The Waves, 39 Esplanade Road, South Cliff,
Scarborough, North Yorkshire YO11 2AT
Telephone: 01723 373658
The Spa Cliff Lift, Scarborough
The Spa Cliff Lift – Britain’s First Funicular
People often say to me, ‘Kev, which is best, going up in the cliff lift or going down in the cliff lift?’ I smirk imperceptibly then tell them, ‘As with so many things, it depends where you’re starting from.’
What we do know is that the South Cliff Lift was Britain’s first cliff lift. It opened in 1875 having been built by the Scarborough South Cliff Tramway Company Limited to link the South Cliff, Esplanade and popular coastal B&B The Waves to the Spa – which at the time was the most popular music venue outside London (what’s changed?).
There are two lifts – as one travels up, the other travels down. Originally this was achieved by pumping water into a tank in the upper lift and letting gravity work its magic. The water pumps were replaced with an electric winding system in the 1930s. (As I write this I’m sitting in Le Chat Noir creperie in Scarborough and on the wall is a quote from Albert Einstein saying, ‘Gravity can’t be held responsible for people falling in love,’ we can only speculate whether this was the thinking behind the change to the electric winding system.)
The lift was such a success that in the 1945-46 season it carried over one million people. It also inspired the creation of four other lifts in the town although the only other lift still in operation is the town centre lift by the Grand Hotel.
The lift was taken over the Borough Council in 1993 – realising how important it is to both the Spa and hotels and guest houses on the South Cliff – which is important for people who don’t want to walk up and down the cliff paths. Sometimes people find the paths too steep, sometimes their legs are too tired after dancing into the early hours at a wedding do or Northern Soul or Rock ‘n’ Roll event at the Ocean Room. The lift does usually run until shows and events at the Spa have finished – it’s always worth checking the chalk board at the top to see when the last lift runs back. (If you’ve missed the lift, the cliff path the snakes up alongside it is lit at night.)
Back to the question we started with: the common feeling is that the best value to be had from a 70p cliff lift journey is to travel upwards. After a long hard day making sand castles, riding donkeys and eating ice creams, then the lift is an appealing alternative to dragging children, pushchairs, your grandma, and even your donkey (sometimes on holiday it’s hard to say ‘no’ to the children’s requests) up the paths. On the other hand, as you look out of the lift, it is more exciting to see the ground rise towards you as you hurtle downwards, so really, it’s a satisfying experience either way.
Information from ‘A Brief History of the Scarborough Spa Lift’ available for 20p from the pay box (which is at the bottom).