An interesting article from a copy of the Illustrated London News of October 1856 that I recently acquired – on a mobile elevating platform that would have been used to peer over the walls of a city being besieged by an army.

However, I am still somewhat at a loss as to why the besiegers were unable to put up a ladder that was just below line-of-sight and climb up that to peer over the walls of the city.

Anyhow, as with many inventions, the initial motivation was military with civilian uses a later potential benefit, and although we see mechanical lifting platforms used in some situations, the enthusiasm that the invention would effectively render the humble ladder redundant proved hopelessly optimistic.


Illustrated London News, October 11, 1856

The Patent Elevator and ObservatoryDuring the siege of Sebastopol a good deal of natural anxiety was felt to obtain a view of the interior of the enemy’s works, and several plans to this effect were suggested, none of which were feasible. Two or three months before the town yielded to the Allied armies, Mr. Stocqueler, the military writer, conceived that a machine constructed upon the principle of the “lazy tongs,” with a vertical action, might be made available for carrying a person up a considerable height, and at a safe distance, so as to afford a perfect view of the interior of the fortifications.

He communicated his idea to Mr. W.B. Saunders; and the father of that gentleman, Mr. W. Saunders, formerly of Jersey, a remarkably ingenious person, hit upon expedient of applying the “lazy tongs” principle in the manner shown in the accompanying engraving. It will be observed that a series of tiers of expanding laths, each lath six feet in length, worked by a wheel acting on a spindle, rises from the three sides of a triangular base, carrying up an individual, secured by a circular railing, to a height of fifty or even one hundred feet, according to the dimensions of the base.

A model of the machine having been shown to Lord Panmure, that nobleman, after taking the opinion of scientific officers, encouraged Messrs. Stocqueler and Saunders to construct a machine properly reserving his undertaking to become a purchaser on behalf of the Government until the promise of the model should be realised in the elevator itself.

No time was lost by the projectors in commencing the construction of the machine. Several difficulties and obstacles presented themselves, but they were all surmounted by the energy of Mr. Saunders and the skill of Mr. Burley, the engineer – not, however, until Sebastopol had fallen. In the mean, while Messrs. Stocqueler and Saunders patented their invention in England, France, Belgium, &c.; and it is now offered to the public for the various purposes to which it is applicable.

Its utility in superseding scaffolding to a great degree is obvious. For cleaning the inside of the roods of churches, chapels, halls, and museums; painting and repairing the fronts of houses; assisting firemen to direct the jets of water upon burning houses; facilitating reconnaissances and observations; rendering ladders and climbing unnecessary in gathering fruit; lopping the branches of tall trees, and watering conservatories; painting and caulking the sides of ships – in face, for all purposes in which a certain elevation, without the expense and incumbrance of scaffolding, is requisite, this invention will prove of much value.

We understand that it is viewed with much favour on the other side of the Channel.


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