The Clock Tower is the focus of New Year celebrations in the United Kingdom, with radio and TV stations tuning to its chimes to welcome the start of the year, but the unique sound of the bell Big Ben is caused by a patched crack.
(Yes, Big Ben isn’t the name of the tower, it’s the nickname of the main bell in the tower which is part of the Great Clock of Westminster in London. It’s officially known as the Great Bell, but is better known by the nickname Big Ben.
The original bell was a 16.3-tonne (16 ton) hour bell, cast on 6 August 1856 in Stockton-on-Tees by John Warner & Sons. The bell was named in honour of Sir Benjamin Hall, and his name is inscribed on it.
Cast in 1856, the first bell was transported to the tower on a trolley drawn by sixteen horses, with crowds cheering its progress. Unfortunately, it cracked beyond repair while being tested and a replacement had to be made. The bell was recast at the Whitechapel Bell Foundry as a 13.76-tonne (13½ ton) bell. This was pulled up 200 ft (61 m) by hand, into the Clock Tower’s belfry, a feat that took 18 hours.
Big Ben is 2.2 metres tall and 2.9 metres wide. It first chimed in July 1859, but in September of that year it too cracked under the hammer, a mere two months after it officially went into service. According to the foundry’s manager, George Mears, Denison had used a hammer more than twice the maximum weight specified. For three years Big Ben was out of commission and the hours were struck on the lowest of the quarter bells until it was reinstalled. To make the repair, a square piece of metal was chipped out from the rim around the crack, and the bell given an eighth of a turn so the new hammer struck in a different place. Big Ben has chimed with an odd twang ever since and is still in use today complete with the crack. At the time of its casting, Big Ben was the largest bell in the British Isles until “Great Paul”, a 17 tonne (16¾ ton) bell currently hung in St Paul’s Cathedral, was cast in 1881.
Happy New Year.)