One of my latest fascinations is cliff lists – or just funiculars in general really. I blame Tim Dunn for covering the Saltburn Cliff Lift on his excellent Yesterday programme The Architecture the Railways Built. We took a November trip down Southend for a bit of sea air and a chance to see one of the new trains on the pier there (more on that in a separate post soon), and somehow it had completely passed me by that Southend had a cliff lift.
Now this might have been because I’d been looking online at list of funiculars in the UK and there is a bit of a dispute as to whether or not the Southend Cliff List is a funicular or not. Let me explain.
A funicular or not?
The definition fo funicular is as follows:
- (of a railway, especially one on a mountainside) operating by cable with ascending and descending cars counterbalanced.
- relating to a rope or its tension.
The problem, in Southend’s case, being that there is only once car. However the sign at the bottom of the cliff lift says the following:
The Clift Lift is a counter-balanced funicular railway – a funicular, also known as an inclined plane or cliff railway, is a cable railway in which a cable moves a carriage up and down a steep slope.
I’m guessing that at least makes it a discussion point! As far as 2 year old Tube Stop Baby was concerned it was a “baby train”, and one that she was very excited to be able to press the button to operate.
History of the Southend Cliff Lift
The Southend Cliff Lift originally opened on August Bank Holiday Monday in 1912, and goes between the Western Esplanade and Clifftown Parade. It only covers a distance of 40m (albeit with a 43% gradient), but at just 50p a ride you can’t complain.
Originally the site hosted an innovative moving walkway that as installed in 1901, but being open to the seaside elements it proved to be unreliable and was then replaced by the funicular instead. In its lifetime the cliff lift has been closed on three occasions to allow for major restorations – 1930, 1059 and 1990. In 2003 a malfunction with the counterweight meant that it was out of action for 7 years in total. Major corrosion was found in the structure, and around this time the council also received Heritage Lottery Fund funding to restore the neighbouring Cliff Gardens including the lift stations. The lift wasn’t re-opened until 2010 at which point it had not only refurbished stations, but all a new carriage, tracks. winding gear and electrical and control systems. I fear that if the Lottery funding hadn’t been there the lift might not be there today.
Visiting the Cliff Lift
Covid obviously closed the lift for a period, but when we went in November 2021 it was running with volunteers manning the lift and charging 50p a ride. The aim to open from 10am to 3pm in winter and until 6pm in summer, but this is dependent on volunteers being available. I was told the most accurate way to keep track of it they’re open or not is via their Facebook page. Technically the lift is part of Southend Museums Service.
There’s obviously plenty to see at the lower end of the lift with the Pier and its railway just a short walk away. At the top station we took a short walk along to the stunningly beautiful Prittwell Gardens and also spent a while looking at the statue of Queen Victoria pointing out to sea with her disproportionally long right forearm. Go and have a look and you’ll see what I mean!