Folkestone’s Leas Lifts
The Folkestone cliff lift is a water balanced funicular opened in 1885, and remarkably remains substantially intact as built.
It was more successful than any other, so much so that following the opening of the Victoria Pier in 1888 a second lift - the 'step car' lift - was built alongside, and then a third and fourth further along the Leas Cliff.
The original lift is still in full working order and is in daily operation during the summer months. It was the third such hydraulic lift in the world, now listed as being of historic importance, but the first constructed by Waygood-Otis, pioneers of ‘ascending machines’ who went on to build the first escalator fifteen years later. Amazingly, it is estimated that it alone has already carried about 50,000,000 passengers, which is not only a testament to its original quality but also makes the carriages possibly the most used ever built – where else could you sit where several million have sat before you, overlooking the English Channel with a panorama of the busiest shipping lanes in the world and the French coast as a backdrop on clear days?
The mode of operation is simple: there are two cars connected by a rope over a wheel at the top; the brake is released, the top car’s tank is filled with sufficient water to make it heavier than the bottom car; the heavier car descends pulling the other car up the other track. When the heavier car reaches the bottom, the water is released into the bottom reservoir, and is pumped back to the top reservoir ready for re-use.
Originally water was taken from the Folkestone Water Company and drained off after use through the shingle beach, but with the unexpected success of operations the town was being starved of water at busy times, typically during hot weather. When the second lift was built in 1890, massive tanks were installed, said to be 80,000 gallons at the bottom and 100,000 at the top, enough for 200 trips at 500 gallons (c2½ tons) a time, with a pumping engine, still in use, to recycle the water which is now obtained from a spring in the cliff face.
The lifts, originally privately owned, were taken over by the local council in 1967, but due to financial constraints the last remaining one ceased operations as it was about to enter its 125th year.
The council surrendered its lease to the freeholder, the Folkestone Estate, in 2009; the Estate subsequently refurbished the original lift and its integral infrastructure, and let it to The Leas Lift CIC which had been operating it throughout the year, daily in the summer. Details are available on its website - click here. However, the removal of the formerly free on-street parking adjacent to its upper and lower stations in September 2012 has affected its financial viability, since when the upper station has carried a banner stating that operations have ceased for the time being.
Rather more ambitious plans for its restoration, including a Park & Ride scheme, were prepared at the time the council surrendered its lease, but despite apparent initial enthusiasm the council decided not to let it procede. Click here to see the brochure that was prepared at the time.
More recently, remarkable progress has been made on restoring the one remaining 'step car' from the adjacent 1890 lift. Click here for details. This car is for the time being in the rear garage courtyard at The Grand.
Short trailer of Lift DVD
DVD £7.99 at the reception at The Grand
Folkestone Herald 1st December 2011
Kentish Express 31st March 2011
Herald 31 March 2011-Step Car
This is Kent 24 March 2011
Kentish Express 24th March 2011
Hawkinge Gazette & Channel Coast News 21 March 2011