Though synonymous with the clock tower, ‘Big Ben’ is the nickname of the 13-ton bell at the heart of the building. Big Ben was cast by Warners of Norton near Stockton-on-Tees in August 1856 and taken to London by rail and sea, and crossed Westminster Bridge on a carriage pulled by 16 white horses.
Before being winched up the tower, it was tested daily until in October 1857 a huge crack appeared. Warners blamed the clockmaker for upping the hammer’s weight from 355 to 660 kilograms (783 to 1,455 pounds) and demanded a fortune to start over. So it was decided the new bell would be cast by George Mears at the Whitechapel Bell Foundry. Mears’ bell was 2.5 tons lighter but had to ascend the tower on its side – a task that took 30 hours. Then, in September 1859 the new bell also cracked and didn’t ring for four years until Sir George Airy, the Astronomer Royal, suggested turning the bell and cutting a square into the metal to halt the crack, plus using a lighter hammer. And this is the bell we hear today.