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A Short History of Big Ben’s Timekeeping.

The history of the Big Ben Clock Tower at Westminster dates back to the 13th Century but the tower as we now know it has its roots in 19th Century Britain.

The inner workings of the Clock Tower’s Belfry are beautiful to behold. Truly a master-stroke of design and implementation, it was revolutionary for its time. It is still lauded for the innovation of its creator, Edmund Beckett Denison. His achievement is all the more impressive because he wasn’t even a professional clock maker. To him, it was a part-time hobby between life as a barrister and an MP.

George Airy had issued requirements that many clock makers had found fanciful and impossible to achieve. Among those conditions was a desire for complete precision in the clock’s time-keeping.  Denison's ‘Double Three-Legged Gravity Escapement’ guaranteed the clock’s accuracy by ensuring that the pendulum was impervious to external factors.  It provided the best gap between the pendulum and the clock mechanism, thus assuring its dependability.

The clock is famous for its reliability and has steadily kept time ever since its inception. Except for a few hiccups:

  1. The bell cracked just three months after it was installed. This was eventually corrected and has given Big Ben its distinctive sound.

  2. 1939-1945 – the illumination of the clocks was stopped to conform with the blackout rules.

  3. 1976 – Big Ben remained chime-less for nine months after the clock mechanism exploded, causing heavy damage.

  4. 2007 – Silence for seven weeks as the clock underwent essential maintenance ahead of its 150th birthday in 2009.





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Big Ben Time