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Westminster Palace and Big Ben

Big Ben and the Westminster Palace are two of the most recognisable landmarks of London. The Palace was the residence of the Kings of England from the eleventh to sixteenth centuries. In Medieval England, Kings used to summon their courts to wherever they happened to be at the time, but by the fourteenth century the judicial and parliamentary courts resided in the Palace. Henry the VII moved the royal family out in 1512 following a fire. On 16 October 1834, almost the entire palace was burnt to the ground in a fire and only Westminster hall, the crypt of St Stephen's Chapel, the cloisters and the Jewel Tower surviving the blaze. The House of Commons chamber was destroyed in an air raid during WWII but has since been reconstructed in the form of the orginal. You can watch a session of parliament either by the Lords or the Commons from the public gallery.

The oldest part of the building is Westminster Hall which dates back to 1097 and used to be more of a focal point though today it is overshadowed by the reconstructed parts of the Palace, done in a mock-Gothic design. The hall is one of Europe's largest medieval halls with an unsupported roof and is used today for important state occasions.

Big Ben is actually the name of the massive bell that is housed in the clock tower of Westminster Palace. This clock tower is not the first to be on the parliament's grounds. The original tower was built in 1288-1290 and contained a bell known as “Great Tom” that struck on the hour. The tower was replaced in 1367 with the first chiming clock in England, but it fell into disrepair and was dismantled in 1707. After the terrible fire of 1834 architects were invited to send in designs for the new Westminster Palace. This was won by Sir Charles Barry who added the clock tower to his design in 1836 after consulting with Benjamin Lewis Vuillamy who was the Queen's clockmaker.

There were many delays in the clock's construction due to strict design and technical limitations that became part of the design brief. Construction finally began in 1843 with materials sent to the site by river with a winch lifting the supplies up to the masons and bricklayers. In 1852, Edward John Dent a respected clockmaker, was put in charge of constructing the clock by following the design of Edmund Beckett Denison, who made many refinements to the design. One of these was the “Double three-legged Gravity Escapement” which ensured the clock's accuracy by making sure the pendulum remained unaffected by external factors such as wind pressure. This revolutionary invention is now used in clocks all over the world. After Dent's death, his son Frederick took over and the clock was completed in 1854. Behind schedule, the tower was completed in 1859 with the large clock keeping perfect time on 31 May 1859 and the first chimes of Big Ben heard on 11 July.

City: London
Country: England
Published on 26-Mar-2009
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