Big Ben: The Tower of Five Names and a Clock

Big Ben is the name given to the great bell of more than 13 tons that has been on top of the Elizabeth Tower since 1859. Many define it as “the most famous clock in the world”, but they are wrong, it is much more than that.

The tower is an icon of British culture and is recognized by people all over the world. It has a height of 96 meters and inside, 334 steps connect the base of the tower with the upper gallery where “Big Ben” is located along with 4 other smaller bells.

What will you find in this article?

How to get to Big Ben

Big Ben is in the center of London, next to the Westminster tube station. Its official address is: Parliament Square, Westminster, London SW1P 3JX, United Kingdom.

arrive by subway

As we have mentioned, the London Underground station that is closest to Big Ben is Westminster Station. Just 20 steps. The London Underground lines that arrive at Westminster Station are: District line , Circle line or Jubilee line .

You can also get there from other tube stations like St James’s Park or Embankment but they are about a 10 minute walk away so I would only recommend it if you are going to do one of the many London Itineraries and you are coming from there.

Arriving by Bus

The closest bus stops to Big Ben are Parliament Square, right in front of the main entrance to the Houses of Parliament. There are also others in Whitehall. The main bus lines that pass through are: 3, 8, 11, 12, 24, 38, 53, 73, 82, 87, 88, 159, 211 and 436.

Walk to Big Ben

In my opinion, the most beautiful way to get to Big Ben. Walking along the banks of the Thames while you hum that song that says… ” Maybe it’s because I’m a Londoner… “. – The easiest way is to get to Westminster, although my favorite option is to get there from the Southbank, take the first photos from the base of the London Eye and then cross to the other bank of the Thames via Westminster Bridge.

Arrive by train

Although it is not a very popular option, if for whatever reason you are going to arrive by train to the center of London, then these stations are convenient for you: Charing Cross, which is just 10 minutes away, or Victoria Station, about 20 minutes away on foot.

Can you visit Big Ben?

Currently it is not possible to visit Big Ben or the Elizabeth Tower since rehabilitation works have been carried out since August 2017 and it is completely closed to the public. According to the official website of the British Parliament , it is expected that in 2021, once the works are completed, they will organize visits again.

But still, do not think that it is so easy to visit Big Ben. To do so you must be an established resident of the United Kingdom and you must send a formal request to the MP of the district where you live. He or she must confirm if you can make the visit. There are waiting lists of up to several years.

The lucky ones who visit it can admire some artifacts related to the clock and different rooms inside the building during the visit.

The bell, Big Ben, was cast by the Whitechapel Bell Foundry , a family business at the time that also made bells for other famous towers and churches in the UK. Members of the family are buried in the famous Highgate Cemetery . If you visit it, you will see that the pantheon will remind you of the top of the Big Ben tower.

Just after step 114 of the Big Ben’s inner staircase there is something you would never have imagined. A jail! – That’s right, there is a prison inside Big Ben where the “Prime Minister” who violated the codes of conduct were imprisoned. We don’t know if Boris will have been there. Not used since 1880.

Big Ben: The Tower of 5 Names

In 2012, the tower commonly known as “Big Ben” was renamed “Elizabeth Tower” in honor of the Queen of England. It’s the latest change in a long history of confusing names and nicknames. Here we leave you the list of names with which this iconic tower has been known during its history.

Big Ben

The most universal and popular name, repeated in every corner of the planet, to refer to the tower. The advantage? Everyone will know what you are talking about. The inconvenient? The most purists (probably pipe in hand while reading the Financial Times, or ABC…) are not happy with the name. They do not like it. They will surely tell you: “No no no, Big Ben is the name of the bell, little ignorant!”, but don’t worry, you can always return it with “Well, Big Ben is one of the bells since in reality there are 5 and furthermore, Big Ben is actually a nickname for “The Great Bell of Westminster”.

Well, jokes aside, we all use Big Ben nowadays to refer to the complete set of Tower, Bell and Clock.

St Stephen’s Tower

This is the name that is often used in some newspaper articles, London tourist guides. Surely it is also the name used by one of those taxi drivers who have been traveling the streets of central London for more than 50 years taking tourists from here to there.

The problem with this name is that although it sounds great in the history books and was constantly appearing in Victorian newspapers, it is not correct! That’s right, St. Stephen’s Tower is the name of another smaller tower that is right next to the public entrance of the “House of Commons”. Newspapers used it in the old days when there was news related to the British parliament. They used to say that there was ” news from St Stephen’s ” as Prime Ministers used to work from St. Stephen’s Hall.

The Clock Tower

Big Ben Clock
Big Ben Clock

Clock Tower. We are already using a less cryptic name to be able to understand each other. It was a term that was used for many years in the official communications of the British Royal Palace. Moreover, for most of the time it has been the official name but as we have mentioned, in 2012 it changed its name to “Elizabeth Tower”.

The Elizabeth Tower

When a country like England can boast of having the Queen who has been occupying the royal throne for the longest time, what less than to baptize one of the most representative buildings of the capital with her name.

The act was part of the celebrations of the “Queen’s Diamond Jubilee” in 2012, when they celebrated 60 years of the reign of Elizabeth II. The best? It’s a national holiday and you don’t have to go to work! – Of course, you will never hear anyone on the street say “look, The Elizabeth Tower”, everyone is still using Big Ben.

The east tower

The East Tower. Another way of referring to the tower but which has always been less popular. Only a few newspapers started using it to talk about the name change act during the Diamond Jubilee. – The funniest thing is that it is incorrect, since the tower is not located in the “East” wing of the building. It is on the north face.

In short, you can call him in many ways but when you are at his feet for the first time and you look up, the moment will be etched in your memory forever. It is the magic of «Big Ben».

History and Curiosities of Big Ben

  • The tower was designed by the British architect Augustus Pugin (1812 – 1852), in a neo-Gothic style.
  • The work was completed in 1859 and his clock became the largest and most accurate within the category of 4-sided clocks.
  • Although it is 96 meters high, its square base is only 12 meters on each side.
  • The “face” of the clock measures 7 meters in diameter.
  • On May 31, 2009, the 150th anniversary of the construction of the tower was celebrated.
  • Big Ben is the largest bell in the tower weighing 13.7 tons. For 23 years it was the largest bell in the UK.
  • The bell has a crack that gives it a characteristic sound at the end of each “dong”. You’ll see, listen carefully.
  • The name “Big Ben” is believed to come from Sir Benjamin Hall, who directed the installation of the bell. But it is not something that is confirmed.
  • Due to the type of clay soil that is in the subsoil below the tower and the great weight of its oscillating bells, each year it moves a few millimeters in a northerly direction.
  • It survived the First and Second World Wars, during which it was not illuminated at night to prevent it from being located during night bombing.
  • The Clock still uses its Victorian-era mechanism, but it has an electric motor just in case it stops (Imagine, British punctuality on the rocks!).
  • It was declared a World Heritage Site by UNESCO in 1987.

Leave a Comment