LEGO announced last week that they would be releasing the iconic Big Ben as a staggering 23″ inch LEGO Creator building kit. Featuring 4 clock faces, which turn in sync (though aren’t functional clocks), the LEGO Big Ben kit is pretty neat. But there’s a problem: Big Ben is a nickname for one of the most famous bells in the world, but not the name of the bell, the clock, nor the tower itself.
The clock tower is actually named the Elizabeth Tower. Big Ben is housed in the clock tower on the north side of the Palace of Westminster. In 2012, during the Diamond Jubilee of Elizabeth II, the tower was bestowed the title “Elizabeth Tower” in celebration of 60 years of Her Majesty’s reign. Previously, it was just known as “the Clock Tower.” The clock is actually named the “Great Clock of Westminster.”
While Elizabeth Tower is one of the most recognized towers in the world, the peal of Big Ben is what most people think of, so many refer to the entire tower as “Big Ben.” Funnily enough, Big Ben is just a nickname for the Great Bell. The ring of the Great Bell is very distinct, because of a large crack which has split the rim. Surprisingly enough, Big Ben is the second bell to be cast for its position, the first of which cracked beyond repair in front of throngs of excited citizens during its first test. Big Ben itself was installed after its own testing, to the tune of 18 hours of pulley-jockeying. After its 18 hour hike to the top, it was installed as the bell that has been rung on the hour, every hour, for over 150 years.
Except when it broke. Two months after being hung, Big Ben was cracked by an erroneous use of an enormous hammer. The hammer that broke the bell was much heavier than the bell was meant to be rung with, and the bell had to be modified before it could return to service. The modification took three years. To return the Great Bell to service, a large square was removed around the crack, and the bell had to be rotated to provide a new surface for the hammer to strike.
Famous architect and horologist Edmund Beckett, 1st Baron Grimthorpe was the mastermind that used the wrong hammer for the bell. (A horologist is an engineer, mechanic, or other tradesman responsible for keeping time.) Baron Grimthorpe was skilled enough to make the Great Clock of Westminster chime the time within a second of the hour, making it one of the most accurate clocks ever built. But his choice of hammers is obviously suspect, and he was known as a quarreling soul. He’s most quoted for stating,
“I am the only architect with whom I have never quarreled.”
As evidenced by Big Ben’s extraordinary damage, it’s entirely likely there was never an architect that agreed with all of Baron Grimthorpe’s decisions.
In the end, though, this is mostly pedantry. I’m okay with that. It’s still a really cool LEGO kit. But when I build the 4,163-piece Elizabeth Tower, I’m going to have an extra dose of fun. I’ll likely drag in some other sets to modify the Palace and Tower. I’m seeing trees and decay, a post-apocalyptic fanfare to highlight a beautiful tower. Of course, it will take ages to build, not just because of the thousands of pieces, but also because of the technic-style clocks that must be assembled. The real challenge, though, will be to find somewhere to display it.