These Are The Lyrics To Big Ben

Will Noble
By Will Noble Last edited 19 months ago

Last Updated 26 October 2022

These Are The Lyrics To Big Ben
The plaque inside Big Ben which reads: All through this hour/ Lord be my guide / that by thy power / no foot shall slide
Altogether now! Image: UK Parliament

We all know the lyrics to Big Ben, right? No? Well it's got some. Sort of.

Inside the bell's famous clocktower is a wooden plaque inscribed with the golden lines:

All through this hour/ Lord be my guide / That by thy power / No foot shall slide

These are the words written to accompany the world-famous 'Westminster Chimes' or 'Westminster Quarters', the pattern of notes used to chime Big Ben's quarter hours (and which are played in their entirety on the hour). It's unclear who penned the words, but they're said to be inspired by Psalm 37, specifically: "The Lord directs the steps of the godly. He delights in every detail of their lives. Though they stumble, they will never fall, for the Lord holds them by the hand."

The quarter bells shown hung around Big Ben, December 1858. Image: public domain

Since they first chimed in 1859, the Westminster Chimes have gone on to inspire everything from Calypsonian classics to tacky doorbells. But the four-note tune itself (G sharp, F sharp, E and B in case you're wondering) is actually nabbed from the Cambridge Chimes, sometimes attributed to organ student William Crotch for the clock of Great St Mary's, Cambridge in 1793. And this tune is a variation on the four notes making up the fifth and sixth bars from I Know My Redeemer Liveth — part of Handel's Messiah. That's some musical plagiarism on a Noel Gallagher level right there.

To the untrained ear though, the Westminster/Cambridge Chimes are quite the variation; the opening of Handel's piece sounds so far removed, as to be a totally different composition.

Anyway, memorise the lyrics, and next time you hear Big Ben strike the hour, you'll be ready to sing along. Altogether now... "ALL THROUGH THIS HO-"

No? Fine then.