Great Tom came before Big Ben….!


Westminster Hall on the left, and Great Tom’s clock tower on the right – Hollar

Now that it seems probable/possible that “Big Ben” will not be fully restored and ringing again until 2022, perhaps it is….ahem….timely to remember that he was not the first such huge bell, nor was the Elizabeth Tower the first bell tower to be erected close to Westminster Palace and Hall. There was a predecessor, on almost the same site—opposite the gate of Westminster Hall—with a bell called “Great Tom”.

“….This [tower] stood at some distance from the Abbey, in what is now Broad Sanctuary, on the site now occupied by Middlesex Guildhall….” The bell was cast in the reign of Edward III, and rang out hourly for centuries. I don’t think the tower itself dated to Edward III, but rather to his grandfather, the formidable Edward I, so the Elizabeth Tower is certainly eclipsed!

If you go to this article you’ll read all about Great Tom. Here’s a taster:-

“….With the arrival of clocks many hour bells became redundant. In the course of time the tower itself fell into disrepair causing William III in 1698 to give the tower and bells to the parish of St Margaret’s Westminster. The tower was pulled down in 1707 after the great bell had been sold to St Paul’s Cathedral. Great Tom was found to weigh 82 cwt. 2 qrs. 21 lbs, and was bought for 10d (i.e. 4.16p) per pound weight giving a total price of £385.17s.6d (i.e. £385.88). It is interesting that in 1706, however, that the Treasury received a petition asking for ‘a good large sundial’ to take the place of the demolished clock and bell….

“….It appears that as Great Tom was being conveyed to St Paul’s on New Year’s Day, 1699, it fell off its carriage just by Temple Bar, and was cracked. It is said that this event gave Bell Yard its name). In 1708 the cracked bell was recast by Philip Wightman to serve as the hour bell for the clock in the south-west tower of St Paul’s….” 

The tower itself was demolished in 1750.

Great Tom of Westminster

Leave a comment

Fill in your details below or click an icon to log in: Logo

You are commenting using your account. Log Out /  Change )

Twitter picture

You are commenting using your Twitter account. Log Out /  Change )

Facebook photo

You are commenting using your Facebook account. Log Out /  Change )

Connecting to %s

This site uses Akismet to reduce spam. Learn how your comment data is processed.

%d bloggers like this: