I just received an email from my chum Jay Dowling saying, “Only in England. No way would it pass regulations in America. Also, people are too stupid to use it.”

Jay’s message was accompanied by a link to this video of a vintage paternoster lift, which is still running in the Arts Tower of the University of Sheffield in England. I have to say that I feel Jay is being a bit unfair with his comments — I’m sure paternoster lifts equipped with modern control and sensor systems could pass regulations in America.


Have you ever seen a paternoster in the flesh, as it were? This is a type of passenger elevator that 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. In fact, since the compartments remain vertically orientated as they change direction from going up to going down, or vice versa, you can ride them all the way round the loop.

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

I had a furtive fossick around the internet and found this video from an evening news broadcast on the BBC’s Look North program in 2018. There’s a nice bit in the middle when they show snippets of people using these devices in the 1960s.


Returning to the original video, the Arts Tower at the University of Sheffield is 22 stories tall. Their paternoster — which was built close to 45 years ago as I pen these words — boasts 38 cars and is the tallest operational lift of this ilk in Europe.

During “rush hour,” this bodacious beauty can be carrying 76 people (if we count students as people) up and down at the same time and — since it takes just 13 seconds to travel between adjacent floors — it’s jolly time-efficient if you wish to traverse only a couple of levels.

The reason Jay’s video was of interest to me is that I’ve ridden this particular paternoster personally. Also of interest is the fact that, for the life of me, I cannot remember what I was doing on that lift in that building. The thing is that there are two universities in Sheffield, and I attended the other one (the best one), Sheffield Hallam University.

I will be pondering the mystery of why I was in the University of Sheffield’s Arts Tower riding their paternoster for some time to come. In the meantime, I’d be interested to hear if you have any experience with this type of elevator yourself.