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18 June 2014
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Legacies - Northants

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Express Lift's testing tower, Northampton
Northampton's "Lighthouse"

Who on earth would build a lighthouse in Northampton with the sea some 70 miles away?

This particular tower structure was built in 1980 by the Express Lift Company as their lift testing tower and was opened by The Queen in 1982.

It has become a landmark of the area as the Angel has to the North East and the Tower has to Blackpool.

But the BBC's Terry Wogan remorselessly lampooned it, branding it the "Northampton Lighthouse".

This slender and parabolic building is a notable landmark and visible from most parts of the town and even from the M1 motorway. Locals know they are "nearly home" when spotting it in the distance.

The rapid growth of the tower delighted local residents who, over the short space of a month, saw it rise from the ground throughout "factory fortnight" - their summer holiday time.

One employee returned from his holiday at night, and looking out of his window saw lights floating in the sky. Unaware of the growth of the tower, he phoned the police and reported flying saucers!

Wogan's Lighthouse

Terry Wogan
On BBC Radio 2, Terry Wogan's listeners entered into his daily banter berating the "Northampton Lighthouse". They sent emails and letters in their hundreds after the building was complete.

He says: "I don't think it was looked on in an architectural sense by my listeners - they're a bit too dim - we just took it for what it was - a lighthouse in the middle of nowhere." Listen to Terry Wogan here

He even suggested that the east coast was eroding so quickly that the Government had commissioned the "lighthouse" ready for Northampton's new coastal location!

But architect, Maurice Walton of Stimpson and Walton, has fond memories of his design, which was commissioned in 1978.

View from the top of the Express Lift's testing tower, Northampton
He says: "My original concept was for six lift shafts to be bunched together like a handful of pencils of differing heights, but in the end, we decided on a single tower containing three shafts and stairs.

"It is now a part of Northampton and I'd like to see it stay as a landmark."

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Terry Wogan on Radio 2
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