One of the most iconic, easily recognizable symbols of London and England in Big Ben and Americans should make an effort to visit the behemoth.  Technically, Big Ben is really St. Stephen’s tower which is Parliaments official clock tower.  Over the last century the clock has risen in fame and importance as one of London’s cultural icons.  Today, those living in London can visit the clock tower and even climb to the top.

History of Big Ben

Technically named St. Stephen’s tower, Big Ben was constructed in 1859.  The bell inside the tower (the real Big Ben) weighs nearly fourteen tons and is named after either Sir Benjamin Hall, a well-loved politician of the day, or Benjamin Boxer, a well-known boxer.  The man for whom the bell was originally dedicated is not known with only speculation remaining. Big Ben strikes on the hour and four smaller bells strike every quarter hour.

Keeping Time

Big Ben’s accuracy to time is amazing and can only be attributed to the geniuses of the clockmakers, Edmund Beckett Denison and Edward John Dent.  The clock must be wound three times a week and old fashioned pennies are used inside the mechanism to help keep the clock running smoothly.  The size of the clock is enormous.  Each side of the tower features a clock that is twenty-three feet in diameter with hour hands reaching nine feet long and minute hands reaching fourteen feet.

Big Ben Tours

Visitors to Parliament are able to tour St. Stephen’s Tower.  Unfortunately due to high demand clock tour tours must be scheduled far in advance.  The cost of a tour is £15 and children under eleven are not allowed on the premises for safety reasons.  The tours occur Monday through Friday (except holidays) and are available three times per day.  Visitors, whether local or foreign, must provide personal information to screen for possible problems. The tour itself begins at the base of the tower and guests climb over three hundred steps to hear Big Ben strike on the hour.

While living here expats should take every opportunity to experience London culture in all its glory.  Although Big Ben is a major tourist attraction it is an integral part of English heritage and history.  Planning a visit to Parliament and including a tour of Big Ben is a wonderful way to learn more about England while living in London.