back to article Love in an elevator.... testing mast: The National Lift Tower

The Tower rises above the flat plain of the Nene valley near Northampton - for centuries home of Britain’s shoe industry, but these days better known as the home town of 11th Doctor Matt Smith, comics auteur Alan Moore and El Reg operations manager Matt Proud - like some kind of latter-day Barad Dûr or Orthanc. The sinister …


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  1. Sir Barry

    Good article.

    It is also known as the Northampton Lighthouse, coined by Terry Wogan

    1. Jess--

      Another local name for the tower was Murphy's Well

  2. Oxford Gargoyle

    I remember Terry Wogan referring to this building as the 'Northampton Lighthouse'. It was a running joke, since Northampton is about as far from the coast as you can get in England.

    1. Benchops

      > as far from the coast as you can get in England

      You can get just a tiny bit further from the coast by climbing to the top of the tower.

    2. Anonymous Coward
      Anonymous Coward

      Have you been to Meriden* ?

      *Other centers of Britain may be available. Terms and Conditions apply. Your house make be at risk if you do not keep up payments on a mortgage or other loans secured against it.

      1. Tezfair

        Re: Have you been to Meriden* ?

        Meriden hasn't been the centre for years. It's only the locals and the bulls head that claims it still is.

      2. Benchops

        > Other centers of Britain

        They would be Center Parcs, the most internationally mis-spelt holiday venues of the middle classes.

  3. NightFox

    Tower with Windows

    Getting a dig at Windows 8 into an article about a concrete tower - Eadon would be proud of you.

  4. Neil Barnes Silver badge
    Paris Hilton


    There's a word you don't see that often at El Reg!

    Looks suspiciously like - in both shape and construction - the Emley Moor transmission mast, though it doesn't reach quite so enthusiastically for the sky. Same architect, perchance?

    1. Josco

      Re: Cenobite...

      The Emley Moor tower is (or was) thwe tallest structure in Northern Europe. The lift takes 12 minutes!

      1. Real Ale is Best

        Re: Cenobite...

        I've been up there! Amazing place, even though on my visit the fog was so thick you couldn't see the tower from ten metres away.

        1. Neil Barnes Silver badge

          Re: Cenobite...

          I hate you - in 32 years in the Beeb I never managed to wangle a trip up it - even when I was working in Leeds!

          I was watching TV the night it fell down, and watched them building the new tower. At school we used to bounce lasers off it to see how far away it was (it rarely moved) and of course when driving up the M1 it's the first hint that you're almost in the best county in the country!

    2. Mage Silver badge
      Thumb Up

      Re: Cenobite...

      Yes, the tower that replaced the mast that er .. fell down.. You can see here it wasn't concrete.

      The current concrete Emley Moor Tower is a listed building.

  5. John Smith 19 Gold badge
    Thumb Up

    Sounds good for acting as a drop tower for freefall experiments befor a sounding rocket.

    At 128m I get about 5secs of pure zero g, 77m gives about 3.9s.

    Both of which are not bad (there are not too many buildings >100 in the Midlands).

    I'm surprised they haven't had calls from aeronautics and physics departments in the region.

    Thumbs up for a most impressive erection.

  6. JonW
    Thumb Up

    This type of article

    I like it. Bring me another!

  7. Black Betty

    Someone needs to water that pitch.

    no text

  8. The Man Himself Silver badge

    Excellent Stuff!

    “What the bloody heck is that for?” exact words when I first saw the tower when driving past Northampton.

    I did a bit of Googling so knew a bit a bout it, but this article tells a lot more...thanks for that

    1. Nick Ryan Silver badge

      Re: Excellent Stuff!

      Yep. And before this article I didn't even consider how lifts and lift designs were tested. Obvious sense that they are and should be, but it's nice to see it so well (and visibly) demonstrated.

    2. Naughtyhorse

      Re: Excellent Stuff!

      “What the bloody heck is that for?”....

      thats what everyone says when the see northampton

  9. Christoph

    Not Orthanc

    Looks more like the Tower of Art

    1. S4qFBxkFFg

      Re: Not Orthanc

      As someone who spent far too much of my teenage years (and beyond...) leafing through these: and poring over various floor plans of castles etc., it bloody does look like Orthanc.


      1. Yet Another Anonymous coward Silver badge

        Re: Not Orthanc

        Which raises the question of what kind of lifts do they have in Orthanc?

        Do a group of orcs all stand in the lift not making eye contact?

        Do they play cheesy elevator music?

        Is there a notice limiting it to 15 persons, 30 halflings, or 10 uraki ?

    2. Naughtyhorse

      Re: Not Orthanc

      the tower of art surely had more of a dribbly candle motif going on - im sure soucery mentions the bizarre architecture

    3. Peter Simpson 1

      Re: Not Orthanc

      It doesn't *have* to be an ugly concrete tower.

      You could hold a contest and paint it.

      Of course, then you'd have to re-paint it periodically...

      Ahhh...just leave it the way it is.

  10. Anonymous Coward
    Anonymous Coward


    Any chance you'll be able to pop over to the rusty awesomeness of the airship sheds at Cardington and do a similarly great article?

    1. Amorous Cowherder

      Re: Cardington

      I've been inside, one of my many geeky claims to fame! ( No there is no alien technology inside, well not that we saw. )

      When I was a cub-scout with the Shortstown pack back in the early 1980's. There was only about 15 of us and we got shown around the hangers for about 2 hours one evening. They had a full size 3 bedroom house built inside for testing fire alarms or something or other and it still looked absolutely tiny inside the huge hangers. They also showed us all the barrage/weather balloons and the new breed of airships they were working on at the time. Very cool for us kids who lived in the shadow of those hangers for many years.

      1. Reverse313

        Re: Cardington

        Cardington Hangar 2 is currently being completely refurbished, large sections of the external skin have been removed and replaced if you fancied a look...

        A visit to the other one is most likely going to give you a movie set or concert stage. The scenes of Gotham in the recent batman films were made there...

        1. Jolyon Smith

          Re: Cardington

          Indeed. I ran a pub in the nearby village of Blunham when they were filming BATMAN BEGINS at the hangars. One of our customers had a commercial laundry business. As well as washing the (then) Jordan F1 pit crew overalls, she was doing the laundry for the GCPD (Gotham City Police Department). Who knew what laundry could be such a COOL profession! :)

          Also worth mentioning is that Gotham's Dark Knight has other local connections. Just a few miles away is St Neots (where I hail from originally). There is a gas turbine power station on the southern edge of that town, built on the site of an old coal-fired station that was demolished in the 80's.

          The derelict buildings of the old, demolished facility was used as a location shoot for the AXIS Chemicals factory scenes in the Tim Burton/Michael Keaton BATMAN movie.

    2. Calum Morrison
      Thumb Up

      Re: Cardington

      Do it properly; get yourselves to the hangar (one left of two originally built) at Tillamook in Oregon. Now that's an impressive shed; a complete air museum ( nestles in one corner...

      1. JimmyPage Silver badge
        Thumb Up

        Re: Cardington

        how does it compare to the assembly building for the Saturn V in Florida ? A building so vast it had it's own weather system, apparently :

        1. Anonymous Coward
          Anonymous Coward

          Re: Cardington

          I was lucky enough to have a look around one of the high bays in the VAB last year. It's pretty awe-inspiring, it just goes up and up and up. It has hefty air-con in there, so no longer has it's own weather - I believe that only happened when it was first built.

          One of the more amusing things is a big yellow angled line painted on the floor: When they picked the shuttle orbiter up in the initial prep area, they need to fit it through the gap in the wall to the high bay next door where the stack is assembled. For traditional tube shaped rocket, fitting them through the gap was no problem, but the orbiter obviously has wings that stick out: To get know when it was angled correctly to fit through the gap the simple rotated it until it's wings lined up with the line painted on the ground.

  11. Don Jefe


    It is cool they were able to erect it in just a couple of weeks. At that pace you could have one of these knocked up before your neighbors even realized what you were doing.

    Also, in the last picture, the large building off to the right has three large circles on the roof, what do you reckon caused them?

    1. GlenP Silver badge

      Re: Neat

      Not the roof of the building but the pitch of Franklins Gardens.

      Satellite must have flown over during the closed season when the pitch was being relaid otherwise you'd see the grass.

      1. Don Jefe

        Re: Neat

        Ah. Thanks for that!

  12. cliveski

    Is the pendulum still there?

    Great article. Took me right back to 1985 when, as a 17 year old, I did two weeks work experience at Express Lifts in Northampton. In between wiring up lift controllers on the shop floor we were proudly taken up the, then new, tower. The most fascinating part was a pendulum mounted at the top that appeared to be swinging from side to side. In fact it was stationary and the tower itself was moving in the wind!

    1. Anonymous Coward
      Anonymous Coward

      Re: Is the pendulum still there?

      Do I know you?

      I was there about that time skanking the security guard I was on a school project to get to the top and then spending some happy hours throwing paper aeroplanes off the top (or as top as you could get)

  13. GlenP Silver badge

    My brother worked at Express when the tower was constructed. It was a continuous concrete pour - they could only stop for a few hours or the structural integrity would have been compromised. There were also fears at one point that the raft it's built on was starting to tip!

    Good artcile.

  14. graeme leggett Silver badge

    Watch out for their website

    Went to it and immediately got served advert for a "Canadian pharmacy".

    The usual picture of an older couple and the appropriate drug de jour

  15. David_H

    Great view

    I was lucky enough to get a tour when it was still in use, but that meant climbing the stairs!

    Until the advent of satelite imaging on the web, it was the best view of Northampton you could get from the ground.

    1. Yet Another Anonymous coward Silver badge

      Re: Great view

      "best view of Northampton" is there such a thing?

      1. OzBob

        Re: Great view

        In the rear view mirror of your car?

  16. Anonymous Coward
    Anonymous Coward

    “void used for research”

    Reminds me of an ex....

  17. Silly Brit

    They even decorate it at christmas...

    Often at christmas they put a small tree at the top. Against a dark night sky, you just see a tiny tree floating eerily high in the air!

    1. Nigel 11

      Re: They even decorate it at christmas...

      And at Halloween? Obvious, but a big yellow cat's eye would be good all the same.

  18. Elmer Phud

    I'm ashamed of Reg readers

    all those comments and not one reference to Schindler's Lifts

    1. Sorry, "Sorry that handle is already taken" is already taken.
      Thumb Up

      Re: I'm ashamed of Reg readers

      I found myself in one of their elevators in a hotel in Portugal many years ago.

      Made me giggle. :-)

    2. Ivan Headache

      Re: I'm ashamed of Reg readers

      He never would have been able to build. Everyone knows that Schindler's Pissed.

    3. TeeCee Gold badge

      Re: I'm ashamed of Reg readers

      Seen the film, read the book, got the T-shirt.....

  19. Nigel 11

    giving the thousands who pass by on the M1 motorway something to ponder: “What the bloody heck is that for?”

    I was one of them. Thanks!

  20. JimmyPage Silver badge

    giving the thousands who pass by on the M1 motorway something to ponder: “What the bloody heck is that for?”

    The tower, or the M1 ?

  21. treboR

    good article

    Used to live in Northampton. Used to use the red light on the top as a navigational aid while walking home from the pub p*ssed.

    When I lived there they were threatening to pull it down, glad they won't now.

  22. LinkOfHyrule
    Thumb Up

    Good article.

    I knew Northampton must have been famous for something!

  23. Craig Vaughton
    Thumb Up

    Now that's a Tower of Terror!

    Disney's isn't a patch on this...

  24. Supplicant

    "This erection satisfied Express engineers’ needs for the following 40 years, but in the late 1970s it was decided they had to have something rather larger."

    Engineers are always size queens.

  25. Anonymous Coward
    Anonymous Coward

    I was lucky enough to go up the tower when I used to work for Express in the early nineties, very nice view from the top.

    The main lift all the way to the top was a nice shaky affair though.....

    Express Lifts was actually brought by Otis, Evans lifts was already owned by them and the new joint company was Express Evans based in Leicester.

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