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Today in history...

12:00am | & News

Its sonorous chimes have been heard not just in London, but broadcast across the UK, even around the world. Today we wish a happy 157th birthday to Big Ben!

The famous London clock tower commonly known as "Big Ben" rang out over the Houses of Parliament for the first time on May 31st, 1859. Much of the Palace of Westminster – home to the House of Commons and House of Lords – had been destroyed in a major fire in 1834. A large tower with a four-faced clock at the top was a key part of the design for the rebuild, which took 25 years.

So it was that the 320-foot high St Stephen's Tower was built, renamed the 'Elizabeth Tower' in 2012 to celebrate the Diamond Jubilee of Queen Elizabeth II. The huge clock at the top of the tower was designed and built for pinpoint accuracy, checked twice-a-day with the Royal Greenwich Observatory. 

Its massive bell, weighing more than 13 tons, was dragged through London by a team of 16 horses. Its first chimes were cheered across the capital, but just two months later the heavy striker cracked the bell and it fell silent for three years while the crack was repaired and a lighter striker installed.

The bell quickly became known as Big Ben, possibly after London's famously longwinded Commissioner of Works Sir Benjamin Hall, or popular heavyweight boxer Benjamin Caunt, renowned for his powerful stature.

Over time the name Big Ben has come to refer to the whole clock tower, whose chimes are broadcast around the world by the BBC World Service, and especially at midnight on New Year's Eve. It survived the blitz and, except for periods of routine maintenance, continues to ring out with a reassuring regularity.

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