Untitled Document
      Love's Guide to

The Bells of the City of London


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Details of the Bells

Bell Weight
(most recent)
Diameter Note Date FounderRetuned
Quarter 1 21-0-2344⅜" G♯ 1857 John Warner & SonsNever
Quarter 2 25-1-248¹⁄₁₆" F♯ 1857 John Warner & SonsNever
Quarter 3 33-2-1353¹⁵⁄₁₆" E 1858 John Warner & SonsNever
Quarter 4 77-2-1372½" B 1857 John Warner & SonsNever
Hour Big Ben 270-3-15108" E 1858 George Mears & Co., WhitechapelNever

 - Hung dead

Rejected bells

Bell Weight* Diameter Note Date Founder Retuned Fate
Q121-0-1646"1857John Warner & SonsNeverCame out wrong note.
Q120-2-645½"1857John Warner & SonsNeverRejected as unsound.
Q335-1-654"1857John Warner & SonsNeverRejected as unsound.
Big Ben I318-1-22113½"1856John Warner & SonsNeverCracked while under testing

* Source of weight figures: Invoiced out

Trial bells cast for experimenting with Denison's profile and metal composition

Bell Weight* Diameter Note Date Founder Retuned Fate
Trial 16"1856John Warner & SonsNeverSold to E B Denison for his lectures
Trial 23-3-2026½"1856John Warner & SonsNeverBelieved to have gone to St Thomas, near Portman Square. This was a half size model of the proposed 3rd quarter bell.
Trial 37-0-1233¾"1856John Warner & SonsNeverDestination unknown.
Trial 412-0-1640⅞"1856John Warner & SonsNeverSold to RohdeHawkins, architect, for St James Church, Birstwith, Yorks, the tenor of a ring of five(recast and augmented to 8 in 1933 by John Taylor & Co. However the inscription wasreproduced in facsimile on the recast bell.

* Source of weight figures: Invoiced out


1844 A competition for The New Palace of Westminster was won by Sir Charles Barry. Contract for the clock (eventually) given to Frederick Dent. Barry had specified 8 bells with a 14-ton hour bell; he then confessed that he knew nothing about bells (or clocks) and the Astronomer-Royal, G.B. Airey, was called in as Referee. In due course, E.B. Denison, M.P., later Q.C., later Sir Edmund Beckett, Bt., and later the First Lord Grimthorpe, was called in as co-referee. All were to regret the choice, but the nation owes the clock, the bells and the selection of the Cambridge Quarters to him.
1854 The clock was completed in Dent’s works (where it remained for five years).
1855 The bells were put out to tender. Charles & George Mears refused because of the harsh words said about their Royal Exchange bells of 1844/5; John Taylor & Son wanted too much of both money and time. John Warner & Sons were successful. The Great Bell and the largest Quarter Bell were to be cast in Norton, Co. Durham as Cripplegate had restricted furnace capacity.
1856 On 6 Aug the Great Bell was cast at Norton. It later came (by sea, on a ship which nearly sank) to London, and was “brought to Westminster on a great trolley drawn by sixteen gaily bedecked horses before the gaze of such a crowd as normally turns out for a public execution”. It was indeed duly hung on a scaffold and subjected to daily testing with a hammer weighing over 10 cwt, which drove MP’s mad and the locals to drink.
1857 The 4th quarter bell was invoiced on 1 Feb. The 1st and 2nd quarter bells were invoiced on 3 Sept. Later in Sept the testing caused Big Ben to crack. Warner’s estimate for recasting was refused as too expensive, though they still recast their 3rd quarter bell which was subjected to tests and found unsound. The mould was started at Whitechapel for a new Great Bell on 18 Dec.
1858 The old bell was broken on between 18-25 Feb. By 31 Mar the mould for the new Great Bell was completed. Pre-heating of the mould commenced on 9 Apr, and Big Ben II was cast at 7:33pm on Sat 10 Apr. The new bell was invoiced out on 9 May and subsequently taken to Westminster in another great procession. [1]
1859 The great clock was started on 31 May and the bells started the chime the quarters and hours on 11 July. On 29 Aug Big Ben II cracked for half its depth under the 8 cwt clapper (which was twice the weight Mears had requested). The 4th quarter bell was consequently used to strike the hours.
1862 Big Ben was 1/8 turned, the hammer was reduced to 4 cwt (as at present) and Big Ben and the Cambridge Quarters rang out as we know them today.
[1] The Lords Commissioners for Building the New Palace of Westminster To a Bell C270 3 15 as per estimate £2401 By Old Bell C318 1 22 £1829 ... £572 (Whitechapel records, 29 May 1858)


  • "Big Ben's 150th anniversary", Unattributed (The Ringing World) 11 April 2008
  • "The Westminster Clock Bell", Unattributed (The Illustrated London News) 13 September 1856
  • "Experiment upon the Great Bell of the New Palace at Westminster", Unattributed (The Illustrated London News) 27 December 1856
  • "Breaking up "Big Ben"", Unattributed (The Illustrated London News) 6 March 1858
  • "Recasting of the Clock Bell for the New Houses of Parliament", Unattributed (The Illustrated London News) 17 April 1858
  • "The Great Bell for the Houses of Parliament", Unattributed (The Illustrated London News) 5 June 1858
  • "Raising the Great Bell at the New Palace, Westminster", Unattributed (The Illustrated London News) 16 October 1858

  • Love's Guide to the Church Bells of the City of London Page updated: 13 July 2024