The East Hill, once the site of the an Iron Age fort and centuries later WWII gun emplacements, is today a spot for picnics, kite-flying and relaxation. Since 1902 the East Hill Lift has given access to some of the most glorious views and walks in the country. Hastings Council first discussed the construction of a lift to the East Hill in 1892. Three companies proposed schemes, one being the West Hill Lift Company, who had already opened the George Street lift in 1891. Although the local press were in favour of the lift, the public had yet to be convinced. Years of council behind-the-scenes wrangling ensued and many public objections were raised to its installation; from potential trespass on the property of those who lived nearby to the dangers posed to the elderly and infirm, who might be swept to their deaths by the strong, cliff-top breezes. After six years of covert dealings and official silence, in the space of one week the matter was resolved. The construction went ahead in 1901: the anticipated cost of the project was £5100; the final figure was £6000. The designer was the Borough Engineer, Mr P. H. Palmer. Labour costs were minimal, as the work was carried out by local unemployed men. The lift’s top station was designed to look like a castle, to echo the appearance of the ruins of Hastings Castle on the West Hill. This edifice concealed the water tanks that formerly powered what is the steepest funicular railway in the country. The original gradient was anticipated to be 1:1:66, but faults in the rock complicated construction and it was necessary to dig deeper, until a solid enough surface for the track was found. So instead of rising the planned 148 feet over a track length of 285 feet, the incline became 265 feet long, rising about 160 feet, resulting in 1:1.28, that is 38 degrees. The lift was declared open on 10 August 1902.
A frequently asked question is, “Has the lift ever...?” On 22 September 1902 the descending lift crashed into the buffers; some of the 13 passengers were cut and bruised. There was a similar incident over a century later, in June 2007: it occurred a few days after engineering works, to repair damage caused by a lighting strike on the lift. Just hours after re-opening a control panel failed and the carriages and stations were badly damaged; no injuries were sustained. The lift was closed and a planned refurbishment was brought forward. After a major over-haul and re-fit the lift was re-opened on 27 March 2010 by Hastings Mayor Maureen Charlesworth. The day’s celebrations were given an appropriate Edwardian theme and 5000 passengers used the lift, some for the very first time. On Sunday (14th)as part of Heritage Open Days the lift will be free to use throughout that day courtesy of Hastings Borough Council. Operating times 10.00hrs to 17.00hrs. Research source: “Britain’s Steepest Funicular Railway” by Martin Osbourne 2001. Images David Padgham. Further Reading: “The Lifts at Hastings” available from both lift stations, price £1.00