London, England (Associated Press) — Defiantly low-tech yet accurate to the second, Big Ben is having its 150th birthday Sunday, its Victorian chimes carrying the sound of Britain into the 21st century.
It’s a birthday the world can share in. The peals of London’s favorite clock are carried globally by BBC radio, and its 315-foot tower, roughly 16 stories, is the city’s most famous landmark.
But getting inside and seeing Big Ben, the sonorous main bell that gives its name to the whole contraption, isn’t easy. Security measures mean few are granted admission, and there’s no elevator, so those who are escorted in must climb 334 winding limestone stairs.
Catherine Moss, who took journalists on a pre-anniversary tour, said that in one year as a Big Ben guide, she had climbed the height of Everest three times over.
“It’s my own private step machine,” the trim-looking 51-year-old called down from the top of the tower.
No special events are planned, aside from an exhibition opening Sept. 19 in the nearby parliamentary offices.
Although the tan-colored tower above the Houses of Parliament is covered in a riot of gilt crowns, sculpted masonry and coats of arms, the interior looks functional. The 4.2 meter- (14 foot-) long minute hand casts a faint shadow over the pale white glass of the dial. The 5-ton (5.6-U.S. ton) clock mechanism, like a giant wristwatch, is wound three times a week. In the age of atomic clocks, its near-perfect time is regulated by heavy old pennies laid on or removed from the pendulum.
The chimes, supposedly based on four notes from Handel’s “Messiah,” ring out every quarter hour from the intricately ornamented belfry. The bongs of Big Ben itself are heard every hour.
It is rare — and a matter of citywide consternation — for the clock to go mute. But wars and accidents happen. Initial construction was one disaster after another, and in 1916 the chimes were stopped for two years lest they guide German bomber zeppelins to the parliament building.
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My Hero: “Look kids! Big Ben; Parliament!” – Clark Griswold (European Vacation)
Gotta love Big Ben. Maybe it’s because it’s named after me. Maybe it’s my British ancestory or the fact that it’s just so picturesque. Or perhaps it’s because my brother gave me an engraved glass for Christmas that says, “Big Ben knows what time it is”. But, one way or another Big Ben is one of the most well-known and iconic pieces of architecture that has been built by modern civilization.
Here’s a few things most of us just don’t know about Big Ben…
The clock started keeping time on May 31 1859; the bells began ringing on July 11.
Each face is lit by 27 low-energy, radio-controlled bulbs.
The “Westminster” chimes were copied from Great St Mary’s in Cambridge.
St. Stephen’s Clock Tower was built without scaffolding, from the inside out.
Tunneling for the Jubilee line left the tower leaning 220mm (8.66 in) to the North-West.
Big Ben was named either after the commissioner of works Sir Benjamin Hall, or the heavyweight boxer Benjamin Caunt.
The bell was made in Whitechapel.
The minute hand is 14-ft long, the hour hand is 9-ft long.
The north and east faces of the clock have heaters to prevent the hands freezing.
The clock face is cleaned by abseilers every five years.
You can download the chimes as a ring tone from www.bigben.parliament.uk
Download the ringtone eh? I’m on top of that one, and you should be too, because, after 150 years of letting the bells toll, Big Ben is My Hero of the Day.
read another My Hero of the Day
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