The discovery of the spa waters by Mrs Thomasin Farrer in the early 1600’s had a transformative effect on Scarborough’s fortunes and created a whole new tourist economy.
People flocked to the coastal town at first to try the restorative effects of the spa waters but increasingly to also enjoy the health benefits of sea bathing. Then with the creation of the Spa complex close to the spa wells they began to visit in order to enjoy the variety of entertainments on offer and the Spa quickly grew to be the most popular music hall outside of London.
The opening of the Cliff Bridge in 1827 provided a connection between the large hotels at the centre of the town and the Spa complex. However it was still a steep and difficult walk up and down from the popular South Cliff Esplanade, which also had a number of well used hotels, to the Spa.
The solution to this problem came in 1873 with the formation of the Scarborough South Cliff Tramway Limited who would build the first funicular railway in Britain.
FUN FACTS: Following the success of the South Cliff Lift four further funicular lifts were built, of these the only other one still in operation is the Central Tramway which takes passengers from South Bay sea front to Marine Parade close to the town centre. The St Nicholas Cliff Lift was retired and its carriages converted alongside its top station into a rather unique café.
Designed by an engineer from Great George Street, Westminster the lift mechanism was constructed by the Crossley Brothers of Manchester whilst The Metropolitan Railway Company of Birmingham built the two passenger carriages which would each carry up to 20 customers at a time.
The lift was completed in 1875 at a cost of around £8,000. It prove an immediate hit with 1400 passengers each paying one penny to try the new attraction on its opening day of July 6th that year. Apart from a short hiatus in visitor numbers due to a fire destroying much of the Spa in 1876 the lifts popularity didn’t dwindle and at its peak in the 1940’s it was carrying over a million passengers in a single season.
The lift went through a number of operational changes, when first installed it ran off a hydraulic system but in the 1930’s a major refurbishment saw this replaced in favour of an electric system. The original cars were also replaced with the carriages we still see today though they have since been modified to improve accessibility.
By the time the lift was added South Cliff Gardens were well established and popular with paying visitors who enjoyed the health and social benefits of walking in the gardens. In order to ensure that users retained access to both the north and south sides of the gardens an access tunnel was created beneath the lift. This was later blocked in but investigations undertaken as part of the National Heritage Lottery Fund program of improvements to the gardens have found that it still exists along with the original stairway. Work is underway to recover the tunnel and open access between north and south of the gardens once again just as its Victorian designers intended only with the modern addition of a step free access rout to complement the existing stairs.
FUN FACTS: South Cliff Lift sits on a 1 in 1.75 gradient and the track is 87 meters long.
TOP TIP: Off season the lift runs dependent on weather and demand so if you’re planning a ride as part of your visit to South Cliff Gardens it’s always worth checking availability ahead of visiting to avoid disappointment.