The big news in London this week is their iconic clock, Big Ben, will cease to ring for the next four to six weeks as it undergoes maintenance to replace its bearings for the first time in its 150 year history. The sound of the giant rings the bell makes each hours is distinctive to the city of London where it is located next to the Houses of Parliament. The hands of the clock were frozen just after 8:00 a.m. and then wound to 12:00 as a team of technicians began their work to clean the clock’s four faces.

The name Big Ben refers not to the clock but the bell inside. The bell was cast at the Whitechapel Foundry in east London and first rang in July 1859. The bell weighs 13.5 tons. It soon cracked, but instead of replacing it, the bell was simply positioned so that it would not hit the crack and has been used ever since.

The keeper of Big Ben is Mike McCann who normally climbs 292 steps to the clock chamber three times a week. It is the second-largest four-faced clock in the world beaten only by the Allen-Bradley Clock Tower in Milwaukee. The minute hand of the clock is 14 feet long. It has survived German bombing in London in World War II and has been featured in Hollywood movies, often victim to attacks and explosions. This maintenance will be part of the celebrations of its 150th anniversary in 2009.

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