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Lynton & Lynmouth Cliff Railway
Lynton, Devon, UK
Lynton & Lynmouth Cliff Railway
associated engineer
Robert Jones
George Croydon Marks
date  1887 - 7th April 1890
era  Victorian  |  category  Tramway/Funicular  |  reference  SS720496
ICE reference number  HEW 1109
photo  © Martin Bodman and licensed for reuse under this Creative Commons Licence
Lynton & Lynmouth Cliff Railway on the north Devon coast — said to be Britain’s "longest and most interesting" water balance railway — was built to carry goods arriving by sea from Lynmouth up the cliffs to Lynton. It has been in continual operation since opening in 1890 and remains in use as a passenger funicular.
Rugged cliffs separate Lynton, on the high ground of Exmoor, from coastal Lynmouth, near the confluence of the West Lyn and East Lyn Rivers. By the 19th century, the challenge of traversing the cliffs was limiting the transport of goods between the two settlements and deterring holiday visitors.
In December 1881, it was suggested that a tramway between the two towns could be worked by a stationary engine at Lynton, powered by the river. Nothing happened until 1885, when a proposal was made for constructing a solid pier, an esplanade and "a lift from the said pier or promenade to Lynton".
Robert (Bob) Jones (1849-1921), a local engineer, was involved in the construction of the esplanade as well as designing and building the two-car cliff railway. George Croydon Marks (1858-1938, later Baron Marks of Woolwich) was design consultant and provided the required specialist railway engineering knowledge. The project was financed mainly by Marks’ business partner, the publisher George Newnes (1851-1910, created a baronet in 1895).
Work commenced in 1887, and a cutting was excavated through the limestone rock of the cliff to form the track bed. Three bridges were also constructed to carry existing paths and a roadway over the cutting.
In 1888, the Lynton & Lynmouth Lift Act resulted in the Lynmouth & Lynton Lift Company Ltd being created to own and operate the railway. The Act also granted the company the right to extract up to 272,760 litres of river water per day in perpetuity.
The proposed steepness of the route prompted Marks to design four separate braking systems for safety — two for each car, able to be applied independently. The main brakes are hydraulic callipers, clamping across the crown of the rails, and are locked-on until released by the driver. Secondary braking is supplied by friction brakes, consisting of steel shoes depressed onto the rails by hydraulic pistons. The arrangement was patented in June 1888, under the names of Newnes, Jones and Marks. The hydraulic system, unique to this railway, is filled with water rather than oil.
The railway is 263m long and rises 131m, from Lynmouth to Lynton, at a gradient of 1 in 1.75. The line is twin tracked with a passing bay halfway. One car runs on each track and the cars are permanently linked by a continuous cable of wire rope running between a pair of 1.68m diameter pulleys, one at each end of the incline.
The tracks are of bullhead rails set at 1.14m (3ft 9in) gauge, secured to the rock face originally by larch timber sleepers at 1.82m centres. The timbers were later replaced by steel sleepers of inverted rails set in concrete.
A triangular tank mounted between the wheels under each car contains 3,182 litres of water ballast, supplied by 127mm and 152mm pipes from an intake on the West Lyn River about 1.6km to the south. The gradual release of water from the lower car’s tank provides power, causing it to rise and the upper car to descend. The speed is controlled by the driver of each car applying or releasing the brakes, synchronised by a series of hand signals.
The cars require no motive power to operate, making a very low carbon footprint. The water ballast works as a 'total loss' system, it is not recycled but discharges onto the beach at Lynmouth.
A single track road, North Walk, now only for vehicles of less than 10 tonnes, crosses the railway just east of the top station. A halt is provided here for road access. Two footbridges cross the line at approximately the third points between top and bottom stations.
Lynton & Lynmouth Cliff Railway was operational in February 1890, and opened officially on 7th April 1890 (Easter Monday). It was used transport goods brought in by sea such as coal, ice, sand, granite, cement, barrelled petrol and paraffin. Jones was the lift company’s engineer and builder until 1921. His son Witney Heywood Jones (1887-1960) served as engineer and director to the company 1922-60.
In 1947, the cars were converted from freight platforms into passenger carriages with demountable bodies. Each car accommodates 40 people. The hydraulic buffer at the lower end of the tracks is claimed to be original. In 1960, Jones’ grandson, also named Bob Jones, became the company’s engineer and director, remaining in post until 1996. In June 1995, the railway’s upper and lower waiting rooms were given Grade II listed status. During winter 2006, the rails were replaced.
Lynton’s cliff railway is one of Devon’s most popular attractions, with an estimated 350,000 visitors in 2014. It is located in Exmoor National Park and the designated Lynmouth Conservation Area.
On 18th September 2014, the railway was given an Engineering Heritage Award by the Institution of Mechanical Engineers. Two of Jones’ great grandchildren are still serving directors of the company (2015).
Contractor: Robert Jones of Lynton
Research: ECPK
Additional information kindly supplied by Ashley Clarke, Engineer, Lynmouth & Lynton Lift Company
reference sources   CEH South

Lynton & Lynmouth Cliff Railway