The Paternoster lift at the University of Essex has unexpectedly garnered immense online attention. A video showcasing the lift on the university’s TikTok page has amassed over 2.5 million views.
Installed in 1967, the lift comprises of 14 individual compartments and operates on a continuous loop. As one of only three remaining Paternoster lifts in service in the UK, its viral popularity is a testament to the global fascination with this unique piece of engineering.
Speaking to the BBC, Jonathan White, explain that seeing the video “of the lift go viral on TikTok is fantastic and shows how genuinely intrigued and fascinated people from across the world are by it.”
Paternoster lift, Essex
The saying goes that riding a Paternoster lift is like stepping onto a slow-moving carousel, but instead of horses, you’re riding in open compartments, and instead of music, you hear the faint screams of first year students who are convinced that they’re going to die.
The Paternoster lift at Essex has become a well-known feature at Essex University library since its installation in 1967. Today, it remains one of only two of its kind in the United Kingdom. Its’ refurbishment in 2019 brought it back to life with some exciting new features.
The refurbishment involved a complete replacement of the lift’s drive gears and chain, ensuring that it is now more efficient and reliable than ever before. In addition, the main control system has been updated with a modern high-efficiency system, making the lift easier to operate and control.
The lift refurb also saw the installation of a new vari-speed drive system, which allows the lift to be slowed down as needed. This is a valuable addition for those who may find the lift’s traditional speed a little daunting, as it provides greater control and comfort during the ride.
The lift cars themselves were also upgraded to provide a more comfortable and modern experience for passengers. The lighting in the lift shaft has also been updated to improve visibility and create a more inviting atmosphere for those stepping into the lift.
The refurbishment has also included several new safety features designed to make the Paternoster lift more secure for all users. This includes a new traffic light system, which guides passengers onto the lift safely and helps to prevent any accidents or incidents.
What is a Paternoster lift?
Paternoster lifts, or simply paternosters, are a unique type of passenger elevator that gained popularity during the first half of the 20th century.
The design is characterized by a chain of open compartments designed for two passengers each, paternosters move slowly in a loop up and down a building, allowing people to step on and off at any floor without stopping.
This same technique can also be found in filing cabinets for storing large amounts of paper documents or small spare parts.
They are now considered an engineering historical curiosity but paternosters were an engineering marvel of their time.
The first paternoster was installed by architect Peter Ellis in Oriel Chambers of Liverpool in 1868. The name “paternoster” is derived from the Latin words for “Our Father,” as the elevator’s looped design resembles rosary beads used for reciting prayers. In 1884, the engineering firm J & E Hall built the Cyclic Elevator, using Peter Hart’s patent.
In recent history, April 2006, Hitachi announced plans for a modern paternoster-style elevator with computer-controlled cars and conventional elevator doors to address safety concerns. While a prototype was revealed in February 2013 little has been seen since.
One of the most obvious reasons they fell out of use is safety. Due to the high risk of accidents associated with paternosters, their construction is no longer allowed in many countries.
Between 1970 and 1993, five people were killed in paternoster-related accidents. The elderly, disabled, and children are most vulnerable to being crushed. In 1989, a paternoster accident at Newcastle University’s Claremont Tower led to an 18-month shutdown of all UK paternosters for a safety review.
Despite these safety issues, a few paternosters remain operational, such as the one at the University of Sheffield’s Arts Tower and the University of Essex.
Currently, only a handful of operating paternoster remain in the UK: Newcastle University (Claremont Tower), the University of Sheffield (Arts Tower), Northwick Park Hospital, and the University of Essex (Albert Sloman Library).
The largest paternoster is located at the University of Sheffield’s Arts Tower, which also remains the tallest university-owned building in the United Kingdom.
The Engineering Behind Paternoster Lifts
The paternoster lift is a unique and fascinating piece of engineering.
Unlike conventional elevators, paternoster lifts are designed as a continuous loop of compartments that move slowly, allowing passengers to step on and off at their desired floor without the need for stopping or buttons.
The basic concept of the paternoster lift is a series of compartments connected like a chain, with two side-by-side openings on each level for passengers to enter and exit the “up” or “down” side of the lift.
The lift moves at a relatively slow pace, approximately one foot per second, which makes it possible for passengers to get on and off without stopping.
The constant movement of the lift, combined with the capacity of multiple compartments, means that passengers rarely have to wait for the lift, leading to increased efficiency compared to a conventional elevator.
To address these safety concerns engineers have adapted some safety measures over the decades, such as warnings or barriers to entry at gaps between cars and pressure-sensitive plates at the top of the compartments. However, these safety systems are not foolproof and have been known to fail. As a result, most countries have banned the construction of new paternoster lifts, but public support has allowed a few hundred of them to remain operational.
While the construction of new publicly accessible paternoster lifts has been halted, other cyclic people-moving systems have been developed for specific settings, such as factories.
These modern variants, often referred to as “man lift” and the “valet lift,” are designed to be used by paid and able-bodied personnel who are trained in their operation.
- The Paternoster lift at the University of Essex has gone viral on TikTok, amassing over 2.5 million views.
- The lift, installed in 1967, is one of only three remaining Paternoster lifts in service in the UK.
- The lift was refurbished in 2019 with new features, including a vari-speed drive system and modernized control system.
- Paternoster lifts are a unique type of elevator that move in a continuous loop and were popular in the early 20th century.
- Paternoster lifts are no longer commonly used due to safety concerns, but a few remain operational, including at the University of Essex and the University of Sheffield.
- Paternoster lifts are an engineering marvel of their time, but their design poses risks, especially for vulnerable groups like the elderly and disabled.
- Modern variants of paternoster lifts, such as man lifts and valet lifts, are designed for specific settings and are operated by trained personnel.