21013 Big Ben


  • Location: London, Great Britain
  • Architect: Charles Barry/Augustus Pugin
  • Style: Neo-Gothic
  • Materials: Brickwork, stone cladding, cast iron
  • Type: Clock tower
  • Height: 96.3m (316 feet)
  • Year: 1843-1859


When the old Palace of Westminster was destroyed by fire on the 16th October 1834, a competition was announced for the design of a new palace building. Over 97 entries were received and in January 1836, it was announced that the competition had been won by the 40 year-old English architect Charles Barry. Barry soon recruited Augustus Pugin, one of leading lights of the neo-gothic movement, to assist with the project.

The foundation stone for the Clock Tower was laid on 28th September 1843 and it wouldn’t be completed until 1859. The Clock Tower was built from the inside outwards, meaning that no scaffolding was ever visible to the outside world. The Neo-Gothic style of the Clock Tower is particularly emphasized by the ornate decorations of its upper floors and the clock dials. Each dial is seven meters (23 ft.) in diameter and made from cast iron and 312 separate pieces of pot opal glass.

Big Ben was the unofficial name given to the tower’s Great Bell. It was the largest bell in the Britain at the time and named after either Sir Benjamin Hall, the first Works Commissioner, or Ben Caunt, a champion heavyweight boxer. The Clock Tower or Big Ben, has stood at the northeastern corner of the Palace of Westminster for over 150 years. Today it’s one of the most recognized landmarks in the world, and an iconic symbol of both London and England.


Charles Barry & Augustus Pugin

By the time Charles Barry (23.5.1795–12.05.1860) won the competition to build the new Palace of Westminster, he was already a well-respected architect. Born in Westminster in 1795, opposite where Big Ben would later stand, he was apprenticed to a London surveyor and architect’s office at the age of 15. Opening his own office in 1821, he soon gained a reputation for his Church designs.

Having only a limited experience of the Neo-Gothic style, Charles Barry turned to one of the style’s leading proponents for assistance. Augustus Pugin (1.03.1812-14.09.1852) had literally grown up with Gothic style; his French-born draughtsman father training him to draw Gothic buildings for the renowned reference books he produced on the subject.

Though the popularity of the Gothic style had been growing throughout the 19th Century, Barry and Pugin’s work on the Palace of Westminster and Big Ben would popularize the architectural style and ensure it reached into every corner of Victorian life.

Neither man would live to see the completion of their work. The intricate designs gave many construction difficulties: adding a whole decade to the estimated six-year building time and tripling the initial budget.


Text credits:
The Pugin Society
Oxford Dictionary of National Biography

Photo credits:
The Pugin Society

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