Still accurate to the second, Big Ben had its 150th birthday Sunday, its Victorian chimes carrying the sound of Britain into the 21st century. The peals of London's favorite clock are carried globally by BBC radio, and its 314-foothigh tower is the city's most famous landmark. But getting inside and seeing Big Ben, the sonorous main bell that gives its name to the whole contraption, isn't easy. Security measures mean few are granted admission, and there's no elevator, so those who are escorted in must climb 334 winding limestone stairs.
No special events are planned, aside from an exhibition at nearby Portcullis House, the nearby parliamentary office complex, due to open Sept. 19. Although the tower above the Houses of Parliament is covered in gilt crowns, sculpted masonry and coats of arms, the interior looks functional. The 14-footlong minute hand casts a faint shadow over the pale white glass of the dial. The 5.6-ton clock mechanism is wound three times a week. In the age of atomic clocks, its near-perfect time is regulated by heavy old pennies laid on or removed from the pendulum. The chimes, supposedly based on four notes from Handel's Messiah, ring out every quarter hour from the intricately ornamented belfry. The strokes of Big Ben itself are heard every hour.
It is rare for the clock to go mute. But wars and accidents happen. Initial construction was one disaster after another, and in 1916 the chimes were stopped for two years lest they guide German bomber zeppelins to the parliament building. Carried on BBC radio since 1924, the chimes took on added significance in World War II. Every night Britons observed a minute's silence as the clock struck nine. It was called the Big Ben Minute. Even as German bombs fell and air raid sirens howled, Big Ben's voice was heard.
On the night of May 10, 1941, an air raid wrecked the parliament building, sending up flames as high as the belfry. A small explosive shattered the clock's south dial and damaged stonework, but the clock didn't skip a second. Its durability was "as great a boost to the morale of the British people as the speeches of Winston Churchill," according to Peter MacDonald, the author of Big Ben: The Bell, the Clock and the Tower.
O autorovi| BBC, Stránku připravila Marta Pelechová