Big Ben - one of London's best-known landmarks, looks most beautiful at night when the clock face is illuminated. You even know when parliament is in session, as a light shines above the clock.
The dials of the clock are 23 feet square. The minute hand being 14 feet long and the figures 2 feet high. Precisely metered with a stack of coins placed on the huge pendulum, Big Ben is an excellent timekeeper.
As contrary to normal perception, the name Big Ben actually refers to the thirteen ton bell hung within and not the clock tower. The bell was named after Sir Benjamin Hall, the first commissioner of works.
This bell comes originally from the old Palace of Westminster and was given to the Dean of St. Paul's by William the III. Before returning to Westminster, its present home, it was refashioned and changed in Whitechapel in 1858. BBC first broadcast the chimes on the 31st December 1923 - thruogh the microphone in the turret connected to Broadcasting house.
During the second world war in the year 1941, even thuogh an incendiary bomb destroyed the Commons chamber of the Houses of Parliament, but the clock tower remained intact and Big Ben continued to keep time accurately, its unique sound was broadcast not only to the nation, but around the world. A welcome reassurance of hope to all who heard.
The Clock tower has even cells where members of the Parliament can be imprisoned for a breach of parliamentary privileges, though this is very rare; the last recorded case was in the year 1880.
The tower is not open to the general public, but those with a "special interest in clocks and time pieces" may arrange a visit to the top of the Clock Tower through their local (UK) MP or by visitnig the website mentioned.
Tours are conducted but with a very limited capacity of only 16 visitors per tour and are available on reques; children under 11 are not allowed. If demand is high, preference is given to those with a proven interest in clocks or bells.
At present overseas visitors are not allowed to take the tour.
Residents of UK should contact their local MP. If you are unsure of your local MP’s details, then please contact the House of Commons Information Office or use the constituency locata service. Applications should be made in writing and as far in advance as possible.
The address for contacting Member of Parliaments is:
House of Commons
Tours are absolutely free and take place at 10.30am, 11.30am and 2.30pm on weekdays (monday to friday). Visitors are advised that since there are 334 spiral steps, suitable footwear should be worn. There is no lift and photography is not permitted, mobile phones have to be switched off. Visitors are expected to enter through the St Stephens Entrance with the appropriate tour confirmation and assemble at the North Door of Westminster Hall before 20 minutes past the hour. Visitors who arrive late will miss the tour. Please note that visitors will exit through the North Door.