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Scarborough South Cliff Railway

A Grade II Listed Building in Ramshill, North Yorkshire

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Latitude: 54.2742 / 54°16'27"N

Longitude: -0.3972 / 0°23'49"W

OS Eastings: 504467

OS Northings: 487690

OS Grid: TA044876

Mapcode National: GBR TMN0.TL

Mapcode Global: WHGC0.WT1P

Entry Name: Scarborough South Cliff Railway

Listing Date: 29 August 2013

Grade: II

Source: Historic England

Source ID: 1400166

Location: Scarborough, North Yorkshire, YO11

County: North Yorkshire

District: Scarborough

Electoral Ward/Division: Ramshill

Parish: Non Civil Parish

Built-Up Area: Scarborough

Traditional County: Yorkshire

Lieutenancy Area (Ceremonial County): North Yorkshire

Church of England Parish: Scarborough St Martin

Church of England Diocese: York

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Funicular cliff railway, 1875, thought to be the earliest such railway in England designed for passengers.


Funicular cliff railway, 1875, designed by William Lucas, built by Crossley Brothers.

GENERAL FORM: Twin tracks of standard gauge, forming a counter-balanced funicular railway incline 86m long on a 33 degree gradient. The two identical railcars are utilitarian in form, being mounted on triangular sub-frames to accommodate the slope. At the bottom of the incline, on the seafront promenade, there is a station building with ticket office; at the top there is a simple operator's booth.

INCLINE: The lower part of the incline is embanked on the slope of the hillside with rockfaced ashlar stonework, incorporating an arched tunnel to accommodate a former footpath underneath the railway lines.

BOTTOM STATION: The lower station building is a tall, hipped roof structure with ornamented iron columns, the walls being glazed screens with timber glazing bars. Facing the sea, there is a lower, lean-to extension which is also highly glazed. Although the main section of the station building is considered to be original, its roof is of modern grey concrete tiles and the decorative eaves valencing is also considered to be the result of modern refurbishment (it is not shown in an early C20 photograph).

TOP STATION: This consists of a simple, utilitarian operator's booth controlling the entrance gates at the head of the incline which is considered to be C20 in date.


In 1873 the proprietor of the Prince of Wales Hotel and other local businessmen formed the Scarborough South Cliff Tramway Company Limited, raising £6750 to build and open the country's first passenger cliff railway. This was designed by William Lucas, a London based consulting engineer, and built by Crossley Brothers of Manchester, opening on 6th July 1875, principally used by visitors travelling between the cliff top hotels and the attractions of the seafront promenade, particularly those of the Scarborough Spa. The fare was initially 1d for a single ticket, with 1400 people being carried on the first day, with annual passenger numbers reaching 250,000 by 1888. As originally designed, the railway's two counter-balanced cars were operated using the weight of seawater pumped up the incline into the upper car's tank (which was housed within the triangular sub-frame beneath the passenger accommodation), recycled from emptying the tank of the car at the bottom of the incline. Originally the water was pumped by two Crossley gas engines, however these were replaced by steam pumping in 1879. The cliff railway attracted national attention and prompted the construction of further cliff railways of similar design - typically with horizontal cars rather than stepped or inclined cars as more typical in Europe. In 1934 the railway was refurbished by Hudswell Clarke and Company of Leeds, converting it to electrical winding and also making other alterations including the replacement of the original passenger cars. The cliff railway was a profitable operation with a shop being added to the lower station in 1954 (probably accommodated in the lean-to extension) with the whole enterprise paying up to 25% in annual dividends. The railway was taken over by Scarborough Borough Council in 1993 which carried out a further refurbishment, installing an automatic control system.

Funicular railways (rope hauled, typically counter-balanced on an incline) were first generally developed for industrial use, although the earliest documented example (the circa 1500 incline into Hohensalzburg Castle in Austria) was for transporting supplies. Lyon, France is credited with having had the earliest passenger funicular railway in the world which opened in 1862 but no longer survives. Early surviving funiculars include that in Budapest (opened in 1870 but restored in the 1980s after destruction by bombing in the Second World War) and an underground example in Istanbul, Turkey (opened in January 1875 and still in use). In England there are about 15 surviving cliff railways of which the examples at Saltburn (1884, still operated with water), Lynton/Lynmouth (1890, also water operated), and Bridgnorth (1892, converted to electric winding) are listed, Saltburn at grade II*.

Reasons for Listing

The Scarborough South Cliff Railway of 1875 is listed at Grade II for the following principal reasons:
* Technological interest: as the first funicular railway designed for passengers in England, setting the pattern for over a dozen funiculars constructed at resorts around the country in subsequent years. The use of horizontal passenger cars set on triangular sub-frames to accommodate the incline being seen as innovative;
* Cultural history: as an illustration that Scarborough, being one of the first seaside resorts to develop in the C18, remained a pioneering resort into the C19;
* Group value: the funicular lies within the Grade II registered South Cliff Gardens and provides a major access point to The Spa (Grade II* listed) and other seafront facilities such as the Grade II listed beach huts.

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