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Ferris wheels

Planning a trip to the Millennium Wheel? This first hand account of a trip to the giant ferris wheel erected in Earl's Court in the 1890s was sent to an NCE reader by his great grandfather.

'The gigantic wheel at Earl's Court is causing a lot of excitement just now. We took a train to Earl's Court last evening and wended our way to the great wheel. After waiting for over half-an-hour our turn came to go up the spiral staircase to take our seat in one of the 40 cars swinging in the stupendous wheel, interlaced with iron work and moved by two great continuous chain cables.

'Suddenly a whistle sounded, the car began to move. We ascended about 150 feet; the tops of the surrounding houses were well beneath us and we were getting the large view of the lights of London Town all around us. Suddenly, the car gave a great lurch to starboard and we all came to an abrupt standstill about 150 feet above the earth.

'We then discovered that the cause of the stoppage was the slipping of the continuous chain from its proper position in the slots over the iron circle of the outer wheel into the wheel itself!

'After several ineffectual tuggings of the chains from below, each try adding to our terror, we took stock of our position, and determined with as good grace as possible to await events with patience. The work of relief seemed uncommonly slow. We could hear the men on our sheet iron roof hammering away and working with their jacks, trying to shift the chain into its proper position in the groove of the wheel, but so great was its weight that all their efforts were useless. We had left terra firma at nine o'clock and, on looking at our watch by the aid of a lighted taper, we found it was near half-past ten.

'We estimated that 400 to 500 people were imprisoned in the wheel. We also knew that the wheel had been resting for three days being under repair in order to accelerate the speed, and it was thought that a single revolution could be made in half an hour.

'The wind was getting up strong, causing the car to sway about most unpleasantly. Then the thing began to move with a horrible grinding sound above us, and we found ourselves going down. But our hopes were doomed to disappointment as we felt the car stand still again. Then with the same grating noise the car began to ascend, still shaking about.

'With sundry stops to allow people in the other cars to get out, we got to the top of the wheel and then began to descend. It was just midnight that our car came to a standstill at the platform and we descended.

'We found afterwards that Mr Bassett, the inventor and engineer, was on the spot when we had left the wheel. He got 50 men to go with him as rapidly as possible to prove there was no danger. One of the bandsmen told us a plank had got fixed between the chain and the wheels, causing the chain to break, but this was not so, the true cause being the slipping of the chain off the slots on the outer edge.'

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