Houses of Parliament and Big Ben

Houses of Parliament and Big Ben
Charles Barry, born in London in 1795 and deceased in 1860, had a training as architect in Italy from 1817 till 1820. Because of this foreign influence, much of his early work was in the Italian Palazzo style. The story goes that on the night on the 16th of October in 1834, the old Palace of Westminster was destroyed by fire. Following on this devastating event, competition was launched in 1836 to create a new design. Charles Barry’s proposed one won. His design incorporated a clock tower. The dials were 30 feet in diameter; the struck on eight bells announced each quarter hour, the hours were struck on a 14-ton Bell.

At the time the clock was designed it was the largest clock in the world.
Benjamin Lewis Vulliamy, a clockmaker with great reputation was contacted but under pressure of open competition, Sir George Airy got appointed to be referee and to make up the specifications of the clock to be. Three candidates occurred: Vulliamy, Dent and Whitehurst. Dent was awarded the contract in 1852. Was it favoritism of Airy? Who can tell.

Edward John Dent died in 1853 and his stepson Frederick Rippon completed the clock mechanism. When it needed to be installed the tower was not finished yet due to miscommunications and problems between Edward Dent and the architect Barry.
But the lost time was spent well as the mechanism got enhanced and enabled to run even more accurate.

But … still the tower was not finished yet. The hour bell, finished in 1856 was too heavy so the ball hammer was made heavier with the result that the bell got damaged behind repair when they hung it for the time being in the New Palace Yard.
At last it was in 1858 that George Mears of the Whitechapel Bell Foundry that provided the bell that still is in use today. Warners provided the four quarter bells.

  • Directions: Underground: Westminster station




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