In 1834 a fire ravaged the Palace of Westminster, destroying the majority of the buildings.
When the time came to rebuild, there was an open invitation to architects to rebuild the ‘mother of parliaments’ and to add a clock tower. Any architect worth their salt knows how to build a tower, but how about the clock?
The British Parliament’s commission for the new buildings was won by Charles Barry, who was asked to add a clock tower to his design.
But he was not a clockmaker so the task of designing the clock was entrusted to the seventh Astronomer Royal, George Airy, director of Royal Greenwich Observatory Royal Observatory.
Airy’s list of requirements, or specifications, as it would be called these days, was neither short not simple.
As a scientist, Airy wanted precise time-keeping. As the director of the Greenwich Observatory he also requested that the hourly strikes would be so accurate that it would never be more than a second away from Greenwich Mean Time (GMT).
Many clock-makers found these requirements quite impossible to achieve.
Maybe it is part of the unusual Big Ben story that the man who solved the puzzle was not even a professional clock-maker, but an MP and a barrister. He did have a hobby, though, and his private passion worked miracles.
HIs name? Edmund Beckett Denison.
Denison's innovative ‘Double Three-Legged Gravity Escapement’ guaranteed the clock’s accuracy by ensuring that no external factors would be able to influence the workings of the pendulum.
He worked with Edward Dent to provide the best gap between the pendulum and the clock mechanism, thus assuring its dependability.
The Bell was originally made by Warners of Cripplegate but unfortunately it cracked under testing. This bell was smashed up and re-cast by the Whitechapel Foundry and became what is now known as ‘Big Ben’.
Go to the Journey Tab to find out how ‘The Great Bell’ made its way from the foundry to the top of the iconic tower that dominates the whole landscape near the Houses of Parliament in London.