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Great Bell


The second "Big Ben" (centre) and the Quarter Bells from The Illustrated News of the World, 4 December 1858

The main bell, officially known as the Great Bell, is the largest bell in the tower and part of the Great Clock of Westminster. The bell is better known by the nickname Big Ben.

The original bell was a 16 ton (16.3-tonne) hour bell, cast on 6 August 1856 in Stockton-on-Tees by John Warner & Sons.The bell was named in honour of Sir Benjamin Hall, and his name is inscribed on it. However, another theory for the origin of the name is that the bell may have been named after a contemporary heavyweight boxer Benjamin Caunt. It is thought that the bell was originally to be called Victoria or Royal Victoria in honour of Queen Victoria, but that an MP suggested the nickname during a Parliamentary debate; the comment is not recorded in Hansard.

Since the tower was not yet finished, the bell was mounted in New Palace Yard. Cast in 1856, the first bell was transported to the tower on a trolley drawn by sixteen horses, with crowds cheering its progress. Unfortunately, it cracked beyond repair while being tested and a replacement had to be made. The bell was recast on 10 April 1858 at the Whitechapel Bell Foundryas a 13½ ton (13.76-tonne) bell. This was pulled 200 ft (61.0 m) up to the Clock Tower’s belfry, a feat that took 18 hours. It is 7 feet 6 inches (2.29 m) tall and 9 feet (2.74 m) diameter. This new bell first chimed in July 1859. In September it too cracked under the hammer, a mere two months after it officially went into service. According to the foundry's manager, George Mears, Denison had used a hammer more than twice the maximum weight specified.[1] For three years Big Ben was taken out of commission and the hours were struck on the lowest of the quarter bells until it was repaired. To make the repair, a square piece of metal was chipped out from the rim around the crack, and the bell given an eighth of a turn so the new hammer struck in a different place. Big Ben has chimed with a slightly different tone ever since and is still in use today complete with the crack.

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