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Undoubtedly one of London's most famous landmarks, the name "Big Ben" originally referred to the largest of the five bells of the Great Clock of Westminster. In modern parlance, however, that nickname is widely used to refer to the Elizabeth Tower, the clock tower of the Houses of Parliament.
Completed in 1859, the 316-foot tower is notable not only for its beauty but also for the accuracy of its striking clock. Like everything, however, things stop working as they should from time to time (pun intended). In fact, during a single week in May 2023, the Great Clock malfunctioned twice, just months after the completion of a major refurbishment.
The clock’s famous chimes went silent in 2017 for five years during a much-needed renovation program on the Elizabeth Tower, which is why so many were surprised when Big Ben failed to work properly only a few months after the renovation was finished. On May 10, 2023, the clock faces displayed the incorrect time, and the bells didn't chime at 1 pm. Just a week later, at around 9 am, all four dials stood still for around half an hour and were temporarily five minutes slow after they resumed.
While clock mechanics quickly rectified the situation, the exact reason behind the breakdown isn’t known. One prevailing theory is that building materials or dust from the renovations may have gotten inside the clock's mechanisms. Speaking more generally, a spokesperson for the House of Commons stated that it was “not uncommon for issues like this to arise as the clock mechanism beds down after an intensive conservation programme."
Whatever the reason for Big Ben’s double breakdown, this certainly wasn’t the first time the iconic clock has malfunctioned. Over the past two centuries, the clock has had its fair share of problems, sometimes caused by mechanical failures and sometimes by external factors such as heavy snowfall or extreme temperatures. Despite these periodic issues—and even after recently falling silent for five years—Big Ben is an iconic symbol of the United Kingdom, and will remain so for many years to come.
Bong! Bong! Bong!
- The dials of Ben Ben’s clock are 22.5 feet (6.9 m) in diameter. Edmund Beckett Denison and George Airy designed it, while Edward John Dent and Frederick Dent were in charge of its construction.
- There have been six monarchs and 41 prime ministers that have served since the bells of the Great Clock of Winchester first tolled.
- The chimes of Big Ben have been featured at the state funerals of four monarchs: King Edward VII, King George V, King George VI, and Queen Elizabeth II.
- Big Ben is one of London's most iconic film locations and one of the world's most Instagrammed locations. In 2022, it was named the world's second-most-Googled landmark in the entire world.