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British Industrial History

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Gigantic Wheel and Recreation Towers Co

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The company built the enormous Ferris wheel at Earls Court in 1894. It was 300 ft diameter, and could accommodate 1600 people. The general design was by Lt. J. W. Graydon, and the contract was taken by Walter Bassett Basset, managing director of Maudslay, Sons and Field, who was represented by Mr. Efford.

The wheel was to be driven by a steel wire rope 1.8" diameter passing round grooves on the sides of the wheel at 195 ft diameter. Two ropes were to be provided, with only one intended to be used at a time. Two 50 HP dynamos were supplied by G. C. Fricker and Co. The earlier 250 ft diameter Chicago Ferris Wheel in the USA was driven by a steam engine via a chain engaging with teeth of 24" pitch.

The towers were made by Arrol's Bridge and Roof Co. The axle was made at Maudslay's in Lambeth, and the cars were made by Brown, Marshall and Co.

The above information is from 'The Engineer'[1].

Further information was provided later[2]. The article includes photographs taken during construction (see image above), and hints at enormous difficulties arising during the work. It notes that it had been decided to drive the wheel using a chain rather than wire rope. A later article[3] provides very interesting information about problems which arose during early operation, and the ways in which they were overcome. It also explains the basis for selecting chain rather than rope drive. Note: the chains were of the ordinary link type, not roller chains. One problem appreciated at an early stage was the need to balance the load around the wheel. No easy matter when dealing with varying numbers of visitors arriving, who might stop suddenly arriving when a rain shower appeared. Balancing the numbers of people in motion was further complicated by the provision of first and second class accommodation!

The axle was a riveted and bolted steel tube, 7 ft diameter and 1" thick, weighing 58 tons. The bearing surfaces were white metal pads. 5 tons of expensive white metal was needed. Two hub sections at each end were fabricated from steel plate, with 3" dia holes for the spoke pins. At the pivot level their were 'pavilions' on each side, and it was intended that visitors could pass between them through the axle. Given the speed of the wheel, they would hardly notice the movement, although they might be puzzled by any warning notices which happened to be upside down at the time!

The steel spokes were 2 9/16 inch diameter, and just over 90 ft long (made in two lengths and connected by a turnbuckle).

Power was provided by two Robey and Co steam winding engines.

One article names J. J. Webster as the co-designer with Basset.

See Also


Sources of Information

  1. [1] The Engineer, 20 April 1894, p.324
  2. [2] The Engineer, 21 Dec 1894
  3. [3] The Engineer 25 October 1895