Skip to page contents


John Oakley

(Chemical Engineering, 1949)
Describes an incident involving Her Majesty the Queen Mother and a run away lift

I was discharged from the army on September 1949 and reported to the Westminster labour exchange as was required. From there I was sent to the chemical engineering department to be interviewed for a technician vacancy. Arriving at the entrance in Prince Consort Road I found that the building was situated some thirty feet back from the Roderick Hill Buildingpavement. The access was across a wooden walkway covered by a corrugated steel roof. I was interviewed by Mr A C Sweeting and Professor D M Newitt.

Two weeks later I started work on the top floor of the Bone building. Some time early in the 1950s we began to hear about the plans to build a new extension to the department which would also house the Aeronautical department. At that time they were housed in the City and Guilds building in Exhibition Road.
We watched as the building began and the Queen's lawn made way for steel girders of our new building. On its completion we quickly occupied the space and installed our experimental rigs. (Picture above; main entrance to the Roderick Hill and Bone Building)

Her Majesty Queen Elizabeth the Queen Mother would come to open the new Roderick Hill building.

The arrangements were made and the Queen Mother with the Rector and the Chairman of the governors were to walk across the courtyard at the back of the Bone building and enter the lower ground floor of the new building. They would get into the Goods Lift which had been switched from auto to manual mode by key. The Rector had been instructed to be the lift operator and proceed to the third floor. I had been assigned to open the outer Opening of the Roderick Hill Buildingdoor and to take them to the laboratory where they would be shown the experimental work that was taking place.
I heard the party enter the lift and it began it assent. As it reached the third floor I poised to open the outer gate but to my astonishment the lift continued to go past up to the floor above. At that moment two of the royal security guards appeared at the staircase and asked where she was, I pointed a finger up and said they have gone past. They then scurried up the stairs but as they did, the lift began to come back down. Once more I took up my position at the gate but the lift continued to go down from whence it came! (Picture left; the opening of the Roderick Hill Building by Her Majesty the Queen Mother)
When it reached the bottom I could hear shrieks of laughter and her Majesty's unmistakably was the loudest. The security men meanwhile continued their decent also.
Once more the lift began its journey back and this time arrived at the correct level. I opened the lift gate, bowed dutifully and at the same time trying not to brake out in a fit of giggles. I could see out the corner of my eye that the security men had managed to arrive at that moment. One was leaning against the wall and the other was bent over with hand on his knee. I escorted the Party to the laboratory and my job was done.

I for one will not forget the opening of the Roderick Hill Building.

  © 2007 Imperial College London

Past projects
The Centenary Campaign

Through the first decade of the twenty-first century the campaign seeks to philanthropically raise £207 million from Imperial’s alumni, staff and friends, and donations from charitable foundations and industry.

Where your support can make a difference
Give now
Staff & student portraits
Staff and student portraits

Imperial’s Centenary Year provides an opportunity to recognise and celebrate members of the Imperial community.

View staff and student portraits