Icons of England
  • Introduction
  • The Icons
  • Nominations
  • News
  • Learn & Play
  • Your Comments

Big Ben

Features

As well as giving a (very) brief history of time, we look at how the bell was cast and speculate about how it got its name. And we learn how it manages to stay so reliable

The Screen Star

Big Ben is often used as a clichéd shorthand, to let people know that a film scene is taking place in England, or London (often with another well-loved icon, the Routemaster bus, cruising past in the foreground!).

The Screen Star
Measuring Time

Measuring Time

Most of us live our lives to the ticking of clocks - from the alarm clock that gets us out of bed in the morning to the watches which tell us when to go to school or work, meet friends, catch trains and avoid missing our favourite TV programmes. We take our clocks for granted and would find it hard to do without them. Yet most people, throughout history, would have found the idea of clock time baffling and unnatural.

Mechanical clock time

Our relationship with time was transformed in the Middle Ages, with the invention of the mechanical clock. While sundials had shown hours of varying length, depending on the seasons, the new mechanical clocks followed hours of fixed length. These were the same night and day, winter and summer. For the first time, humans began to live to a rhythm cut off from the seasons - following the steady ticking of clocks.

Mechanical clock time
How did Big Ben get its Name?

How did Big Ben get its Name?

Big Ben is such a familiar sight it's hard to believe there's mystery still attached to the landmark's history, but there is…

Big Ben's Reliability

Big Ben is famous for its accuracy. With only a few hiccups over the years, how does it stay so reliable?

Big Ben's Reliability

Whitechapel Bell Foundry

The original bell made to go in the Clock Tower at Westminster weighed 16 tonnes and cracked the first time it was struck. That was when the Whitechapel Bell Foundry was called in…

Inside the Tower

ICONS was offered exclusive access to Big Ben, to explore the workings of the clock and meet the famous bell himself. Engineer Ian Westworth tells us about the famous pennies on the pendulum and Keeper of the Clock Mike McCann answers a few of our questions.

Ten things…

Ten things…

So you think you're a Big Ben expert? Here's ten things that you might not know