The Great Clock of Westmister is 150 years old this year.
The 13½ ton bell, Big Ben, cast at the Whitechapel Bell Foundry, has one of the most internationally recognised sounds in the world. Cracked two months after it was installed in May 1859, by being hit by a hammer which was too heavy, the pitch of the bell was at first E, at which the bell was first cast. The bell hung silent for four years until the hammer was lightened and repositioned, and a small square cut into the bell to stop the crack spreading, all of which gives Big Ben its distinctive sonorous sound.
Punch , available through the 19th Century UK Periodicals , published a poem Big Ben – an Ode on Saturday, October 15, 1859; asked …
‘….- Whether the hammer fell – Not wisely but too well…’
Like all new equipment, the huge new bell was not without other teething troubles. A number of humourous articles appeared in The Times between July and August 1859, highlighting the difficulties of the chiming mechanisms, failures to strike at all on a Sunday etc, and Big Ben itself wrote a letter to the Editor of The Times that it
‘…wondered that some spectator tantum did not write to complain that Sir Charles Barry’s hands stopped one Saturday evening in like manner from one of them catching against the dial, being not only three times too heavy, but too weak to keep themselves straight beside…’
The Times, Wednesday, Aug 10, 1859; pg. 5; Issue 23381; col E
The Clock Tower, designed by Sir Edmund Beckett was built of Caen stone, has had numerous wash and brush-ups, requiring re-guilding, re-painting, and the replacment of window tracery. There is a fact sheet available describing the restoration of the Palace of Westminster 1981 – 1994.
Also, if you would like to know more about the impact of the study of clocks, horology, time etc on science and society the University Library subscribes to Time and Society , Web of Science , and Science Direct