The largest Paternoster lift in the world

An iconic piece of engineering…

The Arts Tower

The Arts Tower is a building at 12 Bolsover Street in Sheffield, England belonging to the University of Sheffield and opened in 1966. English Heritage has called it “the most elegant university tower block in Britain of its period”. At 255 feet (78 m) tall, it is the second tallest building in the city, after the 101 m, St Paul’s Tower on Arundel Gate, which was topped out in 2009. It is also the tallest university building in the United Kingdom.

Circulation is through two ordinary lifts and a Paternoster lift, at 38 cars the largest of the few surviving in the United Kingdom.

Paternoster at Arts Tower, University of Sheffield


A paternoster or paternoster lift is a passenger elevator which consists of a chain of open compartments (each usually designed for two persons) that move slowly in a loop up and down inside a building without stopping. Passengers can step on or off at any floor they like. The same technique is also used for filing cabinets to store large amounts of (paper) documents or for small spare parts. The much smaller belt manlift which consists of an endless belt with steps and rungs but no compartments is also sometimes called a paternoster. The construction of new paternosters was stopped in the mid-1970s due to safety concerns, but public sentiment has kept many of the remaining examples open.

paternoster lift


Peter Ellis installed the first elevators that could be described as paternoster lifts in Oriel Chambers of Liverpool in 1868. In 1877, British engineer Peter Hart obtained a patent on the first paternoster.[6] In 1884, the Dartford, England, engineering firm of J & E Hall built its “Cyclic Elevator”.

The name paternoster (“Our Father”, the first two words of the Lord’s Prayer in Latin) was originally applied to the device because the elevator is in the form of a loop and is thus similar to rosary beads used as an aid in reciting prayers.

Paternosters were popular throughout the first half of the 20th century because they could carry more passengers than ordinary elevators. They are rather slow elevators, typically traveling at about 0.3 metres per second (0.98 ft/s), to facilitate getting on and off successfully.

108361869 paternoster lift Paternoster paternoster lift


The construction of new paternosters is no longer allowed in many countries because of the high risk of accidents (people tripping or falling over when trying to enter or exit). In 2012, an 81-year-old man was killed when he fell into the shaft of a paternoster in The Hague. Elderly people, disabled people, and children are the most in danger of being crushed or losing a limb.

In 1989, the paternoster in Newcastle University’s Claremont Tower was taken out of service after a passenger, attempting to ride the lift as it transitioned from upward to downward travel, became caught in the drive chain. This required a rescue by the local fire service. A conventional lift was subsequently installed in its place.

In West Germany, new paternoster installations were banned in 1974, and there was an attempt to shut down all existing installations in 1994. However, there was a wave of popular resistance to the ban at that time, and to another prospective ban in 2015. As of 2015, Germany has 231 paternosters.

In April 2006, Hitachi announced plans for a modern paternoster-style elevator with computer-controlled cars and standard elevator doors to alleviate safety concerns. A prototype was revealed as of February 2013.

Video from Albert Sloman Library at the University of Essex

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Posted in Newell's Projects News

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