77: Big Ben
Westminster Clock Tower. 1858
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Bronze finish (77)

(Please note that the verdigris finish is no longer available on this piece).

 

 

Gold finish (77G)

 

 

 

Probably the most famous bell in Great Britain, Big Ben was originally cast for John Warner & Sons at Stockton on Tees in 1856. In 1857, whilst being tested, it developed a disastrous crack 4 feet (1.2m) long so the bell was broken up and recast. This was undertaken by George Mears of the Whitechapel Bell Foundry with the new bell being cast on Saturday 10th April 1858 at a cost of £572. At the time Big Ben was the largest bell ever cast in Britain, being 9 feet (2.7m) in diameter and 7 feet 6 inches (2.25m) high. It took 20 days for the bell to cool before being removed from its mould and cleaned. Big Benís journey to Westminster was a triumphal event with the streets decorated and lined with cheering crowds as the bell passed by on a trolley drawn by 16 beribboned white horses. Big Ben was hoisted up sideways into the tower and, along with the 4 quarter bells, rang out across London for the first time on 31st May 1859. Unfortunately, only 2 months later Big Ben developed a crack, a direct consequence of being struck by a hammer over twice the weight recommended by the bell founder. Big Ben was rotated an eighth of a turn and a lighter hammer weighing 4 cwt (203 kg) was fitted.

Big Ben is unusual in having a large circular flange projecting from its crown in place of conventional canons. This flange allows the bell to be rotated to a new position when the clock hammer causes wear.

The inscription around the richly decorated bell reads: "This bell weighing 13tons 10cwt 3qrs 15lbs was cast by George Mears of Whitechapel for the Clock of the Houses of Parliament under the direction of Edmund Beckett Denison QC in the twenty first year of the reign of Queen Victoria and in the year of our Lord MDCCCLVIII" On one face of the bell is cast the Royal Coat of Arms, on the reverse the arms of Westminster. The name Big Ben resulted from a Parliamentary debate to name the bell, during which Chief Lord of the Woods and Forests, Sir Benjamin Hall, a large and ponderous man whose nickname was Big Ben, delivered a lengthy speech, at the end of which a back bench MP called out "Why not call him Big Ben and have done with it?"

Big Ben remains the largest bell ever cast at Whitechapel and visitors to the bell foundry pass through a full size profile of the bell that frames the main entrance. This miniature, the only authentic replica of Big Ben, is made in collaboration with Whitechapel Bell Foundry to whom we are indebted for their invaluable assistance in supplying details and information about Big Ben.

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