“ Address: The National Lift Tower / Northampton / England / NN5 5FH „
The National Lift Tower (once the Express Lift Tower) is one of the tallest buildings in the Midlands outside of Birmingham. It is known as the Northampton Light House because it looks like a really tall lighthouse and, more importantly, Terry Wogan named it that on his radio show for old people. It's an ugly looking thing anyone who has been to, or past Northampton, would have seen dominate the skyline. It changes color like Ayres Rock at different times of the day, although from battleship grey to River Nene brown.
To the locals it's a head scratcher and a rather ignored and forgotten statement of the town. It was built by the Express Lifts Company to test lifts in, of course, which it did for 15 years, opened by the Queen in the early 1980s. But then the Express Lift Company was bought by Otis Engineering and it was quickly closed down and 500 jobs lost and never properly used again. It's still the youngest ever listed building in the UK when awarded that status in 1997 when it closed. It's believed to have received that immediate protected status by English Heritage only because it would be too tricky and expensive to knock it over for Otis, today surrounded by houses and the Saints Rugby Club a mere 200m away. The confusing thing for locals at the time was where else would you test lifts in the UK if it wasn't in this bespoke tower so surely big demand, only one other working tower in the whole of Europe, and so why was it closed? It's even taller than the Americans version. It was like shutting Gatwick Airport at the time. But there are never fatal lift accidents in the news so we clearly don't need it. Presumably its all computer modeled now. It was basically one huge and ambitious waste of money that broke the Express Lifts companies back.
Its 418ft (127.5 meters) high and in 2009 was reconditioned so to be used again by lift engineers, mostly for training and minor testing on welds and construction etc. It has six shafts and, of course, no waits for a lift to the top for the amazing view although not open to the public. I have been up on a press day but it was pi**ing down and we were in the actual low cloud base, which was kind of cool in its own way. I would pay two quid to go up there on a sunny day but the council won't go for it, turning down recent planning permission for a 100 seater café and viewing platform atop. One of the lifts moves at 10m per second so money could be made here. Its main earn right now seems to be charity, nearly 150 energetic people a year abseiling down it, which has upset the locals. It has two staircases, one to the top, and another to some conference and office space.
The best April Fool story was an airship company had bought it and would be docking their regularly. 120 people complained. Over 800 fell for the April Fool that the tower would be knocked down in 2008 to reuse the concrete for the Olympic Stadium to save money, that, my brilliant suggestion for an April Fool in the paper I wrote for in the summer.
You can walk to the bottom of it as it is in a public housing estate and looking up it is an impressive sight, solid concrete structure and gentle curves, described as the 'Brutalist' style of archeology. It's the sort of size of size monolith the Greek and Roman emperors would build for themselves to represent their authority and presence in the great cities of the old Empires. Northampton is not one of the great cities of the Earth. It suitably represents us - grey, unwanted and has its head in the clouds. It's also a monolith to the loss of hard industry to China, why there is no longer work for five million Brits.