Big Ben

Gail Heriot on Instapundit:

On this day in 1859, the four-faced clock in the tower over the Houses of Parliament—designed by Augustus Pugin—started keeping time. Since then, the clock has occasionally stopped—sometimes because of bad weather and at least once because too many starlings decided to roost on its minute hand. But it kept ticking when German bombers damaged two of its dials during the blitz, so came through when it really counted.

The name “Big Ben” is the nickname for the largest bell in the tower (though it is also commonly applied to the clock and to the tower). The bell is 7 feet, 6 inches tall and 9 feet in diameter, weighs 13.7 tons, and is struck every hour on the hour. Smaller bells are struck every 15 minutes.

The current great bell is actually the second such bell. The first cracked during testing before the bell tower was even completed. The second was thus delivered to the site with great fanfare in a carriage drawn by 16 white horses with crowds cheering its progress. It took 18 hours to hoist it up to the belfry.

Alas, it soon cracked too. Fortunately, George Airy, Astronomer Royal, came up with a simple solution: Give the bell a 90 degree turn and use a smaller hammer. The British can be good at “make do and mend” when circumstances require.

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