There is a Season, Turn! Turn! Turn! – A Short History of Football Turnstiles

While the irregular beauty of grandstands, covered stands, and open terraces have been a source of wonder and admiration for football ground enthusiasts for at least fifty years, other parts of the make-up of a football ground such as floodlights and turnstiles have only recently seen an upsurge of interest and appreciation. This has largely been attributable to the increasing influence of social media, with searchable hashtags like #FloodlightFriday and #Turnstiles becoming increasingly popular.

One aspect of turnstiles I have always found exceedingly interesting is their provenance. Quite often you will find yourself sat in a ground that was only built in the post-World War II period, yet your method of egress will quite often be considerably older, maybe even as old as the Victorian period. In that era football was still relatively in its infancy, but clubs were progressive and the need to cover operational costs deemed charging of admission essential to survival. The first report of the installation of mechanical turnstiles at a British football ground was in 1873 at Hampden Park. This replaced the open gate system prevalent at the majority of football grounds which often saw operators completely overwhelmed with people trying to get into matches.

The means of restricting access to paying customers was relatively simple, a cast iron heavyweight barrier controlled by and operator once the admission charge had been paid. Several manufacturers of such devices appeared on the scene to cater for the demand of a burgeoning market. Interestingly several of the manufacturers centre around the Manchester area.

W.T.Ellison were one of these manufacturers and all their turnstiles have an individual serial number on the manufacturing plate. Ellison’s original workshop was in the intriguingly named Irlam O’ Th’ Height. The small town that sits on top of the Irwell Valley, had a railway station on the Pendleton and Hindley line of the Lancashire and Yorkshire Railway so was ideally situated to deliver these heavyweight devices to eager clientele.

W.T.Ellison’s plate at Colne FC

One of the scourges of early football was overcrowding and uncontrolled entry to football grounds led to many reported incidents of crushing injuries and even fatalities. Football club owners had also become patently aware that gate receipts often fell considerably short of expectation leading to the obvious conclusion that certain gate operators were “on the take”, and others were simply overwhelmed by eager spectators “rushing” the entrances. Ellison’s came up with a design which included a sealed in, tamper proof, incrometer to record the number of people entering each gate. Records show that Ellison’s Rush Preventive Turnstiles were patented by William Thomas Ellison Jr of 323 Bolton Road, Pendleton, Salford and James Unsworth Jr of Manchester. Their application was filed on February 19th, 1892 and assigned patent number 3,225. It gave Ellison’s a clear market lead which is why you will find they are the predominant manufacturer of turnstiles still in use today. The rush preventative turnstiles were design to safely admit up to 4,000 spectators per hour, reduced to 3,000 if change needed to be given. These figures are quite staggering when you consider the Taylor Report contended that safely operated turnstiles needed to admit 660 people per hour.

Ellison’s advert highlighting their patented incrometer

While there is no surviving definitive list of to whom their turnstiles were sold to, some diligent research by club historians has thrown some interesting light on the matter. For example, in the excellent “Farewell to Maine Road”, author Gary James and “Turnstile” Ted Pearson spent their spare time recording them and trying to date them. Four of Maine Road’s “Irlam” turnstiles were numbered 48, 59, 75 and 76 and club accounts show turnstiles were purchased from Ellison’s in 1896 and 1898. This, of course, means these were purchased for their previous Hyde Road ground and subsequently moved to Maine Road for the opening in 1923.

Ellison’s advert and clientele list

Maine Road also had nine Ellison’s Rush Preventative turnstiles which club records show were purchased from Ellison’s in 1904 and 1910, so would have also been at Hyde Road. Gary James also records that King George VI visited Hyde Road in 1920, the first reigning monarch to visit a provincial football stadium, and is likely to have used a turnstile. There is also proof that a future prime minister, A.J. Balfour, clicked himself through one of these earliest known turnstiles. The Kippax Stand had two very ancient W.Bailey’s turnstiles, also likely to have come from Hyde Road. Anecdotally, the wall of Kippax turnstiles was added to when the club acquired some from Belle Vue speedway stadium, highlighting the second-hand market for these heavy metal fixtures, which is still prevalent today. Two of the low numbered Ellison turnstiles were supposed to have been preserved for the club to take and display at the new stadium but sadly they were stolen and never recovered. 

Ellison’s already had lucrative customers like Hampden Park, Twickenham and Murrayfield so they were the obvious choice for the prestigious installation of 100 turnstiles at the new Wembley Stadium in 1923. William Ellison died around 1949 and was survived by his wife Mabel who died in 1984 and a daughter.

An Ellison plate from Winsford United FC and decoration plate from Stourport Swifts FC

The story of W.H. Bailey turnstiles begins with his father’s company, John Bailey & Co who opened the Albion Works, Oldfield Road, Salford in 1832 manufacturing turret clocks and steam and water gauges. Upon retirement in 1865 ownership passed to William Bailey and it is from this date turnstile manufacturing started to boom particularly for use in crowd control on pleasure piers, swimming baths, amusement arcades and horse racing venues.

Bailey’s huge factory

Under William Bailey the firm boomed into all sorts of heavy manufacturing, offering a book “Bailey’s Illustrated Inventions” replete with 1,000 engravings, free with orders over £10! He opened a second works at Hall Bank in Patricroft in 1885 and received a knighthood for industry in 1894.

William Bailey

In order to compete with Ellison’s hugely popular Rush Preventative mechanism, Bailey’s came up with a “Quick Action” turnstile but it never really dented Ellison’s market dominance. When Chicago Cubs renovated their historic Wrigley Field in 2009, a vintage “Bailey’s of Salford” turnstile was replaced and subsequently auctioned off. Sir William Bailey passed away in 1913 and, although, the Salford site was totally destroyed by bombing in 1940, the entire business continued to operate from the Patricroft works. The company continues to this day as Bailey-Birkett Valves, primarily producing components for the water industry.

Bailey’s manufacturing plates at Wingate & Finchley, Sutton United (since removed), and Bishop’s Stortford.

The invention of rush preventative turnstiles had a huge impact on match day income, Simon Inglis recorded that in the season Aston Villa installed turnstiles, gate receipts rose by over 300% and Everton reported a similar hike in revenue. In 1895, Celtic are recorded as spending £445, a not inconsiderable sum at the time, on Ellison’s turnstiles for the “new” Celtic Park which had opened three years previously, the club would soon recover their outlay. Smashing the admission scams of a generation of crooked gatemen were not wholly successful, however, as some cunning operatives found the new mechanisms could still be beneficially tampered with. It was found that clever use of the foot pedal and marking the gate of a turnstile with a scratch or a piece of tape, could see the device only half rotate, allowing two people to enter on one click of the incrometer. If you look closely many of the old housings for the incrometer housing have gauges or even smashed glass as cruder attempts were made to stop the dials turning. While clubs thrived on their return of investment in turnstiles, they were not wholly popular with spectators, gentlemen of larger proportions complained about the narrow apertures and women found the experience demeaning and would often ruin their dresses!

There were other manufacturers of turnstiles, but none could wrestle the market share Ellison’s held over all the others. R. & B.M. Mayor of Manchester turnstiles are still a fairly common sight at non-league grounds. Mayors eventually moved to Ashton under Lyne and continued manufacturing turnstiles until the company was dissolved in 2007.

A Mayor’s turnstile still doing fine service at Goole AFC

There were two manufacturers that were primarily Abyssinian tube and Artesian well engineers who diversified into turnstile manufacturing during the heyday that saw incredible demand for the devices. Two such companies were Le Grand and Sutcliff (from 1920, Le Grand, Sutcliff and Gell) of Bunhill Row, London and Camillo Isler of Bear Lane, Southwark.

A Norton plate from Sutton United (since removed) and a Le Grand & Sutcliff advert

Le Grand and Sutcliff were originally sole manufacturers of the Norton’s patent turnstile, although later a licence was also granted to Hill and Smith Ltd of Brierley Hill. Norton’s were a particularly stylish looking turnstile and were commonly used in swimming baths. There is a particularly fine Norton’s turnstile at the Nelson Monument in Edinburgh and Norton’s are still actively used at Torquay Rugby Club, Frickley Athletic, Sutton United, Eastbourne Town, St Albans City and Tonbridge Angels. Le Grand, Sutcliff and Gell expanded into works at Southall and Rochester but were taken over by Platt & Co in 1956.

Isler’s “Elliptical Improved Patent” turnstiles were perhaps more common placed on piers, gardens and cliff lifts and were renowned for the large, heavy, brass counter housed under the manufacturers plate. Remaining Isler turnstiles in use at football grounds can be seen at St Albans City and Ebbsfleet United.

An even rarer manufacturer was Henry John Slark of Walham Green, Fulham. A Slark’s turnstile was still going strong at Boston United’s York Street until it’s recent closure and there is also one at Ardley United. Slark’s lattice metalwork designs are particularly ornate.

The only John Mann Lockerbie & Arthur Wilkinson of Tipton turnstile I have seen was at Walton & Hersham’s former Stompond Lane stadium. Lockerbie & Wilkinson started at a small factory in New Street, Birmingham before moving to the huge Alexander Works in Locarno Road, Tipton, from where they still conduct business today. Trading under the name “Locwil” they made all sorts of iron furnishings, vending machines, agricultural and abattoir equipment, but became famous for patenting the coin operated door locks for public conveniences in the 1880’s.

While many grounds still use these antique devices, they are slowly being replaced by more modern turnstiles and barcode scanning systems. One thing is for certain though, the Victorian design of these incredible machines still serves the purpose they were invented for, and long may they continue to click those customers in!

If you get bitten by the bug of “turnstile spotting” feel free to copy in @PeterRMiles into your Twitter posts especially if you locate one of the rarer manufacturers!

A version of this article first appeared in Issue 104 of the superb football grounds magazine, “Groundtastic”.


Postcards From Belgrade (Serbian Groundhop 4)

The fourth organised Serbian Groundhop took place across a balmy weekend in April with an ambitious but exciting looking eight game extravaganza in and around the Belgrade area.

One of the six Super Liga grounds in Belgrade that sparks a lot of interest and wonder is that of FK Voždovac but somehow they had always seemed to be away from home when we had selected a date for our weekends. Until 2011 the club played at the crumbling Bojan Majić Stadium when they received a most unusual offer. A developer offered to place a new stadium on top of their proposed six story shopping centre in the heart of the Voždovac district. Initially the plan was to have a stadium with two sides and no end stands, however, this was changed at a late stage to a four sided fully UEFA compliant stadium.

For us, as luck would have it, the proposed Arena Sport televising of the Vojvodina v Spartak game was switched at short notice to the relegation group battle between Voždovac and Napredak. This meant the assembled group had a Friday evening game a short taxi ride away from our base at Belgrade’s equivalent of Fawlty Towers, the very cheap and sometimes cheerful Hotel Slavija.

On arrival at the “Stadium Shopping Center” in Zaplanjska Street you can’t help but look up and see the roofs of the stands protruding outwards and up from a run of the mill shopping centre.

It was a pretty lifeless encounter won by the hosts with an early goal. With the lack of excitement on the pitch you tend to lose the sense of location except for the occasional glance to a corner, where netting is in place to stop the obvious threat of wayward balls, and you glimpse Belgrade suburbia from your lofty perch.

You also notice the poor construction of the stadium despite it ticking all the UEFA requirement boxes. The rake of the steps is vertiginous but the steps are very narrow with no handrails for descending. The vast majority of the seats in the main West Stand will be obscured by the media centre, VIP area or camera gantries. Tickets are purchased at a desk inside the shopping centre and there is also a small merchandise shop within a newsagents on the same level.

Friday April 20th 2018 – Serbian Super Liga

FK Voždovac 1 (Stuparević 7)
FK Napredak 0

Att:439 Entry 200 RSD (£1.50)

After some Friday evening free time in Belgrade, we reconvened at the Slavija ahead of a morning fixture at Brodarac to see their highly successful under 19 side. On the second Serbian Groundhop we saw Brodarac thrash their counterparts from Partizan on their way to winning the Serbian under 19 league. This meant Brodarac qualified for this season’s UEFA Youth League. They were drawn at home in the qualifying play-off against Manchester United. The match was moved to Voždovac and the home side put up a brave fight before going down 2-0. The Brodarac first team are currently in the fourth tier, Belgrade Zona Liga, so their youth and academy success is truly admirable. Brodarac translates as “winners”.

Their stadium lies under the Stari Savski Most one of the oldest bridges across the River Sava and initially is most notable for the large JAT advert on the roof of its indoor facility. JAT was Jugoslovenski Aerotransport, the old state owned airline long replaced by Air Serbia. As you look around the immediate vicinity of the stadium you become aware of the history around it. The ground is built on the site of the notorious Staro Sajmište World War II concentration camp. The under 19s are taking on their equivalents from Voždovac and again play an exciting and energetic attacking game and win far more easily than the 2-1 score suggested.

Saturday April 20th 2018 – Serbian Under 19 Liga

FK Brodarac U19s 2 (L.Jovanović 69, D.Jovanović 73)
FK Vojvodina U19s 1 (Mrdja 90)


Our next port of call was completely diametrically opposed to the sobering location of our morning match. Ada Ciganliga is an island in the Sava that has been artificially turned in to a peninsular with a lake and beach (part of which is nudist if you’re into that sort of thing) where locals flock in their thousands to relax, sunbathe and play sport. It is also a area for artwork, light displays and nightlife. There is a toll to come onto the island payable in kiosks at the barrier on the approach road.

The island is also home to the Belgrade FA stadium which has two artificial pitches one boasting a large pitch length stand. These are used to stage numerous matches in the lower reaches of the Belgrade leagues and as the main stadium has lights as many as six or seven matches a day take place at the weekends.

FK Dedinje are a 2014 reformation of a pre-WWII Belgrade club that played close to the site of Red Star’s Marakana stadium. Dedinje do not have a home ground of their own so have shared at Grafičar and Brodarac before using Ada Ciganliga. The club are nicknamed the “Millioneri” due to its historic location in one of Belgrade’s most exclusive areas. Somewhat annoyingly their pre-match huddle ends with a group shout of “Who is Belgrade’s richest club….Dedinje”. After that initial bluster they turn in a poor performance in unrelenting heat and opponents FK 011 (named after the dial code for Belgrade) canter to a 2-0 win.

Saturday April 20th 2018 – Meduopštinska Liga (Grupa A)

FK Dedinje 0
FK 011 Beograd 2 (Andrić 62, Jovanović pen 90)


We then travel outside the city to Obrenobac where the local regional league has 5pm kick offs on a Saturday afternoon. We arrive at FK Rojkovac only to find that their opponents, FK Ljubinić have failed to show up and have forfeited the game. Very kindly a local man offers to guide us to another ground in the next village of Rvati, just as well as its remote location down unmade paths would have been very difficult to locate. The locals are truly astonished when their unexpected foreign guests arrive a few minutes after kick off.

Stadion Rvati is a run down gem of a ground, similar to the village ground of FK Vrčín on the inaugural hop. The football is not of the highest standard but the hosts turn on the jet packs and coast to a memorable 8-3 victory. There is something to be said for visiting these of the beaten track, ramshackle old grounds to gain a true perception of football outside the glamour of Super Liga and the like.

Saturday April 20th 2018 – Opštinska Liga Obrenovac

OFK Rvati 8 (Joksić 17,51,73, Nedeljković 29, Vučićević 33,81, Jakovljević pen 65, Petrović 77)

FK Sloga Ratari 3 (Kozlica 42, pen 45, Jovičić 78)


We feasted on traditional Serbian meat platters at a roadside restaurant called Mali Raj on Kralja Aleksandra in Obrenovac. Bellies full and thirst satiated we headed back to the city for something completely different. One time Aston Villa striker Savo Milošević is now Vice President of the Serbian Football Association, heading up their anti-corruption purge, he is also a part time actor and tonight is in a theatrical performance at Akademija 28. The audience appears to be almost entirely female and pleasingly Savo appears as promised after the show. After a somewhat turbulent post playing career including alcohol problems following his father being shot dead by his grandfather, he looks fit and well and seemingly still very much a heartthrob as he was during his playing days which saw him win 102 international caps. He seems happy to talk to English football fans about his time at Villa and comes across as an extremely nice guy.

Sunday’s itinerary began with an early morning kick off at FK Žarkovo located on the north side of Danube in Novi Beograd The club are flying high at the top of the Belgrade region third tier Srpske Liga. The ground has a new stand and restaurant in order to cope with Prva Liga football. Joining our party for this game was Nenad Mijaljević, well known in England for producing top notch programmes for non-league clubs like South Shields, Jarrow Roofing and Seaham Red Star. A huge Red Star fanatic he tells me he has recently taken up groundhopping and now “gets” why people do it. It’s a competitive game with opponents FK IMT extremely unlucky not to get at least a point from the match. It’s the runaway league leaders that come out on top in a 2-1 in front of a decent crowd.

Sunday April 22nd 2018 – Srpske Liga Beograd

FK Žarkovo 2 (Rajić 15, Garić pen 19)
FK IMT 1 (Šarić 25)

Att:240 Entry 200 RSD (£1.50)

We have a leisurely lunch at one of our usual haunts, Konoba, under the Pančevo bridge. We have a riverside table set aside and enjoy their signature fish stew followed by yet more meat! A surprisingly swollen Danube laps gently against the terrace.

At the risk of sounding like “Savo stalkers” we bump into him again at Prva Liga club FK Bežanija, he is there with his family watching his eldest son Nikola play and score twice for the home side against FK Budućnost. It’s a blisteringly hot afternoon and an enterprising nut seller augmented the usual “kikiriki and semenke” (peanuts and seeds) with skewers of strawberries.

The stadium in Bežanija is set in an old quarry and at one end steep quarry walls afford an amazing view of the city. Behind the opposite goal is the beautiful Crkva Svetog Đorđa (Church of St George). Some people say football is a religion, well the priest from the church joined the crowd for the last twenty minutes of this game but the home side needed no divine intervention as Milošević’s brace was enough to secure the points.

Sunday April 22nd 2018 – Serbian Prva Liga

FK Bežanija 2 (Milošević 6,29)
FK Budućnost Dobanovci 0

Att:233 Entry 200 RSD (£1.50)

The Sunday evening game was a revisit for most of us as Partizan took on cross city opposition in Čukarički. The Partizan stadium always seems to have an intimidating atmosphere even when sparsely attended. The ultra group Grobari has warring factions resulting in the three factions being segregated into different parts of the stadium. Heeding the advice of co-organiser Aleks we all opt for tickets in the “posh” west stand (Zapad) for the princely sum of 450 dinar (£3.30). Partizan unsurprisingly take the points when the impressive Zoran Tošić nets his second goal of the game towards the end.

Sunday April 22nd 2018 – Serbian Super LigaFK Partizan 2 (Tošić 18,81)
FK Čukarički 1 (Belaković 46)

Att: 2,500 Entry 450 RSD (£3.30)

Some of the party have opted to return to the UK (and Germany and Denmark!) on the Monday so its a smaller bunch that head back to the island paradise of Ada Ciganliga for an under 18 match between FK 011 and Voždovac.

Monday April 23rd 2018 – Serbian U18 League

FK 011 Beograd U18s 0
FK Voždovac U18s 2 (Nadj 21, Mijailović 37)



We then head north out of Belgrade for the 4pm Prva match at FK Inđija. En route we stop at the Serbian FA headquarters in Stara Pazova. A centre of excellence like St.Georges Park, this UEFA funded facility has six pitches two of which have spectator accommodation.

The Gradski Stadion in Inđija is top notch with some old stands on one side and a newer big uncovered stand on the opposite a left over from the clubs’ brief Super Liga stint in 2010/11. The stadium is right next the railway with passenger and freight trains rattling past regularly. This harks back to the clubs origins as Železničar Inđija, with the prefix being attached to railroad workers. Also at this end a towering factory belches and crackles constantly. A decent crowd gathers for the match against Novi Pazar, but the visitors miss a penalty and don’t really trouble the hosts as they ease to a 2-0 win.

Monday April 23rd 2018 – Serbian Prva Liga

FK Inđija 2 (Kovačevic 22, Gajić 45)
FK Novi Pazar 0

Att:310 Entry 100 RSD (70p)

It’s a great coda to another sublime weekend in the company of Groundhopping Serbia (Aleks Peković, Bogdan Mitrović and Teodora Rebić) and we end the day enjoying some of the Hotel Moscow’s world renowned cake, Moskva šnit. It also dawns on us that our nine matches have cost us a little over £8 in entrance money! We hope to run a fifth Groundhop early in the new season taking in the delights of Southern Serbia this time and maybe also a game in the Srpske Republic enclave in Bosnia. To join us or just keep up to date with our plans please follow me and the lads on Twitter (@PeterRMiles and @GroundhopSerbia), or Facebook at Serbian Groundhop Weekends.

A much expanded version of this article will appear in a future edition of Football Weekends magazine.