Houses of Parliament and Big Ben, London
Don't worry; it is not my intention to explain, once more, that Big Ben is not the name of the tower but that of the bell, etc., etc.
I just want to inform you that the afternoon is not the good moment to take a photo of the Parliaments' façade on the river. Look at my miserable pic. A terrible contre-jour! Btw I was glad to read in my dictionary that the English use the French word contre-jour (a heritage from the French speaking Richard Coeur de Lion ?).
Get up early, best on a sunny morning, if you want to see something on your photo.
If like me you spent your morning looking (with some delight) at the torture chambers of the Tower of London and reached the Parliament in the late afternoon you will not regret your late arrival if you walk to Parliament Square and St Margaret St. especially if the August sun is shining.
What is a pleasure for the visitor and his camera is that honey-coloured stone used all over the building and that makes such beautiful effect on photos. Actually when the Parliament, after the nearly complete destruction by fire in 1834, was rebuild between 1840 and 1860 in a Gothic style on a neo-classical principle of symmetry, the stonework of the building was a sand-coloured magnesian limestone from Anston (South Yorkshire).
This stone decayed due to pollution and was progressively replaced by Clipsham Stone, a honey-coloured limestone from the county of Rutland between 1930 and 1994. And that's what we see now in the late sun.
Of course, if it is raining you can go on any time of the day. Your photos will be … neutral wet.
Richard I Coeur-de-Lion statue.
This is a wonderful statue in the wonderful architectural surrounding of Westminster Palace.
Richard I of England (1157 – 1199) Cœur de Lion - the Lionheart was King of England, Duke of Normandy, and Count of Anjou.
This heroic and iconic king of England did speak only French and during his ten years reign spent only a few months in England. He lived in his Duchy of Aquitaine, in the southwest of France, when he was not fighting somewhere in France or being one of the leaders of the third Crusade.
The bronze equestrian statue (which underwent a renovation in 2009) is from Marochetti a favourite sculptor of Queen Victoria and Prince Albert and was installed in 1860 on the granite pedestal in front of the House of Lords with the name Coeur de Lion written in French.
The cost of erecting the statue was paid by public subscription.
The bas-relief panels for the sides of the pedestal are also from Marochetti. They show Richard's victory over the Saracens at Ascalon and the dying Richard pardoning Bertram de Gourdon who had shot at him with a crossbow causing a fatal injury.
The Clock Tower is the world's biggest four-faced, chiming clock. The structure is situated at the north-eastern end of the Houses of Parliament in Westminster, London. It is often colloquially referred to as Big Ben, which is actually the nickname of the main bell housed within the tower
Westminster Palace, known also as the Houses of Parliament, is the seat of the two Houses of the Parliament of the United Kingdom, the House of Lords and the House of Commons. Although the oldest part of the Palace dates from 1097, most of it was rebuilt in neo-Gothic architecture from the year 1840, following a major fire in 1834. One of the Palace's most famous features is the clock tower, often named after the famous bell Big Ben that is housed within.
As a center of political and religious power for over a millennium, the whole area consisting of Westminster Palace and adjacent Westminster Abbey is of considerable historic and symbolic significance. It presents a remarkable architectural cohesion and an impressive display of gravitas. The Westminster Palace and Westminster Abbey are a UNESCO World Heritage Site
Update March 2014: tour information updated (times and prices), two new photos added, website info updated
This photo has to be one of the iconic images of London …
… but how many of you think that it is a photo of Big Ben? In fact, Big Ben is the name of the bell inside the clock tower of the Palace of Westminster. And “Palace of Westminster” is the official name for the building which is home to the Houses of Parliament. This is because until 1512 the royal family lived where Parliament is now situated.
Parliament is open to all members of the UK public and overseas visitors. You can watch laws being made, attend debates and committees, tour the buildings, and if you’re a resident of the UK, climb the clock tower. I’ve never been to a debate or on a tour, but I’m lucky that my job has led to me being invited to receptions here on several occasions. There is an incredible sense of history in this building – echoes of the weighty decisions that have been made here, the great statesmen and women who’ve walked these corridors, the major events witnessed here. If you get the opportunity to go inside I would certainly recommend it if you have any interest in history or in politics.
To attend a debate on most days you simply need to join the queue outside St Stephen’s entrance, although you may need to wait an hour or two. Make sure you check that the House is sitting though – details are available on the website below, including recess dates. And because Prime Minister's Question Time (on a Wednesday morning) is by far the liveliest and most popular session of every week, you can't just turn up for that. Admission is usually only available for UK residents and should be arranged in advance via their MP, though both overseas visitors and UK residents without tickets can queue but will only gain entrance if there is space after ticket-holders. Security these days of course is very tight, so come prepared for your bags, and your body, to be searched.
Both UK residents and overseas visitors can tour Parliament on Saturdays and on selected weekdays during Parliamentary recesses. A guided tour costs £25 for adults, £20 for concessions and £10 for children 5-15. You can book in advance or try your luck on the day at the ticket office located next to the Jewel Tower, opposite the Houses of Parliament. Audio tours are cheaper (adults £17.50, concessions £15, one child free and £7 for any additional children) and tickets are booked the same way. If you’re a UK resident you can also arrange a place on a free tour through your MP.
Just about every tourist will find their way to the Houses of Parliament and Big Ben at some point during their visit. So, here's a few facts and figures about this most well known and much loved London landmark:
The name "Big Ben" does not refer to the entire tower - just the huge bell.
It is commonly believed that the bell is named after Sir Benjamin Hall - a politician of the time and who was also the Parliamentary Commissioner of Works.
Big Ben is 9'-0" diameter, 7'-6" high, and weighs 13 tons (13,760 Kg)
It was cast on Saturday 10th April 1858 at Whitechapel Bell Foundry, London by George Mears the master bellfounder and owner of the foundry.
The first chime was rung on 31st May 1859 in situ.
More info can be found here at Londonnet.co.uk
The Palace of Westminster (otherwise known as the Houses of Parliament) is perhaps the most recognisable building in London and one of my favourites. Why 'Houses' of Parliament? Well, the British Parliament comprises two houses: the lower House of Commons of elected representatives and the upper House of Lords, peopled with hereditary and life peers.
The current building is a flamboyant confection by Sir Charles Barry in the Perpendicular Gothic style(!) and surprisingly recent, with the exterior having only been completed in 1870 (and much of the interior much later than that). Like many Central London buildings, the Houses of Parliament have been cleaned in recent years to remove accumulated surface grime and I think that the honey coloured limestone - a pleasant counterpoint to the rather stark white Portland Stone which has been used for the facades of many of the Whitehall buildings - is beautiful, particularly in the early morning and late afternoon, when the masonry seems to glow in the gentle light.
There has been a building on this site since the mid 11th century, and the earliest surviving building of the Westminster Complex is the adjacent Westminster Abbey. Westminster Palace was initially a royal residence that accommodated a Model Parliament (comprising some members of the clergy and nobility) from as early as 1295, although their primary function was to impose taxes rather than govern - some would argue that not much has changed!
The Palace has changed dramatically over the centuries due to several devastating fires and repeatedly extended and remodelling to adapt to its changing function. Parts of the medieval structure such as the lovely Undercroft Chapel still survive - despite the best efforts of Guy Fawkes and the other ill-fated participants in the Gunpowder Plot of 1605 (who were hung, drawn and quartered for their pains) - but most of the building postdates the catastrophic fire of 1834.
The Palace has three towers. The tallest is the Victoria Tower, which is equipped with a flagstaff: if the Royal Standard (the Queen's personal flag) is flying, then the monarch is in the House, and if the Union Jack is flying, Parliament is in session. The Bell Tower at the other end of the building houses five bells, including the largest, Big Ben (whose distinctive 'boing' strikes on the hour). If there is a light on in the Bell Tower, then it is indication that the House is sitting - rumour has it that this convention was introduced so that Queen Victoria to make sure that her Government were putting in the requisite number of hours! The Octagonal Tower is the smallest of the three towers, and was initially installed as a ventilation feature (presumably to vent all that hot air???), cited by architects as "the first occasion when mechanical services had a real influence on architectural design". However, the design was a failure and the tower was eventually was demoted to a decorative feature.
When I was at university, my Byronic boyfriend and I often take late night strolls down to the Thames and play Pooh Sticks off Westminster Bridge - it sounds very lame looking back, but in the throes of young love, it seemed wildly romantic! If the weather was cold and we didn't yet feel like going home, we would check to see whether the light was on in the Bell Tower, and, if so, we would submit ourselves to a cursory security check and then slip into the Visitors' Gallery of the House of Commons to watch the late night debate in the surprisingly small Chamber. This was usually much less dramatic than it sounds, with MPs droning on about some dull topic (and in truth, it was more amusing to spot which members were snoozing on the benches) but it was interesting to see parliamentary process in action. In the post 9/11 world, things are very different, and although it is still possible to visit, the process is a lot more security-conscious (although still free): see the website below for more details.
People Of A Certain Age (ie. middle aged people like me!) will not be able to look at the roof of Westminster Palace without conjuring up a pivotal scene from my all time favourite BBC series: 'House of Cards' - people who have seen it will know exactly what I mean, and I won't spoil it for those who have yet to have the pleasure. This brilliant pitch black commentary on the life and times of a fictional British MP Francis Urquhart (whose initials were far from accidental) was written by Michael Dobbs, Margaret Thatcher's former Chief of Staff and is a biting commentary on Westminster and what one has to do to survive and thrive in this viciously competitive environment. This series (and its sequels, 'To Play The King' and 'The Final Cut') are an absolute must for those wanting to gain an insight into the British parliamentary system and cynical British humour!
Sharp-eyed travellers (and other know alls) will also be awarded brownie points for noting the similarity between the Houses of Parliament in London and the House of Parliament in Budapest whose architect Imre Steindl who was inspired by Westminster Palace!
Emerging from the Westminster Underground station, we found ourselves at the northwestern end of the Houses of Parliament and it's famous Clock Tower, commonly known as 'Big Ben'. This 96-m (316-ft) tall Gothic Revival tower was built between 1840-1860 following the 1834 fire which destroyed most of the original Westminster Palace. In addition to the four large clock faces, this tower also supports five large bells which chime their tune every 15 minutes. The commonly used name for the tower derives from the largest of these bells, the 13 tonne Great Bell of Westminster, which is the real 'Big Ben'. The golden trim on the tower made for an impressive sight in the bright sunlight as we walked on past, down the length of the Houses of Parliament to their other end.
No doubt, Big Ben is the most famous clock, erm.. bell, in the whole world. I already listened to its sound from my very early days on the planet, because my grandmother had a sideboard clock which rang quarters and hour with this characteristing ding-dong (these clocks were very famous in mid last century’s Germany and later). Maybe that’s why I always liked the sound. And I simply fell in love with the whole, clock and bell tower when I first stood in front of it 1977. No wonder that anytime I am in London, I am automatically drawn there, just to listen and make sure that it is still there.
The story of Big Ben is interesting to read. George Mears, bellfounder at Whitechapel Bell Foundry, cast it in 1858 and a year later it was ringing for the first time. But, as a too heavy hammer was used to ring it, it cracked. Instead of replacing it, they just rotated it, drilled a hole above the crack and Big Ben continued its work for the kingdom. Whitechapel Bell Foundry is still exisiting, by the way, produces many bells of every size and can be visited (Saturdays at 10 am and 2 pm, entrance fee £10, only on pre-booking). Big Ben, by the way, has 4 little "sisters", the ones that chime the quarters.
I discovered to my utmost delight that UK Parliament has registered and uploaded many photos on Flickr, which are transformed into excellent slide shows on
Big Ben virtual tour, with explanatory virtual visits to the ground floor and additional 7 floors within the tower. Make sure to view in fullscreen!! And make also sure to visit their site on Flickr: UK Parliament on Flickr page. The videos include Big Ben chiming 12 o’clock (01:21 min), the pendulum bob (00:11 min) and the fly fans (00.26 min) to regulate the descent of the weights. Fantastic to watch!! The 51 photos include the crack I mentioned above. Thank you, UK Parliament!! What an excellent work, as it really enables us to virtually visit the bell and the tower in every aspect. Make sure you take your time and watch all.
Oh yes, visits to the tower are possible. UK Parliament’s website describes the details. Tours are free but you must be in perfect health condition, as there is no lift, only 334 stairs to the top. It seems that only Britons can visit it, arranged through their local MP. However, I’ve read that overseas visitors might be able to arrange a visit through their embassies in London. It is definitely worth a try.
The tours, by the way, lead up as high as to Aryton light, which is the famous light visible in the dark when Parliament is still at work, in place since 1885 and named after A.S. Aryton MP, the first Commissioner of works. Another fascinating story is the one of the old pennies: to regulate the clock old pennies are used. One old penny lets the clock gain 2/5 th of a second per day. Fascinating!!
The tower also has a prison room, well, more of an incarceration room, where MPs could be sent when they misbehaved. Charles Bradlaugh was sent here in 1880, because as atheist he didn’t want to take the Official Oath on the bible and Emily Pankhurst, Britain’s famous feminist, as well in early 20th century.
But even if the bell is fascinating, the façade is even more so. I cannot get enough of this delicate work, Pugin and Barry realised when they designed the belltower. Don’t just look at it from far away, but take your time to discover the many details ot the top. Look at photo 4: there is a frieze of many black/green/gold coats of arms, among them the chained porticullis (symbol of the Palace of Westminster), Scotland’s thistle and Wales’ daffodil . At the four edges is the unified white-red rose of Lancaster and York and Northern Ireland’s shamrock on the top of the little spires . And the clock face itself is magnificent as well, 312 panes of opaque glass form each of the four clock faces. From UK Parliament’s photos I learned that one of these panes is movable for maintenance. And if you look closely at photo 2, indeed the pane between 6 and 7 is different in shade.
Coordinates on GoogleEarth:
It was a cold early afternoon as we walked the length of the Houses of Parliament, officially known as the Palace of Westminster and a former residence of British monarchs. The oldest existing part of this former palace is Westminster Hall, built in 1097, with it's large end window visible in the photo as we walked past. In the fenced off area is a statue of King Richard I (the Lionheart), who ruled from 1189-1199, mounted on a horse. Westminster Hall is one of the largest in Europe and although originally used for huge Royal banquets, it is now mainly used for 'laying in state' mourning occassions, such as on the death of the Queen Mother.
The second photo shows the southern end of the long building and it was taken from the wide expanse of the Victoria Tower Gardens, which run to the very edge of the River Thames. It shows the tallest of the three towers associated with the Houses of Parliament, the 98-m (323-ft) Victoria Tower, named for the ruling Monarch when the palace was rebuilt after it's 1834 fire. When the Monarch visits the Houses, this is the entrance that is used.
Originally it was a palace built in the eleventh century by Edward the Confessor.
In 1812, March 1st, A.Pugin was born in Bloomsbury, London. His father was an French aristocrat who fled France during the French Revolution. From his father Augustus, he learned the love for medieval Gothic architecture. He became a recognized specialist from the age of 19 on.
After a destructive fire on the night of the 16th of October, 1834, it was rebuilt under the direction of Sir Charles Barry, the Palace of Westminster is one of the examples in which you can definitely recognize the influence of Pugin who was responsible for the design of the interiors and for creating working drawings of the exterior details.
Panoramic picture, click on it to enjoy the full view!
In this parliament resides the seat of the Government of the United Kingdom.
This Government consists of the House of Commons, of which members are elected, and the House of Lords, of which members are not elected but nominated and mostly are members due heritage.
Every one can visit the Parliament but you need to make an arrangement first.
You can visit the Strangers galleries in both houses and see the Parliament at work.
For more information look at the website provided.
Charles Barry, born in London in 1795 and deceased in 1860, had a training as architect in Italy from 1817 till 1820. Because of this foreign influence, much of his early work was in the Italian Palazzo style.
The story goes that on the night on the 16th of October in 1834, the old Palace of Westminster was destroyed by fire. Following on this devastating event, competition was launched in 1836 to create a new design. Charles Barry’s proposed one won. His design incorporated a clock tower. The dials were 30 feet in diameter; the struck on eight bells announced each quarter hour, the hours were struck on a 14-ton Bell.
At the time the clock was designed it was the largest clock in the world.
Benjamin Lewis Vulliamy, a clockmaker with great reputation was contacted but under pressure of open competition, Sir George Airy got appointed to be referee and to make up the specifications of the clock to be. Three candidates occurred: Vulliamy, Dent and Whitehurst. Dent was awarded the contract in 1852. Was it favoritism of Airy? Who can tell.
Edward John Dent died in 1853 and his stepson Frederick Rippon completed the clock mechanism. When it needed to be installed the tower was not finished yet due to miscommunications and problems between Edward Dent and the architect Barry.
But the lost time was spent well as the mechanism got enhanced and enabled to run even more accurate.
But … still the tower was not finished yet. The hour bell, finished in 1856 was too heavy so the ball hammer was made heavier with the result that the bell got damaged behind repair when they hung it for the time being in the New Palace Yard.
At last it was in 1858 that George Mears of the Whitechapel Bell Foundry that provided the bell that still is in use today. Warners provided the four quarter bells.
The Palace of Westminster is the home of the UK's central government - made up of the House of Commons and the House of Lords, is possible to observe both during their Sitting from the public galleries.
This magnificent London landmark is best viewed from the South Bank, across Westminster Bridge.
Please check the website for more detailed info regarding opening times and disabled access etc.
The Palace of Westminster has been the site of the HOUSES OF PARLIAMENT since 1265. The clock tower houses the famous bell, BIG BEN.
The Houses of Parliament are the finest examples of 19th century Gothic architecture in this country. Completed in 1852 to the designs of Charles Barry and A.W. Pugin, they replace the ancient Palace of Westminster, most of which was destroyed by fire in 1834.
Members of the Public are admitted to the Strangers' Gallery to watch debates when either of the Houses are in session
St Stephen's tower houses the world famous Big Ben clock - celebrating 150 years in 2009 :)
This landmark is visible, located just off Westminster bridge. The London Eye offers the best views of the whole Houses of Parliament block. St Stephen's tower is at the Eastern edge, with Victoria Tower (and gardens) on the western side, off Lambeth bridge.
1. Ever wondered what the clock looks like, up close & personal? The hour bell is struck by a hammer weighing 200kg!
2. The history behind it's commissioning & hoisting?
3. Do you know it's actually Big Ben II? Or that it has a crack in it, caused during it's 'checking' phase?
4. Keen on standing facing the dials, though from the safer side.. inside ;)
5. Would you like to see Whitehall, Nelson's column, and Victoria monument facing Buckingham Palace (on The Mall) from a whole new dimension? Other visible landmarks are the BT Tower, etc.
If you're curious, why not visit this tower? You get a very interesting guided tour.. need to arrange it via one's MP, but well worth it in my humble opinion.
Just one little caveat: it's a good 200 odd steps to climb, though there are several stops along the way, with rooms to sit down in - one of them houses the whole clock mechanism. There are windows along the climb too, unlike some claustrophobic towers.
The icing on the cake is the external open-to-air area where the bells are hanging, and you get to see & hear them strike!! Not to mention all the views!