March 2, 2024

Didcot Gateway

Building Cars, People First

This Terrifying Elevator in the UK Never Stops

This Terrifying Elevator in the UK Never Stops

After seeing the above gif animation, what immediately comes to mind? Terror? Elevators? You’re close on the second. It just happens to be one of a few things my hometown of Sheffield in the UK is known for. Outside of stainless steel and the Arctic Monkeys (the greatest band of all time), there’s one other little oddity not as well recognized in America: the Paternoster lift.

The Paternoster lift works much like an elevator moving people up and down through a tall building via a box or carriage. But unlike an elevator, the Paternoster is made up of a rotation of multiple smaller carriages that pass through every floor of the building, without stopping. You just hop on in and out. Sounds mad.

A photo of the Sheffield University Arts Tower.

When you’re small, this looks real tall.
Photo: Stephen Richards via Wikimedia Commons

There’s no pressing of a button and waiting for the doors to open at your floor. No, the paternoster is entirely open at all times, slowly moving through the building. Slow enough that jumping into and out of the carriage while moving isn’t as intimidating as it appears.

One of the last remaining Paternoster lifts is located in Sheffield, within the University’s Arts Tower, a 20-story building that was built brick by brick in the 1960s. It consists of 38 cars to move folks up and down various floors.

When each car reaches the top of the tower, they roll over the lift’s mechanism to start their downward descent. It all makes perfect sense when you see it in action.

It might sound like science fiction now or potentially terrifying, but it’s a fairly ingenious way of moving through a tall building. There’s also a great Tom Scott video that explains how the lift works and the safety mechanisms in place to make sure you don’t lose an arm. And, excitingly, it shows you what happens as the cars roll over the top. It’s a fun little watch and shows you some of the weird backwards tech we’ve been working with in the UK for the past few decades.

Paternoster Lifts: Dangerous, Obsolete and Quite Fun (including over the top!)