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Big Ben Fast Facts

CNN Editorial Research

Here’s some background information about Big Ben, the clock and bell in Elizabeth Tower at the Houses of Parliament in London.


It is one of the most famous landmarks in England.

The name Big Ben originally referred to just the bell but now it encompasses the clock, the tower and the bell.

Big Ben chimes on the hour and has quarter bells that chime every fifteen minutes.

Tours are available to only UK residents by request through a Member of Parliament or a Member of the House of Lords.

Visitors go through airport style security checks.

The area is surveilled using CCTV cameras, alarms, and other security technology.


1843 – Construction on the clock tower begins.

February 1852 – Clockmaker Edward John Dent is recruited to design the clock.

1853 – Dent passes away. His stepson, Frederick Dent takes over the project.

1856-1857 – The bell is cast in northern England and transported to London. It develops a crack and a replacement bell is cast.

April 10, 1858 – The replacement bell, 2.5 tons lighter than the original, is cast or molded.

1859 – Construction on the tower is complete.

May 1859 – The clock begins keeping time.

July 11, 1859 – Big Ben chimes for the first time.

September 1859 – Big Ben’s great bell cracks two months after its first chime and is taken out of commission. A smaller quarter bell chimes on the hour for four years. In 1863, the great bell is turned so an undamaged portion is struck with a smaller hammer.

1923 – Big Ben’s chimes are broadcast by BBC Radio on New Year’s Eve.

1939-April 1945 – The clock dials are unlit due to wartime blackout regulations.

August 1976 – Nine months of repairs begin.

2007 – Big Ben is silent for seven weeks as repairs are made on the clock.

2009 – Special events all year mark Big Ben’s 150th anniversary.

2011 – It becomes apparent that Big Ben has started to lean to one side. It is estimated that there is a change of less than one millimeter per year.

September 12, 2012 – Big Ben’s Tower is renamed Elizabeth Tower in honor of Queen Elizabeth II’s Diamond Jubilee, her 60th anniversary on the throne.

October 2015 – The British newspapers, the Mail on Sunday and Sunday Times report that the clock is in need of repair. A parliamentary report notes that Big Ben may stop working or the clock’s hands could fall off if it is not refurbished.

2016 – Repairs, costing more than $42 million, are scheduled for early 2017. The clock will not chime for several months while it’s being refurbished. It’s set to be the third time in Big Ben’s 157-year history that the clock will be silenced.

August 14, 2017 – Parliament announces that Big Ben will fall silent on August 21 and remain so until 2021, when repairs are expected to be complete. The repairs are estimated to cost around £29 million, or more than $42 million.

September 29, 2017 – In a statement, the House of Commons announces that the estimated cost of repairs for Big Ben has more than doubled from £29 million to £61 million.

February 13, 2020 – Workers have discovered “extensive” World War II bomb damage to the Elizabeth Tower, which will force the cost of restoring it to rise from £61.1m to £79.7m ($79.7m to $104m). Plans are still on track to complete the restoration in 2021, according to a statement from the House of Commons.

April 26, 2021 – The deadline for completion of the restoration project is extended to 2022 due to the Covid-19 pandemic.

December 21, 2021 – Big Ben is scheduled to ring on New Year’s Eve after four years of silence.

September 18, 2022 – Big Ben chimes to mark the beginning of a minute’s silence as a “national moment of reflection” for Queen Elizabeth II, according to the Parliament’s official Twitter account.

Bell Characteristics

8 feet, 8 inches in diameter

7 feet, 2 inches tall

Weighs 13.7 tons

Elizabeth Tower, where the bell chimes, stands 315 feet (96 meters) tall.

The clock weighs about 5 tons. The hour hands are nearly 9 ft long and the minute hands are almost 14 ft. long.

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