Big Ben: Facts and Information

Here are some facts about Big Ben, one of London’s most famous landmarks.

  • Big Ben is actually the name of the huge bell, but most people use it to refer to the clock and the tower as well. It is the world’s largest chiming clock with four faces.

  • The clock tower, known as the Elizabeth Tower, was built between 1843 and 1858 and is 316 feet high and it is part of the Palace of Westminster. Although the public is not allowed inside, there are great views from the nearby London Eye.
  • Big Ben was probably named for the Commissioner of Works, Benjamin Hall, a man well known for his large size.
  • The clock tower has featured in dozens of movies, including Shanghai Knights and the 1978 version of The 39 Steps. Both films feature an exciting climax with the hero hanging from the clock hands.
  • The minute hand on Big Ben weighs about 220 pounds and is just over 12 feet long. Every year, the hand travels the equivalent of about 118 miles.

Big Ben

  • Pennies are still placed on the mechanism to ensure the clock is as accurate as possible. The clock gains 2/5 of a second in a day when one penny is added.
  • An inscription in Latin in gold letters along the bottom of each of the clock faces reads ‘O Lord, keep safe our Queen Victoria the First’.
  • Big Ben’s chimes have been famous for over 150 years. During World War 2, the sound of the chimes being broadcast told the world that Britain had not been defeated.
  • A Big Ben LEGO set has been produced. Part of the LEGO Architecture series, the set (21013) has over 340 pieces.
  • The bell is just over seven feet tall, and weighs about the same as an elephant. When it was cast in 1858, it took two weeks for the bell to cool down.
  • There is still a crack in the bell which occurred in 1859. At the time, it was considered too difficult to remove the bell to repair it.
  • In 2017, restoration work was started, and the Elizabeth Tower was covered in scaffold. It is believed that the job will be completed in 2021.
  • There are 334 steps in the spiral staircase inside the Elizabeth Tower.
  • The base of the tower is just 12m square.

What next? Find out some more facts about London by visiting the Primary Facts London resources page.

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