The world-famous clock tower is widely known as Big Ben and its image is synonymous with London. It is such an iconic landmark that has played its part in the city’s history providing chimes since 1859. In 2012 the tower has been renamed the Elizabeth Tower in recognition of the current monarch’s 60 year reign.
The tour is closed to foreign visitors and British citizens can avail the tour through their local MP (Member of the Parliament). The meeting place is at the ground floor of Portcullis House, a government building commissioned in 1992 and opened in 2001 to provide offices for 213 Members of Parliament and their staff, to augment limited space in the Palace of Westminster. As with the rest of the Parliamentary Estate, extreme security measures are observed at all times; all visitors must submit their bags and coats for X-raying, as well as passing through a metal detector and undergoing a body check and must remain with a passholder while inside the premises. Our tour guide was there to meet us at the lobby and to lead us through the restricted access tunnels that connect Portcullis House and the Houses of Parliament.
Together with my friend, Yasmin, and her daughter/my goddaughter, Anisa, I had a great privilege of seeing the mechanisms that have powered the clock, keeping it working to near perfection. We climbed 334 steps to the Tower belfry. Fascinating facts I learned about its history and how it still, to this very day, is manually maintained by 3 clock makers and 1 apprentice, who are on call 24/7 and come to check it three times a week without fail to make sure the clock’s accuracy is spot on. We were at the famous old bell, “Big Ben” when 10 AM struck and heard the Westminster Chimes clearly, even with ear plugs on, being played by the 4 smaller bells. The music, I learned from the tour guide, was actually inspired by a phrase from Handel’s symphony, “My Great Redeemer Liveth”, and the words and music were arranged by W. Crotch in 1793…”Lord through this hour, Be Thou our guide, So by Thy power, No foot shall slide.”
Interestingly enough, a third of the way up our tour guide told us to stop and have a quick look at the Prison Room where members of the Parliament could be detained for misbehaviour during a debate. It was exhausting going up the 334 steps but overall, it was a great experience and the most exhilarating tours I’ve done in the city so far. Photography is strictly prohibited so the featured image was taken from Westminster Abbey after the tour.