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

Scarborough Spa and the First British Seaside Resort: Part II

This is an article originally published in the Yorkshire Journal (Spring Issue, 2010) by Sarah Harrison. She has kindly given permission for her work to be republished – for Part I of the article please click here.

When the York and North Midland Railway established links with Scarborough in 1845, it became much easier for visitors to reach the town, which, in turn, led to large-scale investment in tourism. However, hotels and entertainment facilities had been increasing steadily since the 1700s, following the discovery of Scarborough’s natural springs in the 1600s.

spa5

Left: In the late 1700s, wealthy visitors whiled away the afternoon at the theatre on Tanner Street, now St Thomas Street, where many famous actors performed. In 1825 a seat in the boxes cost three shillings, in the pit two shillings and in the gallery one shilling. The theatre was demolished in 1929 (via the Yorkshire Journal, Spring Issue, 2010)

In 1867 the Grand Hotel was completed – then one of the largest hotels in the world and one of the first in Europe to be purpose-built. Another first for Scarborough was the cliff tram, built in 1875, to link the South Cliff Esplanade to the Scarborough Spa. There would eventually be five cliff lifts in operation – three on the South side and two near the North Sands. Only two operate today – one by the Scarborough Spa (referred to as the South Cliff lift), and the other near at the side of the Grand Hotel (not to be confused with the one pictured below).

spa1

Above: The Grand Hotel and the Cliff Bridge. The Cliff Tram in the centre of the photo is now closed (via the Yorkshire Journal, Spring Issue, 2010)

Only eighteen years after the official opening of the Scarborough Spa on 8 September 1876 the building was destroyed by fire and had to be rebuilt. By June 1879 the new Grand Hall was opened to the public, with the formal opening ceremony taking place on August 2nd, 1880. So began a great era of music and entertainment – indeed, a range of leading musicians, conductors and performers all performed at Scarborough Spa.

Additions and alterations have been made over the years and a major restoration programme was carried out in the early 1980s to reinstate some of the original features and decorative styles.

Today the Scarborough Spa complex is a Grade II listed building which includes the Spa Theatre, the Grand Hall for concerts, the Ocean Room, the Promenade Lounge, Sun Court (for open air concerts), and various other rooms. It is also home to the Scarborough Spa Orchestra, the last remaining seaside orchestra in Britain. The orchestra gives 10 concerts every week during the summer months, playing from an extensive repertoire of classical and light music.

spa2

Above: Sun Court for open air concerts (via the Yorkshire Journal, Spring Issue, 2010)

Although taking the waters declined in popularity during the 19th century, the Spa’s reputation as a fashionable location for entertainment and relaxation grew in popularity. Also, the chemical composition of the water has altered considerably over the years and so the practice of “Taking the Water” came to an end in the late 1960s.

spa3

Above: Steps leading down to the well (via the Yorkshire Journal, Spring Issue, 2010)

Today the only visible evidence of the Spa water – that made Scarborough the first seaside resort in Britain – is a well set in the wall and the steps leading down to the beach on the north side of the Spa Complex. The strong mineral content of the water has stained the wall’s stones a reddish-brown colour. Likewise, it was this same staining that led to the discovery of the waters close to this site back in 1626.

spa4

Above: The spa well set in the wall (via the Yorkshire Journal, Spring Issue, 2010)

Today, the spa water is no longer recommended for drinking – there is a sign above the well which reads “Not Drinking Water”. The waters may have changed somewhat, but without Mrs. Farrer’s discovery in the seventeenth century, Scarborough would not have developed into the first English (and arguably, in its time, most famous) seaside resort.. Maybe one day the Spa will open again when the water is safe to drink and the well given a new look.

Sources

For a full list of acknowledgements, and to see the article in its original format, please visit the Yorkshire Journal (Spring, 2010). All copyright retained by the author.

Many thanks to Sarah for sharing this article with Stories From Scarborough!