While most of you probably associate the name 'Big Ben' with a large tower and a huge, chiming, clock, the name actually only represents the Great Bell itself, hidden behind the clock face. The towers actually name is the 'Elizabeth Tower', re-named from the simple 'Clock Tower' in honour of the Queens Diamond Jubilee, and is home to the largest four-faced clock in the world. It was originally built as part of the design for a new palace, after the old Westminster Palace was was annihilated during a fire in October 1834, and was architect Augustus Pugin's last design before he went mad and eventually died. Mr. Pugin himself said he had never worked so hard on a design. The tower was completed in 1858, and since then its clock has been famous worldwide for it's accuracy and reliability. Very rarely has it stopped or malfunctioned, and not without good reason! For example -
The bells were silenced and the clock face remained un-lit for two years during World War I, to prevent it from being heard or spotted at night by German zeppelins, thus causing the City to be attacked.
The same was done during the World War II Blitz, though this time the bells continued to chime.
On New Years Eve 1962, the clock hands were so weighed down with heavy ice and snow that the pendulum of the mechanism became detached, and reliable old Big Ben was a whole 10 minutes late in welcoming in the new year.
In October 2005 the clock was manually stopped for maintenance. This took 33 hours - the longest manual shut down in 22 years.
Unfortunately, believe it or not, the inside of Big Ben is not open to tourists or people who live overseas. Even UK residents have to contact their member of parliament well in advance if they wish to arrange a tour - and then have climb a whopping 334 limestone steps to get all the way to the top! But don't let that dishearten or discourage you from visiting what is potentially Britain's most well-known attraction - it's beauty and majesty can be appreciated and admired from the outside just as much as from the inside.
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