Friday 26 October 2018

Paternoster elevators

My previous post was picked up on File 777 where the discussion drifted onto the topic of paternoster elevators.

I've never used one, to the best of my recollection, but for a few years I did have the option, as the Claremont Tower in Newcastle - where I studied - featured a paternoster elevator. There was almost certainly a normal lift (as well as stairs) as although I took many classes in the Claremont building, I never remember using the paternoster. I do however remember being strongly disinclined to use it by virtue of a story that was in circulation. The gist of that story was that someone had died while going around over the top, something you were not meant to do. That always struck me as worrying, because what if you simply neglected to get off at the top (or bottom) floors? Never mind the business of getting on and off the thing.

Years later I reasoned that the story must have been a carefully engineered rumour designed to stop people using the elevator in a way that wasn't intended, not because of the risk of injury (or death) but because it caused problems with the mechanism, perhaps leading to the elevator shutting down or needing maintenance. I could well imagine that the authorities would "leak" a story like that just to stop students larking around and causing expensive breakdowns.

But (being a grisly sort of fellow) the File777 article prompted me to read up a little bit more paternosters and their history of accidents, and rather shockingly the first such account I read about was indeed one in the Claremont Tower, in 1975:

The story, then, was completely true. Gulp.

I'm sure paternosters are much safer, per journey, than many forms of travel I gladly accept. Nonetheless, I'm not at all sorry I never used the one in the Claremont building (which, as it happens, was involved in another accident the year after I left, and then dismantled).


  1. I was at Newcastle 1982-1985 and used that paternoster daily. At one stage I did travel over the top and another time under the ground floor. There was graffiti on the walls in both cases, suggesting that on previous occasions they'd stopped whilst occupied, which is a bit scary.

  2. I searched for this on YouTube and the first choice was entitled "Paternoster: Eastern Europe's 'Elevator of Death'". So yeah, other people consider these dangerous.

  3. There's a few listed here (including several in the UK) on a German website:

  4. I worked in CLT for 10 years this century. The Paternoster had long since been replaced with regular lifts, but some people had fond memories of it, and that grisly story was
    still spread like folklore.

    I swapped plenty of your books with fellow fans in that job.

    I can only assume that you were taking computing science classes since they occupied the top of CLT. They've only just moved out a year ago to a new building across the town near
    the stadium.

    Best wishes

  5. I was at Newcastle 1984-1987 and regularly used the paternoster in the Claremont building (Electrical Engineer going to programming classess). The story I heard to discourage people going "over the top" was that the car actually folded flat as it went across the top. This was disproved by a brave/foolish mecchie who went over the top and survived!

  6. I was at Leeds University, where the Roger Stevens Building had a paternoster (or stairs). Going over the top was discouraged, but mainly because it was a way of jumping the queue: those waiting patiently and correctly to go down found the car already full of sneaky students who had gone over the top.

  7. Paternoster elevators still exist in many buildings in Prague :) Including the Medical Policlinic in Prague 6 (insert tragicomic emoji).