Let’s get one thing straight from the outset: the giant ornate tower at Westminster, with a four-sided clock on it, is not called Big Ben!

This is likely to shock people from all over the world, and indeed possibly the majority of UK residents too. But it is a fact. The glorious tower everybody points to and says, “Look…Big Ben!”, as it hoves into view, glinting in the sunlight – is not called Big Ben!

Elizabeth Tower (formerly The Clock Tower).

Stock Photograph

The truth is very few people have ever seen, or ever will see Big Ben ‘in the flesh’. But if you hang around the tower and the Palace of Westminster for a short while, then you will certainly encounter Big Ben. The booming chimes that have been an integral part of the London soundscape since July 11th 1859, come from a mighty 13 ton (13,800kg) bell. And that bell is Big Ben! Standing 7ft6 and 9ft wide, Big Ben does not operate with a conventional clapper inside as it swings. Instead he remains still while a 200kg hammer pounds him from the outside. It is the biggest of the five bells housed in the belfry and strikes the hour, while the other four look after the quarter hour chimes.

It is accurate to within one second, the first chime on the hour signals the hour itself.

The bell is iconic all over the globe. Its chimes have been heard on BBC radio for decades by billions. During WWII it reached particularly iconic status. Throughout the Blitz, its live chimes could be heard on BBC World Service and told the outside world that London and Britain remained defiant and fighting in the face of Nazi Germany’s full force and fury.

As for the tower itself, that was simply The Clock Tower until 2012 when it was renamed Elizabeth Tower after the current reigning monarch to mark her Diamond Jubilee in 2012. But let’s face it, you could call it The David Beckham Tower, The Beatles Tower, The MacDonald’s Tower… but it’s always going to be known as Big Ben!