Cliff lift has been used by millions

Words and photos by Dave Barry 

Nearly half a million tickets were sold for the cliff lift near the town hall in Scarborough last year.

But many people had free trips so the number of rides probably passed the half-million mark.

Since the tram was built in 1881, an estimated 75 million tickets have been sold, which puts the average at over half a million a year.

The intriguing statistics emerged during a behind-the-scenes open day conducted by operations manager Drew Martin.

It was the second time that the tram was involved in the 24th annual heritage open days.

Drew said it had been built in 1881 by a wealthy banker, marine biologist and philanthropist John Woodall, for his personal use.

It took 100 men six months to build and cost £10,000.

Powered by electricity, the two trams are counter balanced against each other as they ascend and descend between the upper station in St Nicholas Street and the lower station on the seafront.

It is the second oldest funicular railway in the country; the oldest is at the Spa.

However, the company which runs it, Central Tramways, is the oldest in the country, according to A 1975 centenary: The Scarborough Cliff Lifts, by HV Jinks and JH Price.

The Purshouse family bought the majority shares retaining the original company in the mid-1960s.

The Spa lift is owned by the borough council and the original company no longer exists.

It is unusual for companies to survive in their original form for so long, and in particular transport companies as they are now often in the ownership of local councils, charities or other governing bodies - or closed down.

Drew showed visitors an original Rowntrees poster from the 1920s which had been covered over for many decades and recently revealed.

The tour included the machine room, full of tools, chains, instruments, etc. On a table lay a hefty old tome used to record the minutes of the committee which ran the tram. The first entry was written in 1881, the year the tramway opened.