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Scarborough Cliff Railways, South Bay
South Cliff, Scarborough, East Riding of Yorkshire, UK
associated engineer
William Lucas
date  6th July 1875, 1st August 1881, 5th August 1929
era  Victorian  |  category  Railway  |  reference  TA043876
ICE reference number  HEW 2018, 2019
Scarborough is the home of Britain's first cliff railway, which is still going strong today. You can take a ride if you visit Scarborough between May and October. The town's location well above the sea makes it deal for funicular railways that can transport people to and from the shore. There were once five of them, though only three remain, one of which isn't operational.
Scarborough was a famous spa town from the 17th century onwards. It later became popular for sea bathing and is still a popular holiday destination. Its two main bays are divided by a promontory, which is the site of Scarborough Castle. Both bays have had cliff railways but the surviving ones are all in South Bay.
The first cliff railway (South Cliff Lift) was built to connect the spa on South Sands with South Cliff Esplanade. It was designed by William Lucas and opened on 6th July 1875, with twin standard gauge (1.435m wide) tracks 86.6m long set at a 1 in 1.75 gradient. Originally there was a single steel rope between the two cars, with an automatic brake that operated if the rope went slack.
The funicular was powered hydraulically by seawater. Water was fed into tanks beneath the upper car, which would then descend, causing the linked lower car to rise. At the bottom, the tanks emptied and the water was pumped through a pipe between the tracks up to the top to be reused. Initially, the water was moved by gas engines, and from 1879 by steam pumps.
Between 1935 and 1947, South Cliff Lift was converted to electric-powered winding and in 1997 it was refurbished to operate automatically. It is now owned by Scarborough Borough Council.
Another cliff railway (Central Tramway) was built between Foreshore Road and St Nicholas Gardens by the Central Tramway Company Scarborough Ltd, who still owns it. This one opened on 1st August 1881. Its winding gear was powered by steam and the driver had no direct view of the cars as the equipment was sited some 18m below the top station, presumably for safety.
The parallel standard gauge railway tracks are 77.7m long over a slope of 1 in 2. The steam-powered funicular was converted to electric drive between 1910 and 1920, drawing direct current from the town's tramway system. It used alternating current after 1931, when trams were abandoned. The motor was relocated under the top station and the driver has full view of the cars, which were replaced in 1932. Safety brakes are located on a rail in the centre of each track.
The Central Tramway was so popular, especially with guests at Scarborough's Grand Hotel, that an extra funicular (St Nicholas Cliff Lift) was built nearby, opening on 5th August 1929 and costing £6,000. All the control equipment and ticket office were located at the top of the slope — there was no lower station and passengers stepped from the carriage onto the pavement.
This cliff railway’s twin tracks are 31m long and 2.286m wide set on a steep gradient of 1 in 1.333. Its two cars were driven by electricity. It was sold to Scarborough Corporation in 1945. Scarborough Borough Council closed St Nicholas Lift in 2006 as it was operating at a loss. To reinstate it now would cost around £650,000 — even demolishing the existing structures would cost some £150,000. A decision about its future is pending.
Main contractor and gas engine supply(1875): Crossley Brothers, Manchester
Main contractor (1929): Medway Safety Lift Company Ltd, Dartford
Carriages (1875): Metropolitan Carriage Company, Birmingham
Research: ECPK
reference sources   CEH North

Scarborough Cliff Railways, South Bay