Big Ben is a famous ancient clock in London, England. It is one of the famous Gothic buildings in the world and a landmark building in Britain! On November 13, 2022, after five years of restoration, Big Ben will reopen at a cost of 670 million yuan (about 80 million pounds). Until today, Big Ben has been ringing for 164 years. Like an unyielding old man who has suffered vicissitudes, it has always stood majestically on the banks of the Thames. Big Ben has suffered from wars since its birth, and it is a miracle that it can be preserved to this day!
Going through the vicissitudes of life and rebirth
Tracing the earliest history of Big Ben, we must start with the prototype of the clock tower-Big Ben Church. At the end of the 13th century AD, in order to celebrate the victory of the French War, King Edward I of England personally selected a site on the Thames River to build the earliest Westminster Palace, commonly known as Westminster Abbey.
After the palace was built, Edward I built another church next to the Palace of Westminster in order to strengthen his royal power and win over Christians. The main part of the church is a bell tower, which is the predecessor of Big Ben. Due to the important geographical location of the Palace of Westminster and the attached Big Ben Church, it has officially become the seat of the British Parliament since 1547.
During the passionate and turbulent bourgeois revolution, Big Ben witnessed thrilling historical events such as the overthrow of the autocratic dynasty and the guillotine of King Charles I. Until the victory of this revolution, the bourgeoisie in power issued orders here and expanded outwards repeatedly, and Britain gradually became a well-known “empire on which the sun never sets.”
As part of the seat of parliament’s power core, Big Ben Church made important contributions, but because the entire church was a wooden structure, it was burned and rebuilt several times during the war. In the winter of 1834, London was hit by a rare severe cold wave.
A guard, unable to bear the severe cold, burned some outdated government documents in the furnace of the Parliament Building to keep warm. Unexpectedly, the paper ash with sparks from the fire scattered on the flannel curtains, causing a fire and razing the Palace of Westminster and its affiliated clock tower to the ground.
The scene of the fire was a mess, and the British subjects believed that the catastrophe was an ominous omen. When people are in panic, only the royal noble Princess Victoria is calm and composed.
She was less than twenty years old and said calmly: “Our great city of London has experienced the baptism of fire countless times in history! Please believe me, the Houses of Parliament and the Clock Tower will stand erect on the banks of the Thames again!” Princess Victoria
originally She is the legal heir of the British royal family, but an official with diplomatic power was bought by France and tried her best to prevent the princess from ascending the throne.
Once, when the princess visited the site of the bell tower, the official sent an assassin to aim at the princess several times. But what is surprising is that all the bullets hit the wall base of the base of the bell tower site, and did not hurt even a single hair of the princess. Through this shocking experience, the princess’s feelings for the bell tower suddenly escalated, thinking that it was the good luck brought by the bell tower, which protected her life in the dark.
In 1837, Princess Victoria was officially crowned Queen of England! Immediately, her first edict was to rebuild the Clock Tower and the Palace of Westminster. The Queen commissioned Benjamin Hall, the famous Works Secretary in London, to take charge of the project, and also awarded him a knighthood in an exceptional way.
Sir Hall lived up to the queen’s high expectations. He first led the team to initially build the magnificent Palace of Westminster, and then concentrated manpower and material resources to win the clock tower project. After unremitting efforts, a magnificent clock tower with a height of 97.5 meters stands on the banks of the Thames! At the time it was the tallest building in London.
When the bell tower was built, Sir Hall asked the Queen whether to engrave a text on the top of the bell tower as a memorial.
The queen thought of the situation of being assassinated and survived, so she replied: “This clock tower has brought me a miracle of life, so let ‘s leave a line of ‘Lord, save our Queen Victoria’!” The bell tower still lacks a big clock to tell the time. After Sir Hall’s recommendation, Queen Victoria handed over the next task to watch designer Denison.
In 1852, the clock was designed by Edmund Beckett Denison with Sir George Airy (Astronomer Royal) and clockmaker Edward John Dent.
Edward John Dent was chosen to build the clock to Denison’s design. Sadly, Dent died in 1853 before completing the project, and his stepson, Frederick Dent, completed the clock in 1856. In 1857, however, a crack appeared in the clock dial.
Queen Victoria had to announce: a second casting. This time it was made by George Mears of the Whitechapel Bell Foundry, but shortly after installation the new clock also showed cracks.
Then, under the joint cooperation of these designers. Denison made many improvements to the clock before installing a new one. He invented the two-leg gravity escapement. This revolutionary mechanism works by securing the pendulum against external factors. For example, the wind pressure resistance on the clock hands to ensure the accuracy of the clock!
On April 10, 1859, the big clock was finally completed, costing a total of 27,000 pounds! It is located on the banks of the River Thames in London, England, and is the largest Gothic building in the world. It is a landmark building in London!
The entire clock tower is 97.5 meters high, and each clock face is composed of 324 pieces of hand-cut glass. They are surrounded by 312 colored opals collected from Sri Lanka, which look like colorful windows shining brightly. The periphery of the dial is decorated with gold plating. In order to prevent wind and rain erosion, the entire clock dial is inlaid in a huge iron frame with a diameter of 7 meters. The hour and minute hands of the big clock are 2.75 meters and 4.27 meters long, respectively, and are “royal blue” in color. Its pendulum is 13 feet long and weighs 305 kilograms, suspended from a strip of spring steel. It beats every two seconds, and the mainspring weighs 5 tons.
Since the total weight of the entire clock was as high as 13.5 tons, Mills had to find 16 horses to pull it on the day it was built. Then use the power of mechanical levers to install this behemoth on the bell tower.
The lively scene at that time attracted tens of thousands of London citizens to visit, and Queen Victoria personally presided over the ribbon-cutting ceremony. As a symbol of the City of London and a symbol of the United Kingdom, Big Ben is huge and gorgeous, and it is a traditional landmark of London! When Congress is in session, the clock face lights up. In order to commemorate the completion of Big Ben, some people suggested that the big clock should be named after Sir Benjamin Hall, Minister of Public Works!
The politician was a member of the House of Commons for almost 30 years and served as Big Ben’s first commissioner for works. What’s interesting is that Benjamin has an amazing height of 1.93 meters, and he also has a formidable physical fitness. And Ben is Benjamin’s nickname. After listening to everyone’s suggestions, the queen readily agreed, so she engraved the name of Sir Benjamin Hall (Sir Benjamin Hall) in the clock tower, and issued an edict to the whole country: this big clock is officially called “Big Ben”
When the long, deep, resonant bell rang through London, the crowd cheered enthusiastically! It symbolizes new hope! The most famous thing about Big Ben, which has been devastated by war and will never fall, is that it is based on the passing place of the British Prime Meridian (the 0 degree meridian on the earth) – the Universal Standard Time of the Greenwich Observatory in London
Once an hour, the hour was chimed, and its voice was sonorous and powerful, loud and deep, and spread over London. Later, Big Ben was equipped with a microphone and connected to the radio, so ordinary people can also hear the bell from the radio.
In fact, Sir George Airy, Astronomer Royal, set high standards when he designed Big Ben. Big Ben is accurate to within two seconds per week, while the first stroke of the hour must be accurate to within one second, and the performance of the clock must telegraph the Greenwich Observatory twice a day.
In order to always maintain the accuracy of Big Ben, the British watchmaker also thought of an ingenious method, which is to use coins to superimpose a delicate copper ring on the top of the pendulum, and adjust its accuracy by adding weight! Until now, watchmakers have been using coins made before the British currency was decimalized in 1971.
The effect of this is to increase the speed at which the pendulum swings by slightly raising the position of the pendulum’s center of gravity. Each additional coin increases Big Ben’s time by 0.4 seconds per day. By adjusting the height of the coin, you can flexibly control the speed of Big Ben. So in the long years, Big Ben has been accurately telling the time.
Like ordinary mechanical watches, Big Ben uses manual winding, which needs to be wound manually three times a week. The clock tower has no elevator, and the bell keeper has to climb 393 steps to wind it three times a week to ensure its power.
Big Ben’s accurate timekeeping has gradually become a beautiful landscape in the eyes of ordinary people in London. More importantly, Big Ben also played an incomparably important role in the economic development of Britain. All kinds of ships entering and leaving the Thames rely on the bell of Big Ben when loading and unloading goods. When workers hear the bell, they will gather at the dock to work. It firmly and sacredly guards all walks of life in London for their livelihood. And hardworking people.
As the years passed, Big Ben accompanied people into the turbulent 20th century. In 1914, World War I broke out in Europe. As an important country participating in the war, Britain’s opponent was Germany on the European continent. At that time, the aircraft was mainly used for reconnaissance and had not yet been used for bombing. In order to conquer the historic city of London, Germany actually used the famous “Zeppelin” airship to carry out long-range attacks.
The deafening explosions disturbed the Londoners day and night. Later, after analysis, it was confirmed that the Germans had installed a sound positioning transmission device on the airship, which could track targets based on the sound from the sky over London.
The British government had to temporarily mute the Big Ben. In addition, London has been the target of many enemies during the war. The Big Ben then entered a “dormant” period during the war. It was not until Germany was defeated that the Big Ben regained its former vitality. . However, the sunshine of peace only shone on London. Twenty years later, as the iron hooves of German fascist aggression stepped across the land of Europe, the unprecedentedly tragic Second World War broke out.
In September 1939, the face of Big Ben went dark again as German aircraft began a blitzkrieg. In order to conquer Britain, Hitler sent his air force to fly across the English Channel and bombed London indiscriminately!
In order to defend Big Ben, Prime Minister Winston Churchill dispatched a capable team to disrupt the flight of German aircraft with jamming radar. In order to provide time for the citizens of London and the Royal Air Force combat aircraft on the airport to boost morale, Churchill calmly and firmly declared: “As a messenger of peace and a symbol of spiritual strength of the nation, Big Ben must ring over the city of London every day!”
Because the bell of Big Ben was once used as the attack signal of the Royal Air Force aircraft, it aroused the hatred of German fascists. Germany sent a spy code-named Owl to sneak into London to blow up Big Ben. After learning of this important information, the Big Ben Guards are determined to defend Big Ben at all costs.
One fighter in particular, Jimson, had a hard time getting close to the cunning Owl. Just as the “Owl” climbed to the top of the clock tower and was about to blow up Big Ben, Jimson appeared in time. “Owl” jumped the wall in a hurry and tied a time bomb to the hour hand of Big Ben. As long as the hour hand points to twelve o’clock, it will detonate Big Ben! In order to prevent all this, Jimson fought desperately with the “Owl” on the big clock, and finally killed the “Owl”, but it was too late to dismantle the time bomb!
When life and death were at stake, Jimson grasped the hour hand crossbar with both hands upwards, hung his whole body in the air, and pressed the hour hand down in the opposite direction with his whole body weight, trying his best to prevent the hour hand from pointing to twelve o’clock! He gritted his teeth until his comrades who caught up dismantled the time bomb. This thrilling story of fighting wits and courage between the enemy and ourselves was later filmed into the famous movie “Thirty-Nine Steps”.
After the end of World War II, in order to commemorate the officers and soldiers who died on the battlefield, the British government let the bell of Big Ben ring at the 11th minute of the 11th hour on the 11th day of November every year, lasting about 2 minutes. The reason for the number 11 is that in British military history, many battles took place in November. This time period was chosen to comfort the sleeping soldiers. Besides these important anniversaries, Big Ben is also one of the most important places for people to celebrate the New Year.
In 2012, to commemorate the 60th anniversary of Queen Elizabeth II’s ascension to the throne, Big Ben was officially renamed “Elizabeth Tower”. Also in this year, to celebrate the opening of the London Olympic Games, Big Ben rang 40 times in 3 minutes.
However, on April 8, 2013, Big Ben was once again muted. Because of this day, the famous British politician Margaret Thatcher passed away. In fact, she can enjoy the same “state funeral” qualifications as Churchill, but this female politician lived a thrifty life and left a will when she was dying: Don’t waste money on large-scale funeral ceremonies, just let Da Ben Silence the clock for two hours.
On the day of the funeral, in addition to lowering the flag in front of the British government to half-mast to express condolences, Big Ben was also temporarily silenced for two hours, but in the hearts of the British people, it sounded a silent farewell for this outstanding female politician Bells!
Splendid renovations with a lot of money
Big Ben is a symbol of London and the United Kingdom. It is huge and gorgeous, weighing 13.5 tons. The area of the four clock faces is about 200 square meters. From a distance, it stands majestically like a giant on the Thames River.
However, this behemoth also occasionally “strikes”, or when some minor problems occur. On New Year’s Day 1962, a heavy snowfall caused Big Ben to chime 10 minutes later than normal. On April 20, 1976, Big Ben stopped for half an hour because a small part failed.
At 10 o’clock on May 27, 2005, the “Big Ben” malfunctioned and its minute hand stopped moving. Then, the minute hand began to rotate slowly, and stopped again at 10:20. This stop lasted for an hour and a half before returning to normal. People also rushed out of their homes to check because they could not hear the usual bell. Some speculated that the hot weather caused the problem, but engineers argued that was unsubstantiated because it continued to operate accurately an hour and a half later.
Big Ben has always been known for its punctuality for a century and a half. The indiscriminate bombing of London by Nazi Germany in World War II failed to destroy it!
It turns out that the British government has been maintaining and repairing Big Ben every five years since it was built in 1859. These include cleaning the clock body, replacing Big Ben’s striking and rotating trains, etc. During the transition between summer and winter every year, the clock dial and pendulum parts are repaired, exchanged and the clock is tuned according to the situation.
For maintenance workers, maintaining and cleaning Big Ben is not an easy task! In order to prevent corrosion, workers cannot use chemical sprays, and can only use water and soap to clean the four “faces” of Big Ben little by little.
Workers also need to be extremely careful not to break the glass. During the cleaning process, the Big Ben still keeps time, so the workers have to wear earplugs, otherwise the bells up to hundreds of decibels are enough to break the workers’ eardrums.
After “bathing” for Big Ben, the workers also have to repair Big Ben. The last time Big Ben underwent a major repair and bath was in 2017.
This repair is the largest in history! In August 2017, the British government announced to the world through major media that repairs were about to begin, and Big Ben went silent. The project plan lasts for 5 years and is expected to be completed by 2022 with a budget of 80 million pounds.
And as the major repairs began, it was agreed that during this period, Big Ben would only ring for special events, such as New Year’s Eve and Remembrance Days. The parliamentary committee said maintenance teams were able to plan ahead for the Remembrance Day bells well in advance. This means that, to ring the bell, except on these days, the budget must be supplemented. However, what I didn’t expect was that during the maintenance of Big Ben, I did encounter a difficult thing.
On January 23, 2013, former British Prime Minister David Cameron mentioned for the first time Britain’s plan to leave the European Union. At 11:00 pm on January 31, 2020, the United Kingdom officially “Brexit” and ended its 47-year EU membership.
In order to celebrate Britain’s official departure from the European Union, British Prime Minister Boris Johnson has repeatedly emphasized: “At this important historical moment, Big Ben must be rung without hesitation!” At 11 o’clock in the evening on January 31, 2020, it will cost a full 500,000 pounds to make Big Ben strike 11 times! The reason for the so much money: Big Ben’s castanets were removed during repairs. If you want to go back temporarily, it will be expensive. In addition, the British parliamentary committee responsible for the maintenance said that laying the temporary platform and reinstalling and removing the temporary bell mechanism (electric bell hammer) would cost 120,000 pounds. During the maintenance period, the floor of the bell tower was also removed.
In order to ring the bell, it needs to be reinstalled, and then the temporary floor will be dismantled after the bell is ringing. This will require a large amount of work, and the existing restoration project will have to be postponed, which is expensive. The commission said it was unlikely to be completed before January 31. While the parliament is discussing this matter intensely, the voice of the common people is very high for the Brexit bell. Unfortunately, however, the British House of Commons rejected the ringing of the bell to celebrate.
But no matter what, on the night of January 31, 2020, at the moment of Brexit celebrations, the citizens of London still heard the long and deep sound of Big Ben.
In November 2022, Big Ben, a landmark building in London, England, after five years of restoration, will ring again at 11:00 on November 13 and resume daily operation.
Today, when people walk along the Thames River, they are all impressed by the magnificent momentum of Big Ben: its carving patterns are clearly visible, the exquisite patterns are beautiful, and the ancient Roman numerals on the clock face reveal mystery and nobility. And the eternal bell floating over the city of London is always praying for peace and happiness for people!