A Complete Guide to the History of Big Ben: How Old is the Iconic Clock Tower?

Big Ben is one of the most iconic landmarks in the world, attracting millions of visitors each year. This magnificent clock tower stands tall in the heart of London and has been an integral part of the city’s skyline for over 150 years. However, despite its popularity, many people still wonder about the history of Big Ben and how old it actually is. In this blog post, we will take a deep dive into the fascinating history of Big Ben, exploring its construction, interesting facts, renovations, and maintenance. So let’s explore the incredible story behind this famous clock tower and discover what makes it such an important part of London’s heritage.



Big Ben is one of the most recognizable landmarks in London, England. This iconic clock tower has been a symbol of British culture for over 150 years and continues to attract millions of visitors every year. But how old is Big Ben exactly? In this article, we’ll be exploring the history of this famous tower, from its construction to recent renovations. We’ll also be sharing interesting facts about the clock and its bell ‘Big Ben’. Whether you’re a history buff or just curious about one of the world’s most famous landmarks, this article has everything you need to know about the age and legacy of Big Ben. So without further ado, let’s dive into the fascinating story of this beloved British icon.

The History of Big Ben

Construction of the Tower

Construction of the Tower

The construction of the iconic clock tower that we now know as Big Ben began in 1843 and was completed four years later in 1857. The tower stands at an impressive height of 96 meters (315 feet) and weighs approximately 13,760 tonnes.

The construction work was not without its challenges. One of the biggest obstacles was the marshy ground on which the tower was being built. To solve this problem, the builders used a technique called ‘piled foundations’, where long shafts were driven deep into the ground to provide a stable base for the tower.

Another challenge during the construction was the shortage of funds. The original budget for the construction was £500,000, but by the time the tower was completed, the final cost had soared to £1.2 million. This led to debates and criticisms about the extravagant spending on the tower.

Despite these challenges, the tower was finally completed in 1857. It is made up of brick and limestone, with the clock faces made of cast iron. The four clock faces are each 7 meters (23 feet) in diameter, making them the largest clock faces in the world at the time of their installation.

In addition to its impressive size, the tower also features intricate Gothic architectural details, such as pointed arches, quatrefoils, and pinnacles. These designs were influenced by the Victorian Gothic Revival movement, which was popular during the construction of the tower.

Today, the construction of the tower remains a testament to the ingenuity and skill of the builders who worked on it over 150 years ago. Its imposing presence continues to inspire awe and admiration, and it remains one of the most iconic landmarks in the world.

Installation of the Clock Mechanism

Installation of the Clock Mechanism

The installation of the clock mechanism in Big Ben was a major achievement in engineering history. The clock mechanism was designed by Edmund Beckett Denison, and it was installed in the tower in 1859. It consisted of four large clock faces that were placed on each side of the tower. The installation of this clock mechanism was an intricate process that required careful planning and execution.

To begin with, the clock mechanism had to be transported to the top of the tower. This was no mean feat, as the mechanism weighed over 5 tons. A special hoist was constructed to lift the mechanism to the top of the tower. Once the mechanism had been safely transported to the top of the tower, the installation process could begin.

The installation of the clock mechanism took several months to complete. The mechanism had to be assembled piece by piece, and each component had to be carefully tested to ensure that it worked correctly. The clock mechanism was so complex that it required specially trained engineers to install it.

One of the most challenging parts of the installation process was the installation of the clock faces. Each face was made up of hundreds of individual pieces of glass, and these had to be carefully assembled and installed. The clock faces also had to be angled correctly to ensure that they could be easily read from the ground.

Despite the challenges involved, the installation of the clock mechanism was completed successfully. The clock mechanism has been keeping time accurately for over 160 years, making it one of the most reliable clocks in the world.

In conclusion, the installation of the clock mechanism in Big Ben was a remarkable achievement in engineering history. The process was complex and required careful planning and execution, but it was completed successfully. Today, the clock mechanism continues to keep accurate time and is a testament to the skill and expertise of the engineers who installed it.

Naming the Bell ‘Big Ben’

Naming the Bell ‘Big Ben’

The bell inside the clock tower of Westminster Palace in London, also known as the Great Bell, has become an international symbol of British culture. However, it wasn’t initially called “Big Ben”. In fact, it wasn’t until years after its installation that it acquired this nickname.

The Original Name

When the Great Bell was first cast in 1856, it was given the name “Royal Victoria”. This was to honor the then-reigning monarch, Queen Victoria. However, the Great Bell was not the only one in the tower. There were four others, each with their own name: Great Peter, Little Tom, Edward, and John.

The Nickname “Big Ben”

So how did the Great Bell come to be known as “Big Ben”? There are a few different stories surrounding its origin.

One popular theory is that the name came from Sir Benjamin Hall, who at the time was the First Commissioner of Works. He was responsible for overseeing the installation of the clock tower, including the Great Bell. It’s said that he was a large man and that his name and physical stature inspired the nickname.

Another theory is that the name comes from a heavyweight boxing champion named Ben Caunt. He was nicknamed “Big Ben” and was a popular figure at the time of the bell’s installation.

Regardless of the true origin, the nickname “Big Ben” caught on quickly. It became so widely used that even today many people refer to the entire clock tower as “Big Ben”, when in fact that name really only applies to the bell itself.


Naming the bell “Big Ben” was purely accidental, but it has since become one of the most recognizable names in the world. It’s interesting to think about how a small detail like a nickname can have such a lasting impact on history.

Facts About Big Ben

The Bell’s Weight

The Bell’s Weight

The bell inside the clock tower of Big Ben is one of the most iconic features of the London skyline. It has been ringing out across the city for over 160 years, marking important events and providing a constant reminder of the time to all those who hear it.

But have you ever wondered just how heavy this enormous bell really is? The answer might surprise you!

The bell, officially named the Great Bell of Westminster, weighs a staggering 13.5 tons (12.2 metric tonnes). To put that into perspective, that’s more than two adult elephants or a small passenger airplane!

The sheer size and weight of the bell presented a significant engineering challenge when it was first installed in the tower in 1858. It had to be transported from the foundry in Whitechapel across the city to Westminster, a distance of several miles. The journey took three days and required a team of 16 horses to pull the cart carrying the bell.

Despite its massive size, the Great Bell of Westminster is actually only the third heaviest bell ever cast in Britain. The other two are both located in Liverpool – the Great George Bell at Liverpool Cathedral, which weighs 14.5 tons (13.2 metric tonnes), and the Great Paul Bell at St. Paul’s Cathedral, which weighs a whopping 17.5 tons (15.9 metric tonnes).

In addition to its impressive weight, the bell also has a diameter of 8 feet (2.4 meters) and a height of 7.5 feet (2.3 meters). It is made of an alloy of copper and tin, which gives it a distinctive sound that is instantly recognizable to anyone familiar with the clock tower.

Despite its size and weight, the Great Bell of Westminster has remained a reliable and essential part of the clock tower’s mechanism for over a century and a half. Its deep, resonant tones continue to ring out across London every hour, reminding us all of the passage of time and the enduring legacy of this iconic landmark.

Accuracy of the Clock

Accuracy of the Clock

The accuracy of the clock has been an essential aspect of Big Ben’s legacy since its inception. To maintain a high level of precision, the clock features a remarkable system of weights, pendulums, and gears.

Each week, the clock goes through a meticulous winding process that involves raising the massive weights used to turn the gears and power the pendulum. This action is done manually by a team of clock keepers who must climb hundreds of stairs to reach the top of the tower.

The clock mechanism itself is an engineering marvel, consisting of several interlocking gears with varying sizes that work together to keep perfect time. The pendulum oscillates every two seconds, helping regulate the movement of the gears, while the weights ensure the motion remains consistent.

Interestingly, the accuracy of the clock is not only influenced by the mechanical system but also by external factors such as temperature and air pressure. Variations in temperature can cause the metal components of the clock to expand or contract, leading to changes in the timekeeping.

To counteract these factors, the clock has several adjustable mechanisms that allow for small tweaks to be made when necessary. For example, the pendulum has an adjustable weight at the bottom, which can be shifted to alter the rate of the swings.

Despite its age and numerous renovations, the clock has maintained an impressive level of accuracy over the years. Today, it is one of the most precise clocks in the world, with an error margin of just a few seconds over the course of a week.

In conclusion, the accuracy of the clock is a testament to the skill and ingenuity of the clockmakers who constructed the mechanism almost 160 years ago. It stands as a symbol of precision and reliability, reflecting the importance of accurate timekeeping in society.

Illumination of the Clock Face

Illumination of the Clock Face

The illumination of the clock face is one of the most iconic features of Big Ben. The clock face is visible from miles away, and at night, it truly comes to life with its mesmerizing glow. In this section, we will dive into the details of how the clock face is illuminated, its history, and some interesting facts you may not know.

History of Illumination

Initially, the clock face was illuminated by gas lamps. But in 1902, the system was replaced by electric lighting. It consisted of a series of bulbs arranged in an intricate pattern. The bulbs were originally white, but green was introduced during World War II to make it less visible during air raids.

In 2012, energy-efficient LED lights replaced the old bulbs. This modern upgrade has made the clock face even more vibrant, while reducing energy consumption and costs.

How the Clock Face is Illuminated Today

Today, the clock face is lit up by 112 energy-saving LED bulbs which are placed behind the dial. These bulbs have a life span of around 60,000 hours and consume very little electricity.

The LEDs are programmed to turn on automatically at sunset and turn off at sunrise. Additionally, they are linked to a light sensor that adjusts their brightness depending on the amount of natural light.

Interesting Facts About the Illumination

  • The clock face is actually made up of individual plates of glass, each of which is lit up by its own set of bulbs.
  • The clock face is changed every five years, and during this process, the illuminations are also checked and updated if necessary.
  • During the Christmas period, the clock face is lit up in festive colors, adding to the holiday spirit in London.

Overall, the illumination of the clock face is an essential component of the charm and grandeur of Big Ben. Whether you view it during the day or at night, the clock face is a true spectacle that symbolizes London’s rich history and iconic landmarks.

Renovations and Maintenance

Major Renovation in the 1980s

During the 1980s, Big Ben underwent a major renovation that lasted from 1983 to 1985. The goal of this extensive project was to repair and update the aging clock tower, ensuring its longevity for years to come.

The major renovation included several tasks, such as replacing the clock’s electric motor, repairing cracked stonework, and installing a new lighting system for the clock faces. Additionally, workers added an enclosed staircase and lift to make maintenance and repairs easier in the future.

One of the most significant parts of the renovation was the replacement of the clock’s pendulum. The original pendulum had been in use since the tower’s construction and had become worn down over time. To ensure the clock remained accurate, a new pendulum made of low-expansion steel was installed.

The renovation also allowed for the restoration of the clock dials’ original blue color, which had faded over time due to sun exposure. Workers were able to repaint the dials to match their original appearance, restoring the clock tower’s iconic look.

Furthermore, during the renovation, experts discovered that the clock’s mechanism was still in excellent condition despite its age. This finding confirmed the high-quality workmanship of the original builders and ensured that the clock would continue to keep time accurately for many years to come.

Overall, the major renovation in the 1980s was a critical moment in Big Ben’s history, providing much-needed updates and repairs to maintain the clock tower’s integrity and beauty. Today, visitors can still enjoy the clock tower’s stunning architecture and the accuracy of its timekeeping, thanks to the successful renovation efforts of the 1980s.

Recent Renovation Project

Recent Renovation Project

In 2017, a four-year renovation project was initiated to restore Big Ben to its former glory. The £61 million project included the replacement of the clock’s hands and the restoration of the clock face to its original blue color.

One of the main objectives of the renovation was to modernize the tower’s facilities while preserving its historic features. This involved upgrades to the tower’s plumbing and electrical systems, as well as the installation of a new lift to improve accessibility.

The renovation also addressed issues with the clock’s accuracy. For the first time in over 40 years, the clock mechanism was taken apart and thoroughly cleaned to ensure that it would keep accurate time for many years to come.

During the renovation period, Big Ben’s bell ‘Big Ben’ was silenced for several months, causing disappointment among Londoners and tourists alike. However, the tune of the bell’s chime was recorded so that it could still be heard on special occasions, such as New Year’s Eve.

The renovation project was completed in 2021, and Big Ben is now fully restored and functioning. Visitors can once again climb the tower to take in the panoramic views of London and hear the iconic chimes of ‘Big Ben’.

Overall, the recent renovation project was a significant undertaking that required careful planning and execution. Thanks to the efforts of the restoration team, Big Ben remains a symbol of British history and culture for generations to come.

Ongoing Maintenance

Ongoing Maintenance

Maintaining a monument like Big Ben, which is over 160 years old, is no easy task. The clock tower requires constant upkeep to ensure it remains in good working order and safe for visitors. The ongoing maintenance of Big Ben includes various tasks such as cleaning, inspection, repair, and replacement.

One of the most critical aspects of ongoing maintenance is ensuring that the clock mechanism is functioning correctly. This involves regular inspections of the gears, weights, pendulum, and hands, as well as lubrication and adjustment if necessary. The clock’s accuracy also needs to be maintained, with checks made weekly to ensure it is keeping accurate time.

In addition to the clock mechanism, ongoing maintenance also involves monitoring the condition of the tower itself. Engineers check the stonework for damage or wear and tear, and repairs are carried out as required. The cast iron roof, which weighs over 600 tons, is also subject to regular inspection and maintenance to ensure its structural integrity.

Cleaning is another essential aspect of ongoing maintenance. The clock faces are cleaned every five years, requiring a team of specialist abseilers who work at heights of up to 300 feet. The team uses traditional methods, including soap and water, to clean the dirt and grime from the clock faces, ensuring the numerals remain visible from a distance.

Finally, ongoing maintenance also involves upgrading the tower’s systems to meet modern safety and environmental standards. For example, a new LED lighting system was installed in 2017 to light up the clock faces at night, reducing energy consumption and light pollution.

Overall, ongoing maintenance of the Big Ben clock tower requires a significant amount of effort, expertise, and resources. However, this dedication ensures that the iconic landmark will continue to keep time accurately and safely for generations to come.
Big Ben is one of the most iconic landmarks in London, and its history spans over 150 years. From its construction to recent renovations, the clock tower has remained a symbol of London and an engineering marvel. The installation of the clock mechanism, naming the bell ‘Big Ben’, and accuracy of the clock are just some fascinating aspects of its history.

The renovations and ongoing maintenance efforts ensure that Big Ben continues to run smoothly and accurately for years to come. As we reflect on the long and rich history of this magnificent structure, we are reminded of the significance it holds not only as a tourist attraction but also as a testament to human ingenuity and progress.

In conclusion, Big Ben remains one of the most recognizable landmarks in the world, and its history is a testament to both its importance and resilience. We can only hope that this iconic clock tower will continue to inspire future generations, leaving a lasting impression for centuries to come.

Related Articles

Leave a Reply

Your email address will not be published. Required fields are marked *

Back to top button