Cleaning a carriage before WW1Cleaning a carriage before WW1
Cleaning a carriage before WW1

Hastings history: How the West Hill Lift was constructed more than 100 years ago

Local historian Steve Peak takes a look at the historic 133-year old West Hill Lift, which still has its original carriages.

He writes: Work started on the Lift in January 1889, constructing a 500 feet long two-lane track from George Street, at an inclination of 1 in 3. Part of it went through a natural cave, but a 363 feet long cylindrical tunnel also had to be built. A total of 1.75 million bricks were used.

There were many difficulties, however, and it took 20 months longer than planned to complete, with official opening not taking place until 25 March 1891. The designers were Messrs Plowman, of Hastings, and the contractors were Messrs Holme and King, of Liverpool and London who later constructed the Snowdon Mountain Railway.

The construction problems greatly increased the cost, escalating from the planned £10,000 to more than £16,000. But the Lift was not profitable even when running, and in early 1894 the Hastings Lift Company went bust, owing £7,000, and the Lift was sold at auction for £5,575. The new owners were the Hastings Passenger Lift Company, which ran the Lift until 1947, when it was bought by Hastings Council for £4,500.

The first power was supplied by a 40hp Crossley gas engine, geared to steel ropes attached to the carriages. Because of public opposition, one of the main extra construction costs was having to conceal the Crossley from gaze at the top of the Lift in an underground engine room. The Crossley was replaced with a Tangye diesel engine in 1924, which had a distinctive loud chuffing noise. Hastings Council replaced the Tangye with an electric motor in 1971.

Between 2003 and 2005 the gearbox was overhauled and the track and sleepers were replaced.

The Lift is what is known as a funicular railway. These are laid on steep slopes, with the two carriages permanently connected to the opposite ends of the same cable, so as one goes down the other comes up. The East Hill Lift is also funicular, opening in 1903. An application for it was put before Hastings Council by the original Hastings Lift Company whilst construction of the West Hill lift was in progress. When the company went into liquidation, the Council decided to undertake the scheme itself. The East Hill Lift has been closed for several months because of its crumbling sandstone rock-face.

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