Funicular Favourites: Scarborough’s Five Cliff Lift Routes

Scarborough currently has two functioning cliff lifts, or funiculars, as they are otherwise known.

One is located near the Spa, and the other at St. Nicholas Cliff, taking visitors from the seafront to the shops.

The former has been in operation since 1875, following the creation of the Scarborough South Cliff Tramway Company Ltd in 1873. This organisation was responsible for giving the UK its first ever funicular. Two cars, running in opposite directions, took passengers from the seafront to the Esplanade and back again, and the route was (and still is) conveniently located near the Scarborough Spa.

Children's Corner

Above: The tram stop near the Spa is clearly advertised on the left of the picture (source)

Each car can carry fourteen passengers, and the route became known as the South Cliff Lift. The attraction was bought by Scarborough Council in 1993 and is now fully automatic.

Esplanade

Above: The tram stop on the Esplanade is just beyond the outer left edge of this postcard (source)

Following the success of the South Cliff Lift, the Scarborough Queens Parade Tramway Company formed, in 1878, intent on creating a similar attraction for Scarborough’s North Bay. This funicular project was, however, fraught with problems. The railway was designed to link the new Promenade Pier (which opened in 1869) to the top of the North Cliff, but its opening in August, 1878, was thwarted when a carriage broke loose. This was followed by numerous accidents and technical failures, and eventually a land slip in 1887, which led to the permanent closure of the route. Eighteen years later, the nearby Promenade Pier also closed, after being destroyed by a storm in 1905.

North Bay Pier

Above: The ill-fated North Bay Promenade Pier during the late 1800s (source)

However, it was not all doom and gloom for Scarborough’s funicular railways. The Central Tramway, sandwiched between the Grand Hotel and what is now the Olympia Amusements site, began taking passengers from August 1881.

Cliff Lift

The Medway Safety Lift Company opened the St. Nicholas Cliff Lift on August 8 1929, linking Scarborough’s Grand Hotel with the town’s subterranean aquarium, by then known as Gala Land.

Cliff Lift

Above: The lift enabled passengers to travel between Gala Land and the Grand Hotel (source)

Initially the lift did not have a bottom station, and passengers simply boarded carriages directly from the pavement.

Cliff Lift

Above: The St. Nicholas Cliff Lift in the 1970s (source)

This lift closed in 2007, as the council could not afford the necessary upkeep costs to meet health and safety standards, and the station has since been developed into a cafe.

Aquarium Top Cafe

Above: The old cliff lift station in 2014 (source)

The North Cliff Lift, situated at Peasholm Gap, opened only a year after the St. Nicholas Cliff Lift, and was part of the Scarborough Corporation’s development of the area, which included the opening of the Corner Cafe only a few years previously, and the North Bay Bathing Pool (originally opened as a boating pool in 1935) in 1937.

Corner Cafe and North Bay Cliff Lift

Above: The North Cliff Lift during the early years of operation (source)

This lift ran until 1996, after which it was eventually dismantled and the carriages placed in storage.

stats

Above: Comparison chart for the different routes

Have you ever used one of Scarborough’s funiculars?

Sources

Scarborough Funiculars

Scarborough Tramways history

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2 thoughts on “Funicular Favourites: Scarborough’s Five Cliff Lift Routes

  1. I worked on the Spa lift in the summer of 1998. It opened late that summer because of essential work that had been done to the electrical system. Despite this leading to a couple of event-free months, a crash early in September 1998 meant that my summer’s work ended a week early. (I was lucky enough to be off that night!)

    Working on the evening shift was quite good. You had a late afternoon surge as people left the beach and the Spa for their hotels, another as they came back down for the show at the Spa, and then a couple of hours later when they returned. You saw some people again and again! In the lulls between the busy spells there was always the chance to have a bit of a read, and the council paid well compared to some of the private businesses in the town so it was an ideal addition to student income!

    • Thanks for sharing your memories Ben, and for providing the additional info – it’s really good to hear about what it was like to work on these attractions, and glad to hear that you were well paid!

      Best wishes,

      Sarah (Stories From Scarborough)

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