?

Metal fatigue in the chiming train flyfan arbor. With all that weight pulling down on it, the metal broke, causing chaos in the clock room. The escapement was twisted up; the chiming barrel was thrown across the room and smashed a wooden bench. Fortunately the pendulum was fine, and there was a spare escapement. So experts rebuilt the chiming train, and after about 8 months, the Great Clock was ticking again.

Why do people like Big Ben?

That's a great question for our Community Discussion Board! Click here to find out why people like Big Ben.

Why is Big Ben so famous? How did Big Ben come to be such an important symbol?

Because it's beautiful. That's our first answer!
It's also reliable -- after all, you can set your watch by it.
We think it became famous during the Second World War, because Big Ben's chimes were heard around the world on the BBC World Service radio. During the Blitz, people from all over the world listened for Big Ben on the radio. His chimes meant that Great Britain had not been defeated.

Why was Big Ben built? Why was the clock tower built?

The Palace of Westminster burned down in October 1834, and so Parliament needed a new place to meet. They built the Clock Tower

How long did it take to build Big Ben?

34 years.

How many people visit Big Ben a year?

Bear with us. We've asked the staff at the Palace of Westminster and we'll get back to you as soon as possible.

What happened to the clock during the Second World War? Was there an agreement that it wouldn’t be bombed?

No! Like many of London's landmarks, Big Ben was vulnerable to enemy action.

How can I get behind the clock face?

You can watch our video (click here); you can take a virtual tour at the Parliament website (click here); or if you're very lucky, you can arrange a visit for yourself (click here).

What does it look like inside?

A great way to see what it looks like inside is to watch our video (click here).

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Curious Questions

Could I ring Big Ben?

The hammer that strikes Big Ben weighs more than 200 kilogrammes (448 pounds), so you'd have to be pretty strong!

Has anyone ever lived in the Clock Tower?

Not exactly. But one MP, Charles Braidlaugh, spent a lot of nights in the Clock Tower Prison.

Are the chimes on BBC Radio 4 transmitted live?

At certain times, yes. If you visit the belfry, you can see the microphones hanging down from the ceiling.
When Big Ben is out of action, Great Tom from St. Paul's Cathedral does the honours. Or you hear the "pips" which mark the hour.

Does Big Ben keep patients in St. Thomas' Hospital across the river awake at night?

Yes! We spoke to a few former patients who said they'd had trouble sleeping. They admitted, though, that hearing Big Ben chime through the night was a comfort to them. We also spoke to a few mums who'd given birth at St. Thomas' Hospital; the maternity ward has a panoramic view of Big Ben & the Palace of Westminster. All of them reported, they hadn't even noticed the view – they were obviously busy giving birth!

Would it ever be possible to change the chimes to a different tune?

The Westminster Chimes are world-famous, so there would probably be a public outroar if the chimes were changed. It is possible to change the chimes -- you would have to detach the cables connecting each bell to the chiming train and then attach the cables to different bells.

Is there a Big Ben "boss" and how did he get the job?

Yes, his job title is "Keeper of the Great Clock" although we like "Big Ben Boss" much better. To get the job, he applied for it! The current Keeper of the Great Clock is an engineer, although he's a marine engineer not a clock engineer.

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