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Tribute to a bell

bu Margaret Duggan

IT WAS the largest bell in Britain when it was cast in 1858, and was called the Great Bell of Westminster. Today, however, it is better known as Big Ben. It was the second attempt by the Whitechapel Bell Foundry to cast a bell so large — the first had cracked while being tested.

The new 13-ton bell rang out over London for the first time on 31 May 1959, but, within a couple of months, that, too, had cracked. A lighter hammer was substituted, and the metal around the crack was removed to prevent further damage.

Why it is called Big Ben is still a matter for argument, but tradition has it that it was named after the distinguished Welsh MP and Commissioner for Works, Sir Benjamin Hall. He was an early champion of the right of Welsh churches to have services in Welsh.

He later became Baron Llanover when his wife inherited the Llanover estate in Monmouth diocese, and he is buried in the churchyard of St Bartholomew’s, Llanover (above).

It is there that the original casting of Big Ben is to be celebrated early next month. Bell-ringers hope to ring a full peal on the five bells of St Bartholomew’s, which should take about two-and-a-half hours. They will wait, with a radio, and begin as soon as Big Ben strikes noon.

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