London's landmark "Big Ben" clock turns 150

Fri May 29, 2009 11:52pm EDT
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By Mirja Spernal

LONDON (Reuters Life!) - Three times a week, clock maker Paul Roberson climbs the 334 steps to the top of the Clock Tower in London to wind up and adjust arguably the world's most famous timepiece.

Commonly called Big Ben, which is actually the nickname of the bell inside it, the 96-meter tower looks down on the Houses of Parliament along the River Thames and has become a symbol of stability, endurance and democracy in Britain.

It was 150 years ago on Sunday that the four-faced Great Clock started keeping time, and on July 11, 1859, Big Ben first struck time.

"The clock is 150 years old and still weight-driven so it's weights that are driving the clock and those weights slowly work their way down to the ground," Roberson told Reuters inside the tower, against a backdrop of cogs and wheels driving the hands on the famous iron and opal-glass clock faces.

"After three days they're on the ground so we have to come up her three times a week and wind them back up again exactly like 150 years ago when the clock was first installed."

Roberson uses old pennies balanced on top of the pendulum to slow the clock down or speed it up, depending on whether it is running fast or slow.

"By adding a penny we can speed the clock up two fifths of a second a day, take the penny off and it slows it down ... that's how we keep the clock spot on.

"It's always within a second a day so we're monitoring that all the time and we can make small adjustments if necessary."   Continued...

<p>Big Ben against a blue sky in central London March 8, 2008. REUTERS/John Goh</p>