Puppydog tails — 29 December 2017
Some pretty uninteresting facts about Big Ben

In a couple of days time, as some even stand out in all weathers, the nation will hold its collective breath and look at a clock, now encased in German scaffolding, and for no reason whatsoever, begin a countdown.

So here are a few facts about this iconic tower, and its timepiece, all of which will look pristine once we have spent £61 million giving it a makeover.

A PROFILE template of Big Ben, the largest bell ever cast at Whitechapel Bell Foundry, once stood inside the door of their museum, until the foundry closed this year after 500 years in business.

Big Ben might be Radio 4’s time check of choice, but it’s not London’s largest bell. That accolade goes to the Great Bell at St. Paul’s.

At a diameter of 23ft, it doesn’t even have the Capital’s largest clock face. It’s the ‘Big Benzene’ aloft the Shell Mex Building that can claim big is best.

If you want to get up close and personal, it has a smaller brother at the junction of Vauxhall Bridge Road and Victoria Street. Unfortunately, it’s painted black.

If the capital could keep the noise down you might just discern its chimes 5 miles away.

Originally designed by the famous clockmaker Edward Dent, but it was a lawyer, Edmund Beckett, who refined the design and curiously chose not to patient the modifications, making certain that anyone can copy Big Ben should they so choose.

The first radio broadcast was at the start of New Year 1923.

The mechanism is regulated using a high-tech solution, an old penny or two are either added or removed. The clock gains ⅖ths of a second for each penny added.

The original hammer was too heavy (they were warned), which then cracked the bell giving the distinctive tone we hear today.

Twice before the bells have been silenced, it first chimed on 11th July 1859, but by that September a crack was discovered causing it to fall silent for 4-years. Repairs to the mechanism in 2007 lasting for 7 weeks and again 1976 for 9 months caused a brief silence for sleeping neighbours.

In 1949, a flock of starlings perched on the minute hand, slowing it by 4.5 minutes.

In 1940, during World War II, before the 9pm BBC Radio News a Silent Minute was introduced to encourage members of the public into contemplation and prayer during the minute when the chimes would normally sound.

Look out for the Ayrton Light at the top of the tower to see if Parliament is in session and earning the fortune we pay them.

The tower leans 0.04 degrees to the north-west, caused, in part, by the construction of the Members underground car park. Pisa, it definitely isn’t.

Now that it’s surrounded by scaffolding, catch it on film and TV: 28 Days Later; V for Vendetta; Lost; Doctor Who; Thunderbirds are Go; and Mary Poppins.

It is the largest 4-faced chiming clock and the 3rd tallest free-standing clock tower in the world.

And finally . . .

A third of the way up the tower at 114 steps is a prison for unruly MPs. It was last used in 1880 when newly elected Charles Bradlaugh, an atheist, refused to swear allegiance to Queen Victoria on the Bible. A pub in Northampton is named in his honour.

Featured image: Clipart-Library.com

 

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