Big Ben

Last week I did something I’ve been meaning to do for the twenty-one years I have been a Member of Parliament – I climbed to the top of Big Ben, writes Peter Luff MP.

Well, not quite, of course. Big Ben is the nickname of the largest bell in the tower, now called the ‘Elizabeth Tower’, in honour of the Queen’s diamond jubilee. The Great Bell, to give it its correct name, weighs a mighty 13.7 tonnes and is one of five bells that sound the Westminster chimes. Getting it into position at the top of the tower was no easy feat in the days before electronic machinery. It’s all really just a giant grandfather clock, with the tower making room for the huge weights to rise and fall.

Big Ben falls silent only twice a year – when the clocks go forward or back, so it was silent for a few hours over the Easter weekend.

I am lucky to be able to see the tower from my office in Westminster. It really is a magnificent view and it also means that I have no excuse for being late for a meeting. But if you see something every day you do often end up taking it for granted, so I am pleased to have finally been able to go on a tour. I climbed the 334 steps to the belfry and heard Big Ben strike 10 o’clock – the earplugs that were given out were very welcome, as I’m sure you can imagine.

The tower remains one of the best known sights of London and, indeed, the world. But it is more than just a tourist sight. The Elizabeth Tower, together with its Great Bell, is a symbol of our democracy that stood throughout the Blitz and stands as proud today. As someone who is passionate about engineering, I particularly like the fact that Victorian engineers built such a powerful and lasting monument to our freedom.


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