a students' magazine

The Big Ben

In 1844 the Palace of Westminster (the English Parliament) was destroyed by a fire. So the Houses of Parliament decided to build another building which should include a tower with a clock.

A lot of people presented their designs and at the end the committee chose Charles Barry’s design. But there was a problem… he wasn’t a clockmaker, so the committee chose George Airy, one of the most important clockmakers in England to design the clock. He was very excited so he wrote a long and accurate list of requirements. The most important was:

The Great Clock should be so accurate that the first strike for each hour shall be accurate to within ONE second of time.

Other expert clockmakers thought that George Airy’s project was impossible to be carried out, because it was very difficult. Edward Dent (a clockmaker) had trust in George Airy and helped him to design the clock which would become the Great Clock.

The Great Clock also needed bells, five altogether. One bell for each hour, plus four bells to chime a quarter of each hour.

With the help of other clockmakers, they cast the five bells. The biggest was transported to London on a steamship, because it was very big to be transported on a train. The clock tower wasn’t finished so they had to wait to put it in the tower! Meanwhile, they tested the bell hitting it with a hammer in the yard below.

George Airy and Edward Dent wanted to call the clock tower “Victoria”, after the English Queen, but the people in London nicknamed it “Big Ben”, probably after Benjamin Caunt, a boxer, or after Sir Benjamin Hall, who was the commissioner of works during its construction.

Today Big Ben and the Great Clock still work hard every day, and have become a landmark for visitors to London, as well as Westminster Palace. And the sound of its bells is used in different places of the world.

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