I have this thing for clocks: Big Ben

Big Ben

I love clocks.  Clocks on buildings and towers and streets–not just clocks in general.  There is something about the presence of a clock in the built environment that fascinates me.  Since the London trip was pre-blog days, I have been perusing the photographs again, and periodically posting.  Perhaps it is like a virtual vacation since I have not seen much outside of the grocery store and my front yard for months now.

Following a fire in 1834, much of the former Palace of Westminster was destroyed.  In 1835, a Royal Commission was appointed to plan for rebuilding.  The Commission declared a contest for submissions and required the stye had to be either Gothic or Elizabethan. Although Neoclassical was all the rage, British associated it with the White House design and said it represented rebellion and revolution.  They desired something more conservative.  The public competition was initiated in 1836 and 97 submissions were received.  The blind entries were identified by symbols, and number 64 was the unanimous choice.  No. 64 was architect Charles Barry, proposing a Gothic-styled palace to maintain harmony with the surviving buildings (Living Heritage: Architecture of the Palace).  Construction began in 1840, with an estimated construction time of six years.  Instead, it took over 30 years.  By 1847, however, the House of Lords chamber was completed and the House of Commons by 1852.  Barry had recruited the services of 23 year old Augustus Pugin for his expertise in Gothic design to aid him in drawing the plans.  Pugin further designed most of the interior and carried out the plans.  Pugin had fragile health and died in 1852; Barry died in 1860 and his son took over the completion of the work for the next decade.

At the north-eastern end of the Palace is the Elizabeth Tower, with its bell named Big Ben.  The four-faced clock was designed by Augustus Pugin, as was the tower.  The clock and the bell were not without issues, however.

The Clock at the Westminster Palace.–On Monday the clock in the clock tower of the Westminster Palace was set in motion, but the hands on two of the dials only acted effectually, viz, those on the west and north sides. No hour was struck, nor were the quarters chimed. The cause of the hands referred to not acting is stated to be that the machinery by which they are turned is not of a sufficient power to put all in motion, and that it will, therefore, be necessary to remove them and put up others of a lighter construction. It will, we believe, be some time yet before the machinery can be attached to the bells upon which the hours and quarters will be struck. (The Morning Chronicle, London, Greater London, England, June 1, 1859, p. 2)

A Thing Not Generally Known.–The Westminster Clock has been going for three weeks, with the hands attached, but none of the London papers have condescended to notice the fact. Those who have been to London and looked up at this clock, need not be told what a stupendous affair it is, but it will be news to them, and furnish some idea of the magnitude of the clock to others, to be told, that each minute-hand and its counterpoise weighs 6 1/2 cwt! and all the hands together, with the counterpoises, weigh above 2 1/4 tons! It is not safe, however, to let the clock work such ponderous hands, and they must be removed, to be replaced by lighter ones. The difficulty seems to be to get hands of sufficient strength yet not of excessive weight. The minute hands referred to above, are made of gun metal, and the maker undertook that they should not exceed 2 cwt., but without saying a word to Mr. Denison, in order to get the requisite strength he increased the weight more than threefold. (The Bradford Observer, Bradford, West Yorkshire, England, June 30, 1859, p. 5)

The bell, cast by Messrs. Warner, was heavier than expected,  and a clapper larger than expected was required to ring it.  Under trials, the bell broke before it was installed.  The bell was broken for recasting and it was discovered that the first casting had failure.  Messrs. Mears recast the second bell, said to be “magnificent” (Jackson’s Oxford Journal, Oxford, Oxfordshire, England, Oct. 8, 1859, p. 3). While the bell itself was declared magnificent and in testing, found to be “the largest and finest bell ever cast in England, when installed, instead of the usual mode of having some freedom in the swing for the bell to move when struck,

…contrary to the experience of all bell-hangers from time immemorial, Big Ben was firmly bolted to the beam from which he hung and made as rigid as the walls of the tower itself. Thus fixed, his tone was tried; the clapper was swung to its full extent. The result, as may easily be anticipated, was, that the rigid bell acted like a gigantic lever upon the bell frame, which worked dangerously, while it was evident that the tone of the bell itself was seriously impaired by the rigidity of its fastenings, which of course prevented much of the vibration.

To make a long story a wee bit shorter, without the possibility of the bell yielding under the blows, Ben broke…again.  The clock had to be removed, the bell taken down, broken up, and recast for the third time.  The public was annoyed at the waste of time and money, and the endless blaming of each other–the clock-maker, the architect, the bell maker, and the Board of Works.  Can you just imagine the Twitter wars?

Finally, in December of 1863,

The_Exeter_Flying_Post_or__Trewman_s_Plymouth_and_Cornish_Advertiser_Wed__Nov_11__1863_ (1)

The Exeter Flying Post or Trewman’s Plymouth and Cornish Advertiser, Nov. 11, 1863, p. 8

This entry was posted in Gothic Revival, London, Neo-Classical and tagged , , . Bookmark the permalink.

8 Responses to I have this thing for clocks: Big Ben

  1. peggyjoan42 says:

    Enjoyed the history lesson on Big Ben. Sounds as if they had a lot of problems with this clock. The clock on four sides of this tower is beautiful. I can see why you like clocks on buildings.


  2. janebye says:

    I love clocks, too! But pretty much all clocks in all locations. 🙂 I remember being shocked once when there was an article written about one of Sarah and Miles’ houses and Sarah made the offhanded comment that they’ve never had clocks in their houses. What?!! How can you not have clocks?? LOL I have three just in my living room. This led me to remember my grandparents’ cuckoo clock and my parents’ chiming mantel clock…neither of which seem to be in vogue any more.

    Enjoyed all the background and it reminded me of my ill-fated 3 hour visit to London once, where I walked faster than I have ever walked in order to see as much as I could, irritated the whole time. I want to go back…when can we travel again?


    • Suzassippi says:

      I did not know you were a clock person! Oh, Chet’s chiming grandfather clock kept me awake every time we went to see them! I never really thought I wanted to go back to London until I started researching all these places I photographed when I had no idea where I was. Now I think it would be incredible to spend some time there…and like just yesterday I learned that Piccadilly Circus is not actually a Circus! What a dork, huh?

      When I go to Scotland and Ireland, we might as well hop on over to London….once they let us back in.

      Liked by 1 person

      • janebye says:

        Yes, I love clocks, not that I have anything special. Well, we do have a clock that shows a map of Unalaska/surrounding area that one of Rich’s cooks gave us for a going-away present. It’s pretty cool.

        When I was newly married the first time, I was DYING to have a grandfather clock. We saved up our money and got one and I guess my ex still has it. At some point I decided I didn’t really want a grandfather clock after all. Especially because it was a new one–I probably would have preferred an antique. 🙂

        UGH, don’t remind me we were supposed to go to England, Scotland, Ireland in April. I am still bitter about it. I am sure I thought Piccadilly was a real circus for years, too. haha

        Liked by 1 person

  3. Beauregard Rippy says:

    Clocks on buildings: What is better than a school building where a clock is the cause of a LOT emotional distress and occasional joy (like 3 pm or so)!

    Church Street School, Tupelo, Mississippi.

    Google Street View: https://www.google.com/maps/@34.2634613,-88.7088153,3a,75y,179.14h,93.37t/data=!3m4!1e1!3m2!1scFFQYExqjYJTa7G7-i06kw!2e0

    Liked by 1 person

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