Earls Court’s Great Wheel: The 19th Century London Eye

The Great Wheel in London's Earls Court, photographed around 1900 (Image: RepliCarter; London’s Great Wheel around 1900)

Just as work commenced on the ‘first’ Channel Tunnel back in 1885, it’s also a fact that the iconic London Eye isn’t the English capital’s first giant Ferris wheel.

The original Great Wheel was built for the Empire of India Exhibition at Earls Court and opened on July 17, 1895. Built in Greenwich by Maudslay, Sons and Field, construction of the 308-ft-tall observation wheel had only begun the previous year, in March 1894.

With a diameter of 270 ft, the design of the Great Wheel was based on the original Ferris Wheel that appeared at Chicago’s 1893 World’s Columbian Exposition.

The London Eye, towering above the River Thames on the South Bank (Image: OltreCreativeAgency; the modern London Eye)

Unlike the London Eye (above), which is intended to be a permanent structure, the grand 19th century wheel, with its 40 Victorian-era observation cars, remained in use for just over a decade before being demolished in 1907.

Its last appearance was at the Imperial Austrian Exhibition, also held at Earls Court, in 1906. The exhibition closed on October 6th that year, by which time the Great Wheel had turned its last.

Related: 5 Giant Ferris Wheels That Were Never Built


About the author: Tom


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