THE BIG BEN
On 16th October 1834, the Palace of Westminster was destroyed by a fire. A HUGE fire. Londoners came out to watch it, and legend has it, Charles Barry (whom we’ll meet in a moment) was passing by in a coach and stopped to watch for a while. There were so many spectators, they actually helped the firemen’s efforts to douse the flames.When the flames were put out, there wasn’t much left. Only Westminster Hall. Parliament had nowhere to meet and they had to cancel their session.In November 1835, 13 months later, they set up a committee to re-build and they held a competition for designs. In the end, the committee chose the design of Charles Barry, but here's a little secret: His original design did NOT include a clock tower! They asked him to revise it and to add a clock tower, of course with a clock inside!More than 400 designs were submitted by more than 90 architects.George Airy was really excited about his job, and he wrote up a list of requirements that had never been seen before. It was a long list, but the most important requirement was this: "The Great Clock should be so accurate that the first strike for each hour shall be accurate to within ONE second of time." Of course, the Great Clock needed bells. Big bells. One bell for the hour, plus four bells to chime the quarter hours. They wanted the bells to chime a tune based on an aria from Handel’s Messiah. It's the famous "Westminster Chime" that you hear just before Big Ben strikes the hour. So they asked foundries to submit a cost for casting all those bells, and Warners of Cripplegate won the contract.They cast all five bells. The big one was cast on 6th August 1856, in Stockton-on-Tees. It was transported to London on a steamship, because the bell was too big for the railway. It came up the River Thames on a barge, and then was loaded onto a carriage drawn by 16 white horses and brought across Westminster Bridge.The clock tower wasn’t quite finished, so they hung the...
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