Atlas Obscura: Spiral Escalators Look Cool, But Do They Make Sense?

The world’s first spiral escalator could easily have been lost forever.

That is, if it weren’t for a routine inspection of the Holloway Road station of the London underground. One day in early 1993, an engineer was climbing through a ventilation shaft when he stumbled upon a contraption, covered in rubble and spiraling up into the duct. Forgotten about for over 80 years, the spiral escalator was built in 1906 but quickly deemed to be unsafe, boarded up, and forgotten. By the time it was found, all that was left was a dusty heap of snaking drive chains and hulking slabs of rust.

It’s not surprising that this early spiral escalator never lived to escalate. It had no stairs and was simply a sloping travelator, with guide rails along the sides. (Riders would have had to grip onto them for dear life, probably white-knuckled in terror, as they made their way up to the surface.) The escalator would have been dark, dangerous and extremely noisy—more like a test of endurance than a space-efficient way of getting from platform to pavement.

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