Historical Events  Art
Big Ben

Clear, wide Roman numerals

Unclear, narrow Roman numerals

What are the numbers like?

Most people know "Big Ben" is the bell in the Elizabeth Tower of the Palace of Westminster in London, to give it the correct title, but still call the clock by that name anyway.

It's instantly recognisable when seen in the image as a tower by the side of the Houses of Parliament, but how much do people remember the detail of just the clock face itself?

Some are saying the face looks "off" today, and claim it has changed. They believe the Roman numerals are now much thinner than they remember, and harder to make out. In 2017 the bell fell silent for 4 years due to restoration, and that includes re-painting the clock dials. Will they change "again"?

Clock numbers

A clock which uses Roman numerals has them laid out differently to one with regular numbers. That is, with the Roman ones each hour is just the previous one rotated 30 degrees. This means the lower ones will appear upside down when viewed straight on. Historically, this comes from the way a sundail is laid out. If this were to be used with a clock using regular numbers, it would have the "6" at the bottom look like a "9".

These just don't look right - in particular the 6 and 7 are especially problematic:

clock 233x233

We've all become so accustomed to seeing clocks with Roman numerals, such as Big Ben, laid out this way that any other design would look similarly wrong now. There's also been talk of some clocks with Roman numbers having certain ones change - in particular, the IV, meaning 4, change to IIII. This is largely a stylish feature, as both variants can be readily seen today. When shown as IIII, it's called a "watchmakers four"

If the numbers on Big Ben aren't as clear as they could be, and hasn't been noticed or has changed somehow, it's likely because everyone is so used to seeing the hand positions and getting the time right straight away that squinting at the numbers for confirmation just isn't necessary. Sometimes, details staring everyone in the face really can be missed.