15 Huge Facts About Big Ben

iStock/mammuth
iStock/mammuth

You may have snapped a photo of England’s most iconic clock or seen it in footage of London, but how well do you really know the United Kingdom’s towering timepiece—which rang out for the first time on May 31, 1859.

1. The name "Big Ben" refers to the clock tower's largest bell, not the Clock or the tower itself. 

At some point, London’s superstar clock tower acquired the nickname Big Ben—a name originally given not to the tower itself or even its clock, but to the largest of the clock’s five bells. Also known as the Great Bell, Big Ben stands more than 7 feet tall, measures 9 feet in diameter, and weighs nearly 14 tons. The E-natural behemoth leads a team of four quarter bells, which chime B-natural, E-natural, F-sharp, and G-sharp tones. 

2. Big Ben's clock tower has gone by several names.

Even though it has assumed the Big Ben moniker, the tower has its own official name. For the bulk of its life, the landmark was known simply as the Clock Tower, but it was commonly referenced (especially by the Victorian press) as St. Stephen’s Tower. In 2012, the structure took on a new name—Elizabeth Tower—as part of the celebration of Queen Elizabeth II’s 60-year reign. Additionally, the clock itself is named the Great Clock of Westminster. 

3. The bell took its name from one of two famous Bens.

The original “Ben” who lent his name to the bell is a bit of mystery. The prime candidate for the handle’s inspiration is Sir Benjamin Hall, a 19th century engineer and politician who was also a famously large man. As the story goes, Hall gave a longwinded speech on the topic of what the bell should be named, leading a colleague to quip, “Why not call him Big Ben and have done with it?” Hall’s name is inscribed on the bell, which would seem to support this theory. 

The other dominant explanation is that the bell took its name from Benjamin Caunt, a champion heavyweight bare-knuckle boxer of the 19th century. 

4. A lawyer and an astronomer designed the clock movement.

London's Big Ben clock tower
iStock/Moussa81

While you might guess that the English government would have charged top clockmakers with the task of creating such a prominent timekeeper, the pair who actually designed the clock were not trained horologists. Royal Astronomer Sir George Biddell Airy came up with the specifications that the clock had to have, and lawyer, politician, and railway promoter Sir Edmund Beckett Denison designed the movement. 

5. The clockmaker invented a whole new mechanical system for Big Ben.

Airy hired clockmaker Edward John Dent to bring Beckett Denison’s design into reality in 1852, but Dent passed away just one year later before he could finish the job. The project passed to Dent’s stepson, Frederick Rippon Dent. Working from Beckett Denison’s design, Dent built the double three-legged gravity escapement that would become the standard for clock tower design thereafter. 

6. Only residents of the United Kingdom are allowed inside the tower.

Though Big Ben ranks as one of England’s most popular tourist attractions, overseas visitors are not allowed to venture inside the tower. As of 2010, only residents of the United Kingdom can take the tour—and you have to be sponsored by a Member of Parliament of the House of Lords. At the moment, however, none of that really matters: Because of ongoing renovations being made to Elizabeth Tower, all tours have been suspended until at least 2021.

7. Reaching the clock requires a steep climb.

Individuals who are lucky enough to be able to see Big Ben up close face a bit of a climb: There’s no elevator, so the only route to the belfry level is a 334-step spiral stairway. 

8. It took more than a day to haul Big Ben up to the belfry.

If a 334-step hike seems like too much to bear, imagine making the journey with a giant 14-ton bell in tow. It was only after the Great Bell was cast—and then replaced after it cracked during testing—that the men in charge of transporting it to its permanent quarters in the belfry realized that it was just a bit too large for an easy ascent of the building’s narrow stairwell. With some precise angling, winching the mammoth instrument up the 200-foot-high climb was possible, but it wasn’t easy. From start to finish, the job took a full 30 hours

9. The tower leans slightly northwest.

Over its 160 years of keeping an eye on London’s streets, Big Ben has picked up a noticeable tilt. Today, the clock tower leans about a foot and a half off center, pointing northwestward. The main theory for what’s causing the lean is the drying out of the London clay beneath the tower. 

10. A stack of coins keeps the clock on point.

Eschewing high-tech modern methods for timekeeping, Big Ben relies on a far more old-fashioned measure: The lucky penny. Seated perpetually atop Ben’s swinging pendulum is a stack of now discontinued British penny coins. The weight of the stack balances the pendulum’s center of mass, ensuring a steady swing rate and consistent timekeeping. The removal or addition of a coin can alter the clock’s projection by 0.4 seconds per day. In 2009, three of the 10 coins that sit atop the pendulum lost their spot to a five-pound coin celebrating London’s hosting of the 2012 Olympics. 

11. The tower goes incognito during wartime.

Ordinarily, Big Ben is a beacon of English pride with its bright glow and vociferous ring. In times of war, however, the clock tower goes into hiding, dimming its lights and silencing its bells to keep from inviting enemy assault on the Houses of Parliament. Big Ben’s face was dark and its chimes were silent for two years during World War I. During World War II, the clock was dark, but the bell kept ringing. 

12. German bombs couldn't stop the clock from ticking.

Despite efforts to draw attention away from Big Ben, the German military did manage to get the drop on the clock tower. In May of 1941, a Nazi raid on Parliament resulted in the destruction of the House of Commons chamber and damages to Big Ben’s roof and dials. The Commons required total reconstruction, but the clock remained functionally intact throughout the entire ordeal. 

13. The clock didn't fare as well against a flock of birds.

A black and white photo of Elizabeth Tower and Big Ben
iStock/Mohana-AntonMeryl

In 1949, Big Ben would met with an adversary more powerful than the Luftwaffe: A flock of starlings. In August of that year, a group of birds decided the clock’s tremendous minute hand would make a suitable place for an evening perch. The copper appendage attracted so many birds that their collective weight slowed the clockwork by more than four and a half minutes. Management was able to correct this error within a few hours. 

14. The clock faced its first major shutdown in 1976. 

While the bells and lights of Big Ben have taken some breaks over the decades, it took more than 100 years for the clock to have to endure its first significant nonoperational period. In August 1976, general wear and tear of the aging device threw a number of its internal mechanisms into dysfunction, leading to periodic shutdowns for repairs over the next nine months. By May 1977, Big Ben was back in service.

15. Big Ben ceased chiming in 2017.

In late August 2017, Big Ben went silent. The measure was intended to protect workers completing what is intended to be a four-year restoration of both the clock and its surrounding structure. The clock will be dismantled piece by piece, so that its four dials can be cleaned and fixed. Its faces will be temporarily covered, but an electric motor will continue to drive the clock hands so it can keep telling time.

Architects also plan to modernize the clock tower by making it more energy-efficient, and adding an elevator, toilet, and kitchen. But until that work is completed in 2021, Big Ben will still chime only on New Year’s Eve, Remembrance Sunday (a UK holiday that honors veterans), and other special occasions.

This story has been updated for 2019.

America's 50 Best Workplaces, According to Employees

Chaay_Tee/iStock via Getty Images
Chaay_Tee/iStock via Getty Images
Though there are a number of factors that go into deciding whether a job is right for you, company culture plays an essential—albeit sometimes overlooked—part. Fortunately, career site Indeed has gone straight to the source and compiled a ranking of America's best workplaces, based on employee feedback, which could help make your next job search a whole lot easier. As Thrillist reports, Indeed's rankings were based on employees’ reviews on their “overall work experience.” To narrow the field down, Indeed zeroed in specifically on Fortune 500 companies that “have had at least 100 verified employee-submitted reviews posted to Indeed's site in the past two years.” Computer software giant Adobe came out on top, with Facebook and Southwest Airlines not too far behind. Meanwhile, United Airlines and Foot Locker just made the cut. You can read the full list of America's top 50 companies below, and read more about Indeed's methodology here.
  1. Adobe
  1. Facebook
  1. Southwest Airlines
  1. Live Nation
  1. Intuit
  1. Costco Wholesale
  1. Delta
  1. eBay
  1. Microsoft
  1. Johnson & Johnson
  1. Bristol-Myers Squibb
  1. Salesforce
  1. Fannie Mae
  1. Eli Lilly
  1. JetBlue Airways
  1. Freeport-McMoRan
  1. Fluor Corp.
  1. Apple
  1. Cisco
  1. Capital One
  1. Nike
  1. Amgen
  1. Booz Allen
  1. Charles Schwab
  1. Viacom
  1. Southern Company
  1. NextEra Energy
  1. Publix
  1. Land O’Lakes
  1. Motorola Solutions
  1. Pfizer
  1. Lockheed Martin
  1. Starbucks
  1. Merck
  1. ConocoPhillips
  1. American Express
  1. Applied Materials
  1. DTE Energy
  1. Best Buy
  1. Boston Scientific
  1. Northrop Grumman
  1. Discover Financial Services
  1. BlackRock
  1. Darden Restaurants
  1. MGM Resorts International
  1. Hilton
  1. Edward Jones
  1. Marriott International
  1. Foot Locker
  1. United Airlines
[h/t Thrillist]

The 11 Best Found Footage Movies

Twenty years ago this summer, moviegoers everywhere were shaken to their core by a film about three film students who went into the woods with a couple of cameras and met a seemingly supernatural entity that wouldn’t let them leave. It was called The Blair Witch Project, and it proved to be a landmark film for horror cinema, indie cinema, and a particular filmmaking medium known as "found footage."

The idea behind found footage films is simple: Make a movie while acting like you’re not trying to make a movie. This all really happened, someone who was there filmed it, and then you just found the resulting video and cut it together. It’s a method that allows plenty of room for improvisation, often requires minimal budget, and can get a lot of mileage out of very few locations and characters. That makes it an attractive technique for many filmmakers, but it’s not as easy to pull off as it sounds. So, in tribute to The Blair Witch Project and its impact, here are the movies that got found footage right in the best way possible.

1. Cannibal Holocaust (1980)

Cannibal Holocaust is not a 100 percent "found footage" movie, but it didn’t have to be, because it paved the way for dozens, if not hundreds, of other films in the subgenre with its use of the found footage technique. The film is the story of an anthropologist who sets out to find a group of filmmakers who went missing while documenting indigenous tribes in South America, and discovers that only their film cans and their bones have survived.

The back half of the film is largely composed of this found footage, as the anthropologist reviews the cans of film and discovers the documentarians were often more savage than the tribes they set out to chronicle, as their bloodlust and exploitation reached fever pitch shortly before their deaths. The film is best known for the controversy it caused, including the rumor that several of the onscreen killings were real (Ruggero Deodato, the film's director, was forced to bring one of the actors into court with him—to prove he was alive), but it’s also a surprisingly complex look at appropriation, voyeurism, and our addiction to filmed spectacle.

2. The Blair Witch Project (1999)

Yes, The Blair Witch Project really does still work as a minimalist scarefest, but even if it didn’t it would still be held up as one of the most important works in the found footage subgenre. At a time when found footage wasn’t on the minds of moviegoers and the internet was still in its relative infancy, this film arrived like a dark gift and helped to shape what the looming 21st century would look like in terms of horror filmmaking. If you were paying attention to pop culture at the time, you probably remember the brilliant viral marketing campaign that made you believe, if only for a second, that this was a real lost film made by dead students. And even if the marketing didn’t get you, the children laughing in the dark did.

3. Cloverfield (2008)

Many found footage movies are, by their very nature, small scale affairs involving only a few characters and a story that can be told in a relatively confined way, which makes them great for low-budget filmmakers. If you’re producer J.J. Abrams, writer Drew Goddard, and director Matt Reeves, however, you look at the subgenre and you start to think about a kaiju movie. Cloverfield brilliantly combines the large-scale destruction of a giant monster ravaging a city with the intimate, immediate thrills of a found footage movie. Throw in some brilliant viral marketing and the idea that you’re watching a tape recovered by the government after a disaster, and you’ve got an addictive little movie that spawned a small franchise.

4. Chronicle (2012)

Given enough time, every film genre will be invaded in some way or another by found footage, because the method is just so adaptable. That meant superhero films would definitely get the treatment one day, and in 2012 we got it with Chronicle, Josh Trank’s tale of three friends whose lives change forever when they acquire superpowers. The film works right away because of course the first thing a certain kind of teenager would do if they got powers is film themselves goofing off. And as the plot picks up steam, the ways in which each young man deals with the fallout of their gifts propels it to compelling levels of intensity and fun.

5. [REC] (2007)

The best found footage films are often the ones that can make optimal use of a single location by establishing a sense of place and then just shredding your nerves as you watch the chosen location fall apart amid the terror. The Spanish film [REC], co-directed by Jaume Balagueró and Paco Plaza, is a masterclass in this technique, following a reporter and cameraman as they try to survive a night in a quarantined apartment building where everyone is slowly turning into a monster. The film just keeps finding ways to freak you out, from the silhouette of a motionless little girl at the end of a hallway to its iconic, absolutely terrifying final shot.

6. The Visit (2015)

In 2015, M. Night Shyamalan’s three most recent directorial credits were After Earth, The Last Airbender, and The Happening. The man who had once wowed Hollywood with The Sixth Sense needed another win, and he got one by stripping down his budget and his storytelling scope to create another intimate, taut, darkly funny thriller about two kids who go to stay with their grandparents and discover something awful. The found footage element of the story adds a sense of urgency to the detective work the kids have to do to figure out what’s going on, and the very idea of following the camera as it peers out of the kids’ room at night to see what the creepy people in the house are up to is enough to make you jump in your seat.

7. Creep (2015)

Creep is what happens when found footage horror meets a mumblecore hangout movie, as Mark Duplass (co-writer and star) and Patrick Brice (co-writer, director, and star) set out to tell a two-person story that will chill you to your core while also causing you to laugh at really odd times. The setup is simple: A creepy loner who lives in the woods hires a cameraman for the day under the pretense of making a video for his unborn. He has terminal brain cancer, you see, and wants to leave him some kind of remembrance. You can probably see where this is going just from the title of the film, but what you can’t see is how the film gets there. Creep packs a lot of scares, twists, and turns into its lean 77-minute runtime, and by the end it ensures you’ll be looking at that one guy you barely know who just has a “weird sense of humor” a little differently.

8. Trollhunter (2010)

Shows about weird guys who hang out in the woods and claim to hunt monsters have, like ghost hunting shows, become a staple of 21st-century cable television, and it was only a matter of time before someone decided to ask the question “What if that all turned out to be real?” Trollhunter, André Øvredal’s brilliant found footage fantasy film, does that with a sense of scale and wild fun that makes it an instantly watchable ride.

9. Paranormal Activity (2007)

Like The Blair Witch Project before it, Paranormal Activity came along at exactly the right time and injected new life into the found footage subgenre with a clever premise, a low budget, and a hook that kept driving people to the theaters. As ghost hunting shows began to spread all over basic cable, filmmaker Oren Peli had the idea to tell the story of a couple who wired up their own house with cameras in order to conduct a search for an evil presence in their home. It was a phenomenon that launched a franchise and dozens of ripoffs, and the scares still work pretty damn well.

10. Exit Through the Gift Shop (2010)

Ok, hear us out: Yes, Exit Through the Gift Shop is billed as a documentary, and is purportedly not a work of fiction. No one found this footage in the woods in the world of the story, so how can it be “found footage”? Because the legendary street artist Banksy found a movie in the midst of thousands of hours of random, often useless footage compiled by a Frenchman living in Los Angeles named Thierry Guetta (a.k.a. Mr. Brainwash), who became obsessed with street art and turned his constantly filming camera lens on it. Banksy didn’t set out to make this film, but as he became more intrigued by Thierry and his journey he turned to Guetta’s lifelong habit of compiling video of almost literally everything he did, and somewhere in there a truly great film emerged (the movie earned a Best Documentary Oscar nomination in 2011).

11. Unfriended (2014)

Unfriended is a film that unfolds almost entirely on a computer screen, as a group of friends slowly discover that the unknown user intruding on their evening chat might just be the ghost of a girl who was cyberbullied into suicide a year earlier and now wants to take her revenge. You’d think a film that unfolds through Skype chats and Facebook Messenger might drag a bit, but Unfriended actually has a healthy and horrific grasp of the way teens use these tools to construct their own compelling high school narratives, and it warps that understanding to its advantage. A film like this was bound to get made eventually, but Unfriended turns out to be more than another found footage gimmick.

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