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LONDON: The Houses of Parliament

If you are unfortunate enough to have not been born in the green and pleasant land that is known to all as England, then your first thoughts of Her Royal Highnesses' kingdom is likely to be the City of London. More specifically, Buckingham Palace, St Pauls Cathedral, and the Houses of Parliament!

The Houses of Parliament, also known as the Palace of Westminster or Westminster Palace, is the meeting place of the two houses of the Parliament of the United Kingdom.

The two 'houses' are made up of the House of Lords and the House of Commons. 

The Houses of Parliament lies on the north bank of the River Thames in the heart of the London borough of the City of Westminster, close to the historic Westminster Abbey and the government buildings of Whitehall and Downing Street. 

The name Palace of Westminster can refer to either of two structures:

1. The Old Palace, which is a medieval building complex, most of which burned in 1834.

2. The New Palace which stands today and was a replacement for the Old Palace. For ceremonial purposes, the palace retains its original style and status as a royal residence.

What is Big Ben then?

Of course, when it comes to the iconic landmark Big Ben, an explanation is required due to persistent an erroneous confusions over its correct name. The building that is often perceived as Big Ben is in reality the Palace of Westminster, which - as mentioned previously - is also called the Houses of Parliament.

The Palace of Westminster dates from the medieval period when it was a royal residence. In fact, it still home to a royal medieval throne which is situated in the Lords Chamber which is known as St Edward’s Chair, or more popularly as the Coronation Chair. 

Why is this important? Because each year the Royal Head of State travels in spendid procession to the Palace of Westminster for the annual State Opening of Parliament. This colourful pomp and ceremony of Parliament is one of Britain's most famous traditions.

Be aware that the Palace of Westminster is still called the Palace of Westminster and only houses the Houses of Parliament!

Furthermore, the gothic tower built at the east of Westminster palace is also often mistakenly called Big Ben. The truth of the matter is that the name Big Ben refers to the bell within the tower on which the clock strikes the hour, while the tower itself is called Saint Stephens tower. Be that as it may, the clock - known as 'The Great Westminster Clock' and still not Big Ben - is considered by many to be the most famous clock in the world.

Big Ben Facts

1. The Great Westminster Clock became fully operational in 1859.

2. The Big Ben Bell weighs 13.5 tonnes.

3. Pre-Decimal pennies used to adjust the clocks timings. One penny will add around two-fifths of a second in 24 hours.

4. The Astronomer Royal, Sir George Airey and Edmund Denison QC MP designed the Great Clock and recommended clockmaker Edward Dent to build it.

5. In order to fit the huge mechanism, the clock was winched up inside the Clock Tower.

6. The pendulum is 3.9 metres long and beats every two seconds.

7. The clock mechanism weighs around 5 tonnes.

8. What runs the great clock now composes of contemporary metal work. However, the original parts from the clock mechanism on display about a third of the way up the Clock Tower.

9.  The original clapper cast in 1858 but was never used.

10. The original the original hammer used to strike Big Ben in 1859 was found to be too heavy at 6 1/2 cwts. This was replaced in 1862 by the present hammer of 4 cwts.

11. The first Big Ben bell was  caste and brought down from Stockton On Tees to London. It weighed 16 tons and was mounted on a trolley pulled by 16 horses. Sadly this original bell cracked during testing and was replaced by another weighing 13 tons cast in Whitechapel, London.

For related articles click onto:
ENGLAND: Hever Castle
ENGLAND: Knole House - the Ghosts!
ENGLAND: Sissinghurst
ENGLAND: Where is Stonehenge?
LONDON: Buckingham Palace
LONDON: Cleopatra's Needle
LONDON: The Houses of Parliament
LONDON: The London Eye
LONDON: The Tower of London
LONDON: Who was Guy Fawkes?
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