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Top 10 Lifts In London

Top 10 Lifts In London
The lift at Aldwych Tube station. Photo / DeanN
The lift at Aldwych Tube station. Photo / DeanN
The old Selfridges lift, now in the Museum of London. Photo / waldopepper
The old Selfridges lift, now in the Museum of London. Photo / waldopepper
Looking out on London from the lift at the Lloyds building. Photo / EZTD
Looking out on London from the lift at the Lloyds building. Photo / EZTD
The lift (or possibly funicular railway) at the Millennium Bridge. Photo / Ian Visits
The lift (or possibly funicular railway) at the Millennium Bridge. Photo / Ian Visits
Lift in the BT Tower. Photo / Rain Rabbit
Lift in the BT Tower. Photo / Rain Rabbit
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The humble elevator rarely makes itself noticed apart from when it goes wrong (hey look, there's Stephen Fry stuck in the Centre Point elevator!)  Quotidian as lift travel may be, and anodyne as most elevators are, there are a few around London whose design or flair takes them above the ordinary. We salute them in this post.

In no particular order, here are some of the finest lifts in London. Know any better ones? Drop us a note in the comments.

Aldwych Tube

Quite a good few of the 141 lifts across the Tube network could be eligible for inclusion in this list. But we've gone for just the one: the remaining Otis lift at Aldwych. Installed when the station first opened its doors in 1907, the lifts were one of the main reasons that Aldywch was closed for good in 1994, as replacing them would have cost millions, a sum not justifiable given the station's sparse footfall. The lift no longer works, and access to it is rare, although they do occasionally run tours of the station.

Selfridges

In the 1920s a beautiful Art Deco lift was installed at Selfridges, complete with glamorous female operators. Regrettably it is no longer operational; indeed it is no longer in Selfridges —  it's one of the central attractions at the Museum of London's 20th Century Gallery. However, Selfridges does get a few extra slivers of elevator kudos for the book-lined lift that whisked people to the rooftop for the Truvia boating lake during the summer.

Lloyds of London

The key to this bastion of high-tech architecture was its inside-out design: all the services were strung around the outside of the building, leaving the cavernous insides relatively uncluttered. The most conspicuous aspect of this are the lifts, glass boxes that crawl up and down the walls like rectilinear albino beetles. Aside from the vertigo, the elevators also offer great views of the City. The new Heron tower on Bishopsgate has lifts on its south façade through which you can see out of the building, but Lloyds was there first and did it better.

BT Tower

Among the former Post Office Tower's many attributes is that it boasts two of the fastest lifts in Europe, which whisk visitors to the top in just 30 seconds at a blistering top speed of 7 metres per second. The Tower has a further accolade: it is the only building in the country which, in the event of a fire, should be evacuated by lift, and not the stairs (though contrary to some reports, the Tower does have an internal staircase).

Northwick Park hospital

For elevator connoisseurs, the sina qua non of lift-making is the Paternoster. These ever-moving mechanisms are increasingly rare, due to health and safety, and there is only one working example left in London, at Northwick Park hospital. Your chances of riding it are slim, though, as it is for use by staff members only. Thanks to Ian Visits for spotting the video below, which shows the lift in all its glory.

Wellcome Trust

This otherwise humdrum lift does offer a remarkable vantage across the length and breadth of Thomas Heatherwick's Bleigiessen sculpture, as shown in this video:

One New Change

While this might be a controversial choice — plenty loathe the City's new shopping mall — riding in the glass elevator to the rooftop terrace does afford one of the finest views of St. Paul's Cathedral to be found in London. Here's a video of the ride:

Millennium Bridge

We might be in a slightly sticky area with this disabled access elevator on the north end of the Millennium Bridge; according to Ian Visits, who wrote an excellent blog post on the subject, it's technically classed as a funicular railway. Still, if it looks like a lift, and sounds like a lift, then it's probably a lift, so we'll keep it in.

Royal Festival Hall

In 2010 Martin Creed recreated his Work No.409 in a glass lift at the Royal Festival Hall. As the cab descends or ascends, the voices of Birmingham's Ex Cathedra choir the Southbank Centre's Voicelab choir rise or fall in time with the journey. Here's a video of it in action (the lift is also on Twitter):

Honorable Mentions:

As part of the London Festival of Architecture in 2010, a Zero Carbon Lift was built at the Duke of York steps. Being solar powered of course, it didn't function all too cleverly. Still, kudos for trying.

This lift at the Hospital Club in Covent Garden has some jape-tastic messages inside.

Not only does King's Cross station boast the most complex network of lifts in the known universe, it also has the capital's shortest lift shaft, at 2.3m (the deepest shaft, at 52.2m, is at Hampstead station).

Photo credits: Main image of Lloyds by CameraCharlie, image in gallery of Lloyds by EZTD, Millennium Bridge lift by Ian Visits, BT Tower by Rain Rabbit

Last Updated 19 December 2016

IanVisits

Another that has sadly long since been sent to the great scrapping yard in the sky was the Auto Stacker in Woolwich that used lifts and conveyor belts to automatically move cars around a multi-story car park.

Rob F

Some interesting information there especially about Aldwych.

BethPH

Fab post, Dean, love it.

Dean Nicholas

Great shout here from someone on Facebook: the red lift at the Savoy. Quite a beauty. http://www.youtube.com/watch?v...

Peter Jordan

What a great article! I'm especially fond of the paternoster lift... well, I am a little biased as I was born at Northwick Park! 

You can see the Northwick Park Paternoster lift in the 1976 film, 'The Omen'- they used the hospital for various scenes (if I remember rightly, it doubles as a hospital in Rome at one point). 

Peter Berthoud

Very much enjoyed this feature. I have found another interesting lift for you at the Royal Institution. It is a one-off lift from Otis designed in the late 1920's. I blogged about it here http://bit.ly/yBIrz6

Tim Jenkins

Great article, I'd love to ascend the BT Tower!
Other places with interesting lift installations are Liverpool and Barcelona

anybody want my lists for these? (just typed before but lost it all!)

Julian

Nice article Dean. I recently visited BLackwell House in the City and they have a completely manual early 20th century lift - all in original condition.

You can't even call it. If the lift is on the 3rd floor and you're on ground, you have to get someone from the 3rd floor to bring it down to you.

The building is now a serviced office.

The address is: Blackwell House, Guildhall Yard, EC2V 5AE

HHGeek

The One New Change lift is a joy for a view of St.Paul's that I would never have expected to see.

Random factoid about the Heatherwick sculpture which he offered at a talk. As the link says, the spec for the sculpture was written such that any sculpture had to be able to be delivered via the doorway. What is doesn't say is that this piece could have been delivered via a letterbox, even if requiring several squillion packages to do so.

Matt

I missed this article first time around. Not sure if it was open at the time, but the lift in (on the side of) Heron Tower deserves a mention. It does a passable impression of a rocket taking off on the way up (it feels like it's going to go through the roof) and on the way down you almost feel like you've thrown yourself off a building. Plus the views are spectacular.

Paul Gallagher

I liked this feature! I'll have to try the Martin Creed artistic intervention in the Royal Festival Hall lift.

Paul Gallagher

Too late, I just read the date.