Where Britain’s government began
Set in the heart of Parliament Square, Big Ben and the Houses of Parliament are as iconic as Beefeaters, black taxis and Big Buses.
Big Ben is without a doubt the world’s most famous clock. Right next door you’ll find the equally recognizable Houses of Parliament, consisting of the House of Lords and the House of Commons. As your Big Bus tour bus passes by, make sure to keep your ears tuned for Big Ben’s famous deep chimes, booming out across the city every hour, on the hour.
History of the Houses of Parliament
The Houses of Parliament, also known as the Palace of Westminster, were home to English Monarchs from 1265. This changed in 1547, when common-elected parliamentarians started meeting in the Private Chapel of St Stephen’s – thus giving rise to the ‘House of Commons’.
Although it survived Guy Fawkes’ foiled Gunpowder Plot in 1605, most of the palace was destroyed in 1834 by fire – leaving only Westminster Hall, St Stephen's crypt and the Jewel tower standing. The Neo-gothic style building we see today was designed in 1835 by Charles Barry and Augustus Pugin, and took 30 long years to complete.
Who is Big Ben?
Gaze up in wonder at the world’s largest four-faced clock. Officially named Elizabeth Tower, it was finished in 1858. Rising 316 feet (96 metres) above the city, its nickname ‘Big Ben’ is actually the name of the main bell, located inside the tower.
The 159-year-old Elizabeth Tower will undergo renovation in 2017, with repairs being made to the clock's mechanism, hands and pendulum at a cost of over £30 million. As the clock is dismantled and components are individually inspected and repaired, Big Ben's distinctive chimes will fall silent for several months, and Elizabeth Tower will be covered by scaffolding - although it's expected that at least one of its four faces will remain visible at all times. Restoration of Elizabeth Tower is planned to take three years, after which the focus will turn to the Palace of Westminster, which will undergo its own monumental restoration project in 2020.
Other interesting facts about Big Ben and the Houses of Parliament
- Guy Fawkes was caught red-handed with his barrels of gunpowder in the basement storeroom under the House of Lords
- The oldest part of the Houses of Parliament is Westminster Hall, dating back to 1097
- You’ll know when Parliament is sitting for a night-time debate – a light at the top of Elizabeth Tower will be illuminated.
- Elizabeth Tower houses 334 steps. After the current renovations are completed, there will also be a lift available for disabled visitors.
- There are 5 bells in Elizabeth Tower. Big Ben is the largest bell, at 13.5 tonnes. The other four are quarter bells, designed so a different tune is played for each quarter hour.