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18 June 2014
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Legacies - Northants

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Northampton's "Lighthouse"

Uncertain future

Mrs Lorna Winterbourn of Little Billing vividly remembers the day she won a trip to the top in a raffle: "We couldn't go to the very top because it was too windy. I thought the raffle ticket, at 20p, was a bit pricey, so I only bought one.

Express Lift's testing tower, Northampton
"But it was amazing, a great experience. BBC Look East filmed us, but it never went out - they had more important things to show!"

English Heritage awards certain properties a "Listed" status in order to protect them against any adverse decision in any proposed re-development. In the case of the Express Tower, it achieved a Grade II listing in October 1997 for its architectural interest.

This listing was used as an objection when developers applied for demolition consent in August 2001 for house building.

Urgent structural tests had to be carried out after reports that the tower, designed to have a 20 to 45 year life span, was riddled with concrete cancer.

The houses are now built, but the future of the tower currently hangs in the balance, depending on results of an enquiry.

There is also the prospect of the tower being brought back into service as a test tower if a consortium is granted permission to proceed.

Founded in 1917, Express Lifts employed 1,350 people at its peak.

The company closed after being sold to Otis - another lift manufacturer and the last 500 workers clocked out on Thursday 30 January 1997.

Towering facts
  • Built of reinforced concrete
  • Lower 90m (295ft) formed over 3 weeks of continuously-poured concrete, growing 7.2 metres (23ft) in 24 hours
  • Total of 4,000 tons of concrete used
  • The circular tower is 127.45 metres (418ft) high (Salisbury Cathedral is 404ft)
  • Diameter - base - 14.6m (48ft) tapering to 8.5m (28ft) at the top
  • Three rectilinear shafts built on three sides of the internal square
  • Lift shafts designed to test lifts to 7 metres (22ft) per second
  • Two internal staircases
  • Engineers and exhibition rooms at the base
  • Upper part of tower has distinctive pierced jagged shape reducing vortex effect
  • Glass observation tower at the top
  • The tower is the only one in Britain, and one of only two in Europe

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