Big Ben
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Big Ben with the London Eye in the background

 Distance from hotel: 3.9 miles (About 8 minutes)
 Hours of operation: Various times depending if Parliment is sitting
 Cost: Free or 7 for a guided tour of the Houses Of Parliment
 Included with tour: No

 

  THE HISTORY

  Big Ben is the nickname of the Great Bell of Westminster, the hour bell of the Great Clock, hanging in the Clock Tower of the Palace of Westminster, the home of the Houses of Parliament in the United Kingdom.

One theory says that the bell was named "Big Ben" after Sir Benjamin Hall, the Chief Commissioner of Works. Another theory suggests that at the time anything which was heaviest of its kind was called "Big Ben" after the then-famous prizefighter Benjamin Caunt, making it a natural name for the bell.

Big Ben is commonly taken to be the name of the clock tower itself, but this is incorrect - the tower is simply known as The Clock Tower. Sometimes, the tower is referred to as St. Stephen's Tower, but this title is not used by staff of the Palace of Westminster.

The bell weighs 13.762 tonnes (13 long tons 10 cwt 99 lb or 30,339 lb), with a striking hammer weighing 203 kg (4 cwt), and was originally tuned to E. There is delay of 5 seconds between strikes. It is a common misconception that Big Ben is the heaviest bell in Britain. In fact, it is only the third heaviest, the second heaviest being Great George found at Liverpool Cathedral at 14 tons 15 cwt 2 qtr 2 lb (33,098 lb or 15.013 Mg) and the heaviest being Great Paul found at St Paul's Cathedral at 16 tons 14 cwt 2 qtr 19 lb (37483 lb or 17.002 t).

The original tower designs demanded a 14 long ton (14 t) bell to be struck with a 6 cwt (300 kg) hammer. A bell was produced by John Warner and Sons in 1856, weighing 16 tons (long or metric). However, this cracked under test in the Palace Yard. The contract for the bell was then given to the Whitechapel Bell Foundry, who in 1858 re-cast the bell into the 13.8 t bell used today. It too started to crack under the 6 cwt (300 kg) hammer, and a legal battle arose. After two years of having the Great Bell out of commission, the 6 cwt (300 kg) hammer was replaced with a lighter 4 cwt (200 kg) hammer, and the bell itself was turned 90 degrees so the crack would not develop any further, coming back into use in 1862. However, the crack, now filled, and the turn meant that it no longer struck a true E.

The belfry also houses four quarter bells which play the Westminster Chimes, derived from Handel's Messiah, on the quarter hours. The C note in the chime is repeated twice in quick succession, faster than the chiming train can draw back the hammers, so the C bell uses two separate hammers.