You may know that there are still some spiral staircases in use on the London Underground.
The tiring example at Covent Garden, a breathtaking climb of 193 steps, is the best-known example. Some brave Londoners actually make a sport of running up and down stairs to burn calories!
But did you know that there was once a spiral escalator on the Piccadilly Line?
In 1988, the crumpled rusty remains of a lost engineering experiment were found at the bottom of an elevator shaft at Holloway Road station.
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What had been discovered were – as it turned out – the remains of a technical marvel.
One that may have been just too fantastic for itself.
(Image: Danielle Manning)
It was invented by American Jesse Reno, who built a demonstration model of his incredible spiral escalator design at the 1902 Earl’s Court Exhibition.
It appears this was part of a fairground ride as it had previously taken a test drive at Coney Island in the US and was apparently powered by a steam engine.
But Reno was determined to play it on the Piccadilly Line of the London Underground, which was under construction at the time.
This was at a time when even normal straight up and down stairs in the Tube weren’t in use – this didn’t happen until 1911 when they were installed in Earl’s Court – so it was a pretty bold idea.
But Reno wasn’t even satisfied with just one spiral, as he actually built two – one up and one down.
The two spirals circled a central core – an outer spiral for descent and an inner spiral for ascent. It ran continuously clockwise at a speed of 30 meters per minute. The ride at street level took about 45 seconds.
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The whole thing was installed at Holloway Road Piccadilly Line station, but what remains of the structure shows that a safety railing was never put in place, so it appears to have never been completed.
However, it seems that the escalators proved too dangerous and never used, and they were simply left to history.
In 1993 the London Transport Museum rescued the surviving parts of the escalator from the elevator shaft and later restored a large part which can be seen in the Acton Depot of the London Transport Museum.
But there is some great news for Londoners who love exploring the many lost tunnels, hidden stations and quirky features of the London Underground.
The spiral staircase will be featured in a brand new TV documentary entitled “Secrets of the London Underground” which airs on UKTV this month.
In the series, rail historians Tim Dunn and Siddy Holloway from the London Transport Museum explore lost areas of the London Underground that hardly anyone knows.
They tell the story of places like London’s most secret underground station, the former terminus of the world’s first electric train; and a train station, which today can only be reached by a train driver in the right place, but which played a key role in World War II.
Siddy says of the show, “The subway is an iconic subject, of course, but I think the difference in this series is that we go to places that no one has ever visited before. There are a lot of documentaries about the subway. Railway system, and how it evolved, but nobody got anyone to some of the places we’ll be visiting in this series. “
The first episode will air in the week of July 19th on Yesterday. Here you can catch up