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Monthly Archives: September 2013

History of Big Ben

On the night of the 16th of October, 1834 the old Palace of Westminster was destroyed by fire. It is said that Charles Barry, an architect, was returning to London from Brighton, where he had designed a church, saw the glow of the fire in the distance and discovered that the Houses of Parliament were on fire. Following the destruction of the buildings, a competition was launched for design suitable for the new Palace. Charles Barry’s design won.

Charles Barry’s design incorporated a clock tower. The dials were to be thirty feet in diameter, the quarter chimes were to be struck on eight bells, and the hours were to be struck on a 14 ton bell. Barry invited Benjamin Lewis Vulliamy, a clockmaker of reputation, to submit a design and price for constructing such a clock. No doubt Vulliamy was pleased to be the clockmaker of choice for what was then to be the largest clock in the world, but other enterprising firms were not happy with the manner in which they had no opportunity to compete for the contract. Subsequently, the Astronomer Royal, Sir George Airy, was appointed as referee for the new clock and produced a specification in 1846. A key requirement of the specification was that the clock was to strike the first blow of each hour correct to one second in time. Tenders were invited and were received from three makers, Dent, Vulliamy and Whitehurst.

It was clear that Airy favoured Dent, with whom he had worked on the development of the chronometer. In 1849 the famous horologist, Edmund Beckett Denison (later Lord Grimthorpe) was appointed co-referee with Airy. Denison was in agreement with Airy that Dent was the maker most capable of constructing the clock and they produced a revised specification and drawings, in respect of which Dent was requested to revise his estimate. In 1852 Dent was awarded the contract.

The first of the difficulties occurred when it was discovered that the architect had failed to make the necessary provision for the clock in the tower. Denison certainly had the ability to propel the project forward, but he lacked any diplomatic skill and the tension which existed between him and Barry precluded any compromise by the architect. It was necessary instead for the clock to be modified so that it would fit within the internal walls.

Edward John Dent died in 1853 and the clock mechanism was completed by his stepson Frederick Rippon (who changed his name to Frederick Dent). In 1854 the mechanism was ready to be installed in the tower but this was not possible as the tower was incomplete. Denison was therefore able to spend a number of years testing out different types of escapement on the mechanism as it operated in Dent’s workshop. It was during this period that he invented the double three-legged gravity escapement which enables the clock to keep such accurate time.

Denison was also invited to produce a specification for, and referee, the casting of the bells. The contract was let to John Warner and Sons who cast the hour bell in 1856. The tower was not yet ready to receive the bell so upon delivery it was mounted in the New Palace Yard where it was struck regularly for the benefit of the public. This bell weighed about 16 tons, which was two tons heavier than intended. To compensate for this, Denison increased the weight of the ball hammer from 4 to 6 cwt. This was not a wise move, and one year later in 1857, the great bell cracked irreparably while being struck by this hammer. Denison proclaimed the casting as faulty but the manufacturers denied this and claimed it was his fault for using too heavy a hammer. George Mears of the Whitechapel Bell Foundry was given the contract to recast the bell from the metal of the old in 1858 which he did successfully, producing a bell weighing 13.5 tons which is the one in use today. The four quarter bells were cast by Warners.

The name ‘Big Ben’ was first applied to the original hour bell cast by Warners. There is no firm evidence of the origin of this name, but it may have derived from Sir Benjamin Hall, Commissioner of Works who was involved with the project and who was a man of considerable size. The name was also applied to the recast hour bell and has since come to indicate not just the bell, but also the clock and the clocktower.

Taken from http://www.bigben.freeservers.com/history.html

 

The Liberty Bell

On November 1, 1751, a letter was sent to Robert Charles, the Colonial Agent of the Province of Pennsylvania who was working in London. Signed by Isaac Norris, Thomas Leech, and Edward Warner, it represented the desires of the Assembly to purchase a bell for the State House (now Independence Hall) steeple. The bell was ordered from White chapel Foundry, with instructions to inscribe on it the passage from Leviticus.

The bell arrived in Philadelphia on September 1, 1752, but was not hung until March 10, 1753, on which day Isaac Norris wrote, “I had the mortification to hear that it was cracked by a stroke of the clapper without any other violence [sic] as it was hung up to try the sound.”

The cause of the break is thought to have been attributable either to flaws in its casting or, as they thought at the time, to its being too brittle.

Two Philadelphia foundry workers named John Pass and John Stow were given the cracked bell to be melted down and recast. They added an ounce and a half of copper to a pound of the old bell in an attempt to make the new bell less brittle. For their labors they charged slightly over 36 Pounds.

The new bell was raised in the belfry on March 29, 1753. “Upon trial, it seems that they have added too much copper. They were so teased with the witticisms of the town that they will very soon make a second essay,” wrote Isaac Norris to London agent Robert Charles. Apparently nobody was now pleased with the tone of the bell.

Pass and Stow indeed tried again. They broke up the bell and recast it. On June 11, 1753, the New York Mercury reported, “Last Week was raised and fixed in the Statehouse Steeple, the new great Bell, cast here by Pass and Stow, weighing 2080 lbs.”

In November, Norris wrote to Robert Charles that he was still displeased with the bell and requested that White chapel cast a new one.

Upon the arrival of the new bell from England, it was agreed that it sounded no better than the Pass and Stow bell. So the “Liberty Bell” remained where it was in the steeple, and the new White chapel bell was placed in the cupola on the State House roof and attached to the clock to sound the hours.

The Liberty Bell was rung to call the Assembly together and to summon people together for special announcements and events. The Liberty Bell tolled frequently. Among the more historically important occasions, it tolled when Benjamin Franklin was sent to England to address Colonial grievances, it tolled when King George III ascended to the throne in 1761, and it tolled to call together the people of Philadelphia to discuss the Sugar Act in 1764 and the Stamp Act in 1765.

In 1772 a petition was sent to the Assembly stating that the people in the vicinity of the State House were “incommoded and distressed” by the constant “ringing of the great Bell in the steeple.”

But, tradition holds, it continued tolling for the First Continental Congress in 1774, the Battle of Lexington and Concord in 1775 and its most resonant tolling was on July 8, 1776, when it summoned the citizenry for the reading of the Declaration of Independence produced by the Second Continental Congress. However, the steeple was in bad condition and historians today doubt the likelihood of the story.

In October 1777, the British occupied Philadelphia. Weeks earlier all bells, including the Liberty Bell, were removed from the city. It was well understood that, if left, they would likely be melted down and used for cannon. The Liberty Bell was removed from the city and hidden in the floorboards of the Zion Reformed Church in Allentown, Pennsylvania, which you can still visit today.

Throughout the period from 1790 to 1800, when Philadelphia was the nation’s capital, uses of the Bell included calling the state legislature into session, summoning voters to hand in their ballots at the State House window, and tolling to commemorate Washington’s Birthday and celebrate the Fourth of July.

Taken from http://www.ushistory.org/libertybell/

The Buckingham Palace

Buckingham Palace has served as the official London residence of Britain’s sovereigns since 1837 and today is the administrative headquarters of the Monarch.

Although in use for the many official events and receptions held by The Queen, the State Rooms at Buckingham Palace are open to visitors every year.

Buckingham Palace has 775 rooms. These include 19 State rooms, 52 Royal and guest bedrooms, 188 staff bedrooms, 92 offices and 78 bathrooms. In measurements, the building is 108 meters long across the front, 120 meters deep (including the central quadrangle) and 24 meters high.

The Palace is very much a working building and the centerpiece of Britain’s constitutional monarchy. It houses the offices of those who support the day-to-day activities and duties of The Queen and The Duke of Edinburgh and their immediate family.

The Palace is also the venue for great Royal ceremonies, State Visits and Investitures, all of which are organized by the Royal Household.

Although Buckingham Palace is furnished and decorated with priceless works of art that form part of the Royal Collection, one of the major art collections in the world today. It is not an art gallery and nor is it a museum.

Its State Rooms form the nucleus of the working Palace and are used regularly by The Queen and members of the Royal Family for official and State entertaining.

More than 50,000 people visit the Palace each year as guests to banquets, lunches, dinners, receptions and the Royal Garden Parties.

For those who do receive an invitation to Buckingham Palace, the first step across the threshold is into the Grand Hall and up the curving marble stairs of the Grand Staircase. Portraits are still set in the walls, as they were by Queen Victoria.

The Throne Room, sometimes used during Queen Victoria’s reign for Court gatherings and as a second dancing room, is dominated by a proscenium arch supported by a pair of winged figures of ‘victory’ holding garlands above the ‘chairs of state’.

It is in the Throne Room that The Queen, on very special occasions like Jubilees, receives loyal addresses. Another use of the Throne Room has been for formal wedding photographs.

George IV’s original palace lacked a large room in which to entertain. Queen Victoria rectified that shortcoming by adding in 1853-5 what was, at the time of its construction, the largest room in London.

At 36.6m long, 18m wide and 13.5m high, the Ballroom is the largest multi-purpose room in Buckingham Palace. It was opened in 1856 with a ball to celebrate the end of the Crimean War.

It is along the East Gallery that The Queen and her State guest’s process to the Ballroom for the State Banquet normally held on the first day of the visit.

Around 150 guests are invited and include members of the Royal Family, the government and other political leaders, High Commissioners and Ambassadors and prominent people who have trade or other associations with the visiting country.

History of The Statue of Liberty

The Statue of Liberty National Monument officially celebrated her 100th birthday on October 28, 1986. The people of France gave the Statue to the people of the United States over one hundred years ago in recognition of the friendship established during the American Revolution. Over the years, the Statue of Liberty’s symbolism has grown to include freedom and democracy as well as this international friendship.

Sculptor Frederic Auguste Bartholdi was commissioned to design a sculpture with the year 1876 in mind for completion, to commemorate the centennial of the American Declaration of Independence. The Statue was a joint effort between America and France and it was agreed upon that the American people were to build the pedestal, and the French people were responsible for the Statue and its assembly here in the United States. However, lack of funds was a problem on both sides of the Atlantic Ocean. In France, public fees, various forms of entertainment, and a lottery were among the methods used to raise funds. In the United States, benefit theatrical events, art exhibitions, auctions and prize fights assisted in providing needed funds.

Meanwhile in France, Bartholdi required the assistance of an engineer to address structural issues associated with designing such a colossal copper sculpture. Alexandre Gustave Eiffel (designer of the Eiffel Tower) was commissioned to design the massive iron pylon and secondary skeletal framework which allows the Statue’s copper skin to move independently yet stand upright. Back in America, fund raising for the pedestal was going particularly slowly, so Joseph Pulitzer (noted for the Pulitzer Prize) opened up the editorial pages of his newspaper, “The World” to support the fund raising effort. Pulitzer used his newspaper to criticize both the rich who had failed to finance the pedestal construction and the middle class who were content to rely upon the wealthy to provide the funds. Pulitzer’s campaign of harsh criticism was successful in motivating the people of America to donate.

Financing for the pedestal was completed in August 1885, and pedestal construction was finished in April of 1886. The Statue was completed in France in July, 1884 and arrived in New York Harbor in June of 1885 on board the French frigate “Isere” which transported the Statue of Liberty from France to the United States. In transit, the Statue was reduced to 350 individual pieces and packed in 214 crates. The Statue was re-assembled on her new pedestal in four months time. On October 28th 1886, the dedication of the Statue of Liberty took place in front of thousands of spectators. She was a centennial gift ten years late.

The story of the Statue of Liberty and her island has been one of change. The Statue was placed upon a granite pedestal inside the courtyard of the star-shaped walls of Fort Wood (which had been completed for the War of 1812.) The United States Lighthouse Board had responsibility for the operation of the Statue of Liberty until 1901. After 1901, the care and operation of the Statue was placed under the War Department. A Presidential Proclamation declared Fort Wood (and the Statue of Liberty within it) a National Monument on October 15th, 1924 and the monument’s boundary was set at the outer edge of Fort Wood. In 1933, the care and administration of the National Monument was transferred to the National Park Service. On September 7, 1937, jurisdiction was enlarged to encompass all of Bedloe’s Island and in 1956, the island’s name was changed to Liberty Island. On May 11, 1965, Ellis Island was also transferred to the National Park Service and became part of the Statue of Liberty National Monument. In May of 1982, President Ronald Reagan appointed Lee Iacocca to head up a private sector effort to restore the Statue of Liberty. Fundraising began for the $87 million restoration under a public/private partnership between the National Park Service and The Statue of Liberty-Ellis Island Foundation, Inc., to date the most successful public-private partnership in American history. In 1984, at the start of the Statue’s restoration, the United Nations designated the Statue of Liberty as a World Heritage Site. On July 5, 1986 the newly restored Statue re-opened to the public during Liberty Weekend, which celebrated her centennial.

Taken from http://statueofliberty.org/Statue_History.html