Wednesday

Exploring Big Ben

There are THREE HUNDRED AND THIRTY-FOUR steps to the top of the clocktower (whew!) which houses Big Ben.

That's right, Big Ben is NOT the clocktower. And he's NOT the clock. Big Ben is the BELL, the really BIG BELL, which hangs alongside four other bells in the clocktower at the Palace of Westminster.

I know what you're thinking: "Hold it, there! I thought Big Ben was in the clocktower at the HOUSES OF PARLIAMENT." And yep, you're right. It's the self-same clocktower. But the OFFICIAL name of the "Houses of Parliament" is, in fact, the Palace of Westminster. Feel free to impress your friends with that little fact, the next time you're chewing the fat.

Despite the fact that Big Ben is ONLY the BELL (and you might think I'm pedantic for having mentioned it), most people think of 'Big Ben' as the whole tower, the clock mechanism, the clock face, and the bells. So you'd be forgiven for thinking the same thing (except, of course, if you were at a meeting of horologists).

But I digress.... back to Big Ben (the BELL).

What's that you say? The name? Ah yes, I was getting to that. I want to tell you first, about a custom: it is traditional to give names to big bells. St Paul's Cathedral has Great Tom, and Southwark Cathedral has had St Nicholas, Augustus, and even Anna Maria. (By the way, little bells are NOT named. So the four other bells in the clocktower, which hang alongside Big Ben and chime the quarter hours, are nameless.)

So how did Big Ben come to be called "Big Ben"? Like so many things in London, there are TWO stories:

Story #1: Big Ben was named after Benjamin Caunt, a famous heavyweight bare knuckle boxer at the time. He weighed 17 stone (91 kilogrammes), and he was nicknamed 'Big Ben'.

Story #2: OR Big Ben was named after Sir Benjamin Hall, who was the Commissioner of Works and MP for Marylebone. Benjamin Hall was a jovial fellow, and people really liked him. At 6 feet 4 inches, he was as wide as he was tall and was known as 'Big Ben'. Legend has it, the members of Parliament were debating what to call the bell. The debate went on and on and on. Benjamn Hall was speaking, and an MP, who must've been ready to go home, yelled, 'Why not call it Big Ben?'

Everybody burst out laughing and the name stuck. Hansard (the official record of Parliament) doesn't mention the debate, or the laughter, so we may never know the real truth.

I'll write more about Big Ben soon. But that's all for now!