Big Ben

by Instant Noodle

The hodge-podge of rotten old medieval timber buildings that was Parliament burnt down in 1834. After that, the government was at a bit of a loss as to what to do. The king had offered what was then Buckingham House to be used as the new seat of Parliament, but Melbourne, the then Prime Minister, felt it was rather large – so large in fact that the public and press might to have a viewing area and members could be accommodated without the need for their grace and favour house. This, of course, wouldn’t do at all.

However, the nominated architect wasn’t particularly well favoured by anyone. So, instead, the government took the rather unprecendented step of having a competition to draw up plans for a new Houses of Parliament.

Charles Barry’s gothic design was the run away favourite, and the centrepiece of this was to be an enormous tower called St. Stephen’s tower. The centrepiece of this tower was the clock, and the centrepiece of the clock was to be the enormous bell that would chime every hour. Big Ben.

However, this bell proved to be a bit of a headache. For a start, it was so big that there was severe difficulty in getting into the tower. And then, to add insult to injury, it cracked. Clean through.

It was then melted down and recast and then – would you believe it – it cracked again.

Except this time, they didn’t bother to recast it. They patched the crack and it’s been sounding slightly off ever since

A VOICE ran through the town,
Sad as the airy tongue which spread
The news through Hellas, “mighty Pan is Dead !”
A voice ran through the town,
And men went up and down,
Whisp’ring the awful fact,
“Big Ben is cracked!”
Heavy the tidings fell.
Could it be true ? The Bell,
Whose ponderous iron tongue
Gong-like, the hours had rung,
Till Westminster put cotton in her ears !
The Bell, whose solemn, slow, ding-dong,
Disgusted Common-Law-Court praters,
And Parliamentary debaters,
Proclaiming “Time is short and talk is long !”
The Bell, in strife conceived, in struggle cast,
by DENISON, looked down upon by BARBY
The Bell of many blue-bookshung at last,
After so many perils, to miscarry !
Commissioners of Works came, went, and came,
‘Ere out of MEARS’S mould his frame,
Majestic he upreared :
And when at length his voice was heard,
Doctors of Music listened to his E :
Great Tweedle-dum with greater Tweedle-dee,
In solemn conclave on the question sat,
Was it E sharp E natural E flat ?
But what his E was, little cared the crowd,
They only knew that E was loud,
And were content with that.

(to read the rest of the poem, click here)

This is from October 1859, whilst Big Ben was being restored. It was finally emplaced in 1862.

Here’s Dan Cruikshank with little mini history of Big Ben if my brief history wasn’t enough.