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The Cliff Lift

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Saltburn's Funicular Cliff Lift

Saltburn-by-the-Sea is home to the oldest operating funicular railway in the UK. In 55 seconds passengers descend 120 ft to the pier at sea-level.

The Cliff Hoist

The current Cliff Lift was by no means the original method of transporting people to the pier 120 ft below the town. A rather more terrifying Cliff Hoist was used to drop passengers 120 ft to the sea-front.

The Original Cliff Hoist

The Original Cliff Hoist. In the distance a ship can be seen docking at the piers steamer landing bay.

Design & Construction

Designed by John Anderson for the Saltburn-by-the-Sea Pier Company and constructed from wood, it was designed to lower up to 20 passengers in a wooden cage by rope to the sea-front.

Construction after work on the pier itself was completed. The Cliff Hoist was completed approximately 14 months after the pier opened to the public, opening on 1st July 1870.

The novelty of the Cliff Hoist, where passengers had to navigate a thin wooden walkway to the cliff hoists wooden lift, from whence they would then be lowered to the sea-front would of be an unique experience.

Decommissioning & Demolition

Saltburn Cliff Hoist as seen from Saltburn Beach

Saltburn Cliff Hoist as seen from Saltburn Beach

The Cliff Hoist operated, surprisingly without incident, for nearly 14 years. When the Middlesbrough Estates began the process of acquiring the Saltburn Improvement Company in 1881, following the death of the town’s founder Henry Pease, it commissioned an assessment of its newly acquired property.

In 1883 the independent engineers commissioned to inspect the Cliff Hoist concluded that numerous timbers were rotten and that it was inherently unsafe. The decision was made to demolish and replace it with a more long lasting solution and in December of that year it was torn down.

The Cliff Lift

It was the third funicular railway to be built in the UK, the first being the South Cliff Lift (converted to steam in 1879) and the second the ill-fated Queens Parade Clift Lift (closed in 1887). It is the last in use.


In 1873 the first funicular railway was opened in Scarborough. The South Clift Lift was designed by a Mr Lucas, construction was carried out by the Cross Brothers of Manchester but the real innovators were James Tangye & Bros who designed the hydraulic system that enabled the railway to run up and down the 1.75 gradient.

Following their success in Scarborough Tagnye Ltd were commissioned to construct a replacement to the Cliff Hoist based upon their hydraulic design for the South Cliff Lift. The company had recently contracted talented engineer George Croydon Marks to head their “lift department” and he designed and supervised the construction of the Saltburn Cliff Lift.

Saltburn Cliff Lift's Main Winding Wheel

Saltburn Cliff Lift's main winding wheel, retired in 1998 after 114 years of daily service.

Marks designed and constructed a funicular with a height of 120 ft and a track length of 207 ft, creating a 71% incline. Such was the quality of his workmanship that even though an electric water pump was installed in 1924, the main winding wheel and hydraulic system was not replaced until 1998, after 114 years of daily service.


The railway was completed and opened to the public on 28th June 1884. It had taken Marks a little over a year from breaking ground to finishing the work.

Most of the machinery had been supplied by Tangye Ltd, with the 6hp “Otto” gas engines being supplied by Crossley Brothers of Manchester and the pair of 10-12 seater carriages being supplied by the Metropolitan Railway Carriage & Wagon Company Limited of Birmingham.

Marks had taken advantage of a natural spring in the cliff side to supply the 18,500 imperial gallon (81,000 litre) reservoir at the the upper terminus and the 30,000 imperial gallon (135,000 litre) reservoir at the lower station.

A small upper terminus was constructed at the top of the bank, housing the breakman, and a more substantial set of buildings: ticket office, waiting room, engine at the pier head.

So how does it work?

The Breakman's Operating Building at Saltburn Cliff Lift

From this small building the "breakman" controls the operation of the the Cliff Lift

The two 10 person cars are each fitted with a 1,000 imperial gallon (4,500 litre) water tank, they were designed to run on parallel 3 ft 9″ funicular railway tracks, changed to 4ft 2.5″ tracks in the winter of 1921-22 a little over 40 years later.

Water is filled into the tank of the top carriage until its mass exceeds the mass of the empty carriage at the bottom of the incline. The top carriage then descends down the incline counter balanced by the mass of the other carriage.

Part of the Water Pumping Mechanism of Saltburn Cliff Lift

Part of the Water Pumping Mechanism of Saltburn Cliff Lift

Once the journey is complete the water is released and the original the “Otto” gas engine, replaced in 1913 by electric pumps and in 1930 by mains electricity, pump water released from from the bottom station to the the top reservoir to allow the journey to be repeated.

The carriages are further secured by double steel wire ropes, which enables the breakman at the top station to safely control the speed of the descent as the carriages move up and down the incline. The main winding wheel for the rope was only replaced in 1998 following 114 years of continuous service.



  • In 1921 the original Victorian carriages were replaced.
  • In 1955 the carriages were replaced, but without the stained glass windows of the original Victorian carriages.
  • In 1979 new aluminium carriages were introduced, modelled on the original design and re-including stained glass windows.
  • In 1998 the 1979 carriages were refurbished over the winter of 1997.
  • In 2011 the 1979 carriages were fully refurbished over the winter of 2010, with an intercom being added for the 1st time.


  • In 1913 the Crossley “Otto” 6hp gas engine was replaced with an electric pump.
  • In 1930 the electric pump was replaced by mains electricity.
  • In 1998 the main winding wheel was replaced to meet health & safety standards rather than operational needs.
  • In 1998 a new hydraulic system was introduced to replace the original designed by Sir Richard Tangye.


  • In 1921/2 the rail tracks were changed from 3 ft 9″ to 4 ft 2.5″.

Opening Times


7 days a week during the season.


10:00 to 16:00 daily.

Additional Reading

Saltburn Cliff Railway, The Heritage Trail

Saltburn Cliff Lift… Then and Now, Paul Delpanque,

Saltburn Cliff Lift, Redcar & Cleveland Borough Council

Discovering the Cliff Lift – Saltburn’s Inclined Tramway,

Saltburn Inclined Tramway / Cliff Lift,

Saltburn Cliff Lift,