What Gives the Big Ben Bell Its Unique Sound?

For the first time since 1858, scientists have managed to crack what makes the bell’s sound so distinctive.

London’s iconic Big Ben bell will ‘lose its ring’ for a few months, as an effort to restore the historic clock tower is scheduled to be undertaken.

The bell will fall silent only for the third time in 150 years. It had previously stopped for nine months in 1976, and then for six weeks in 2007, to carry out repair work.

But for the first time since 1858, when it was installed in the clock tower, scientists have managed to crack what makes the bell’s sound so distinctive.

Ahead of the restoration, researchers from Leicester University mapped out the vibrations of the bell which give its sound a distinct quality.

Two lasers were used to scan the 13.7 tonne structure of copper and steel.

When the 200 kg hammer hits the side of the bell, it sets off vibrations that cause the entire bell to pulsate. The chime is made up of a series of distinct frequencies, though it is mostly perceived as a single sound.

Dr Helen Czerski, ScientistThe interesting thing about bells is that there are many differently shaped pulsations, all happening at the same time, on top of each other. Slower vibrations produce deeper sounds, and each bell makes a characteristic mixture of notes.

The experts say that the renovation could alter how the bell sounds. According to The Telegraph, when the bell was originally fitted by Whitechapel Bell Foundry, the hammer was too large which caused a crack to appear – altering the sound of the bell, and giving it its distinct quality. Since 1859, the sound has never been like its original.

A spokeswoman for the House of Common reportedly said:

The bells in the Elizabeth Tower have been cleaned on previous occasions, most recently in 2009, and this has not resulted in any perceptible change in the sound. Furthermore, the crack in Big Ben is what gives the bell its distinctive sound, and therefore we do not intend to change it, whether by repairing the crack or by ‘tuning’ the bell.

(With inputs from Today.com)