What is Big Ben?
Big Ben is the bell that strikes the hours in the clock tower above the Houses of Parliament at Westminster in London. It weighs 13.5 tons and was named Big Ben in honour of Sir Benjamin Hall, who was Commissioner of Works at the time of the tower's completion in 1858. Interestingly, the Whitechapel Bell Foundry where it was cast is still operating from the same location today. There are four smaller bells in the tower which strike the quarters and are called "Little Bens".
Big Ben symbolises to many people the "Mother of Parliaments". The British have long prided themselves on their democratic tradition. The English Parliament was united with the Scottish Parliament in 1707 and with the Irish between 1801 and 1922.
Since 1688 it has been customary for the king or queen tochoose his or her ministers from the dominant political party in the Commons.
The Houses of Parliament are not particularly old - the present building having been built between 1840 and 1860. It does, however, incorporate portions of the mediaeval Palace of Westminister. The Commons debating chamber - which nowadays can be seen on television - was destroyed by incendiary bombs during World War II and was later rebuilt preserving its former character.
When the Houses of Parliament are in session, the clock is illuminated at night by a light that goes off only when the House rises.