Sunday, February 17, 2013

The Elizabeth Tower and Big Ben...

Above: The inside of the clock face of  'Big Ben' taken on a visit in 2002.

Last year the Clock Tower (the tower within The Palace of Westminster which houses the bell 'Big Ben' and its clock) was renamed 'The Elizabeth Tower' in honour of ERII's Diamond Jubilee. The main tower of The Palace of Westminster, 'The Victoria Tower' had previously been renamed from 'The King's Tower' in honour of Queen Victoria's Diamond Jubilee. The re-dedication of the tower reminded me a previous trip up the tower a few years ago...

Above: A view of St. Margaret's and Westminster Abbey
from up the tower

The tower was part of Charles Barry's redesigned Palace of Westminster, after the previous palace was largely destroyed by fire in 1834. The new tower was finished in 1858 and remains the 3rd tallest clock tower in the world, being 315 feet tall (16 storeys). Being within the Houses of Parliament it is not open to tourists.

Below: A view over the Palace of Westminster showing The Central Tower and The Victoria Tower (with flag)

The dials were designed by the great Gothic revivalist, Augustus Pugin, who worked closely with Barry on many of the design aspects of the new palace. They are 23 feet in diametre...

Across the bottom in gilt inscription in Latin reads Domine Salvam Fac Reginam Nostrum Victoriam Primam (Lord Vouchsafe Our Queen, Victoria the First)

Big Ben itself is the very loud and sonorous 13.5 tonne hour bell. It was cast at the Whitechapel Bell Foundry (which is where we have had many bells and bronze plaques made for us previously, as it was just down the road from where we were working at the Royal London Hospital. We plan to have the bell for the chapel at Willowbrook cast there as well). The Big Ben bell is not the originally planned 16 tonne bell (which was cast at Stockton on Tees by Warner and Sons). That bell cracked during testing. 

  Above: Big Ben surrounded by the smaller quarter bells.

Below: Me on a cold winter's day standing next to 'Big Ben' himself.

Above: The words from Haendel's Messaiah from which the quarter chimes are taken

The quarter chimes are traditionally believed to come from the 5th and 6th measures of "I know my redeemer liveth" from Haendel's Messaiah. The chime was first written for the bells of the clock tower of St Mary the Great, Cambridge, in 1793. Hence, they are often referred to as the Cambridge quarters. It wasn't until the mid 19th century that the chime was adopter for the Westminster quarter chimes, and has subsequently become known as 'The Westminster Chime'.

I know my redeemer liveth

The Clock's movement is famous for its reliability. It was designed by Edmund Denison and George Airy (an amateur horologist and The Astronomer Royal respectively) and built by Edward Dent and his stepson Frederick Dent. It was completed 5 years before the tower was finished!

Frederick Dent invented a 'double three legged gravity escapement'. The mechanism of the clock itself weighs 5 tons; the pendulum is 13 feet long and weighs 660 pounds, and beats 30 times per minute. The frequency has been finely tuned with pennys. By adding a penny one is lifting the pendulum's centre of mass and thereby increasing the frequency of the pendulum's oscillation. Each penny added has the effect of increasing the clock's speed by 0.4 seconds per day...

If you wish to set your watch by the chime of Big Ben, you can rest assured that the first strike of the hour bell will be accurate within one second each day.

1 comment:

  1. Dear David, The Elizabeth Tower, previously The Clock Tower, was sometimes incorrectly called 'St Stephen's Tower'. St Stephen's Tower is actually a much smaller tower above the public entrance to the Houses.


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