The Autostacker

The Autostacker

The 60s may have been the period of “Peace and Love” but it was also a golden age of economic growth fuelled by advances in science and engineering. Harold Wilson’s White Heat of Technology speech captured the mood of the decade and Woolwich embraced it wholeheartedly. Since the founding of the Royal Academy 1720 and the opening of Woolwich Polytechnic (now Greenwich University) in 1890 the area had a long tradition in science and engineering. As Woolwich Borough Council was preparing to celebrate its Diamond Jubilee in 1961 what better way than to build an automated car park; the first in the World.

It was designed by J. A. Sterling who was responsible for building the longest Bailey Bridge in the World across the Rhine during the Second World War. He first thought of the automated car park when he was the General Manager of the United Africa Company and had to deal with fifty varieties of timber. It was difficult to get timber from the bottom of a pile so he set about experimenting with a Meccano set how to solve this problem. He used the same approach to designing the Autostacker. In fact, Meccano celebrated the opening of the Autostacker by making a scaled model.

Parking was fully automatic and carried out by remote control from a kiosk on the ground floor. The cars were transported mechanically at the turn of a key and the complete parking or collect cycle was planned to take a mere 50 seconds. There were eight floors each with a capacity for 32 cars. The official opening was 11th May 1961.

Her Royal Highness Princess Margaret, accompanied by her husband The Right Honorable Anthony Armstrong Jones, were the guests of honor and there was a grand Civic Ceremony. At 3.50pm Princess Margaret, Councillor R B Shike The Leader of Woolwich Borough Council and other officials proceeded to the AutoStacker in Beresford Street. What a day in Woolwich, the crowds, the anticipation and later the embarrassment.

Princess Margaret was to park a van donated by Dagenham Motors for use in the meals on wheels service. There were 256 keys in the Control Panel each corresponding to a parking bay. With one turn of the key the automated process begins. Well, not in this case the key stuck and the van remained stationary, Princess Margaret was unable to park the car. In fact no-one managed to park a car as the facility was closed to the public until the “snagging problems” were ironed out. They never were and it was one mighty engineering failure. The Autostaker never did open and was demolished in 1965.

Short video of the Autostacker