Cliff Lift
The site of the cliff lift was originally occupied by moving public walkway which opened in 1901. It was built by the American engineer Jesse Reno. This was called the “Reno’s Electric Stairway.” The contraption at Southend was the forerunner to the modern day escalators, which was basically wooden slatted steps attached to a looped chain, driven by a diesel engine. The mechanism was fitted with little safety measures, surprisingly, no accidents were ever reported. The cost was one penny to be transported up the cliffs. The biggest draw-back at the time, was the fact there was no cover from the elements, it also was noisy and uncomfortable. A pitched roof was added later, although, the rickety ride could not be overcome, the fact that you had to stand the length of its journey was proving unpopular too, this coupled with reliability issues and regular stops for maintenance, it was decided a replacement was needed.

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With a major fault occurring on the cliff lift in 2004 the council decided to carry out a major restoration on the 92 year old railway. After applying to the National Lottery in 2004, Southend Council was awarded £1.5 million of Heritage Lottery Funding for the restoration of the cliff lift and cliff gardens. Work on restoring the stations commenced in October 2005, the restoration of the two stations was progressing well until a major setback hit the project when the European Union decided to change the designation of the rack railway, re-listing it as a cable car. This change saw much stricter legalisation for operating a cable car. This caused long delays to the restoration program as new safety measures to the operating and breaking systems needed to be specially designed and built, these also had to be in keeping with the style of the listed cliff lift. During this delay it was decided to remove further sections of the cliff lift for inspection. After removal of certain sections of the structure, it was found that parts inside the inner structure had corroded and would need to be replaced. The restoration of the two stations was completed in April 2006 at a cost of £133,000. This saw the flat roofs replaced by Victorian style pitched roofs and the lower stations ramp reduced in angle to make it more disabled/buggy friendly. The money to restore the cliff lift did not allow for any work on the mechanical side of the restoration or for any works relating to the change of design for safety purposes. In 2007 Southend Borough Council allocated £300,000 from its Capital Programmes fund to fund the works needed to bring the cliff lift back into operation. In 2008 work started on the cliff lift, this saw scaffolding erected and heavy duty tarpaulins wrapped around it. In 2009 it was the turn of the car to begin restoration, it was carefully lifted from the track and placed on to a specially adapted low-loader so that the load remained balanced and did not put any stress on the antique car. The rebuilt car returned to Southend on Monday 22nd March 2010 the body of the car was completely rebuilt to comply with all current disability laws, the cost of restoring the car totalled £650,000. It was returned to the rails the following day. The body was new whilst the chassis was the original one refurbished.
2006 restored car back on its track
Ever since the lift had opened only basic stations were provided at the top and at the bottom of the cliffs. During a major refurbishment program in 1959, it was decided to construct proper stations with covered waiting facilities, including seating and lift call buttons. During the refurbishment the car was sent away and a new one was constructed. Further work during the 1959 refurbishment included replacing the old resistance control gear with one built specially by Ward Lennard. The power to the counter balanced carriage was supplied by a 25hp 160 volt DC motor which itself was supplied by an A.C three phase and single phase generator to the main drive which is released electro-magnetically. The cliff lift remained popular and well used for the next thirty years, then in 1990 with the cliff lift reaching 78 years old, another in-depth restoration began. This saw the car again being rebuilt (for the third time) with the most notable change being to the layout of the doors. The original car was built in 1912, with the first replacement in 1930, and a second replacement in 1959, all these cars had entry/exit doors to the front & rear, the 1990 replacement kept the rear door but had the front door moved to the right hand side, this reduced capacity to 18, but, allowed modifications to the seafront station, apart form these mods, externally the car is more or less aesthetically the same as the original car from 1912.
The cliff lift operated well until 1st August 2016 when it broke down a few feet from the upper station, the car operator and three passengers had a 40 minute wait whilst fire fighters rigged a triple extension ladder and safety equipment to rescue the passengers bringing them out one at a time. Afterwards, a team from the Council carefully retrieved the car back to the station, then set about fixing the fault. The cliff lift went back into service but during 2017 it again developed a fault which knocked it out of service for most of the year. With the fault traced and the repairs carried out, it was announced that it would be manned entirely by a team of volunteers. Lift operators are responsible for closing and opening the doors along with operating the car at either station, the decrease in speed as it approaches either station and the final stop is fully automated. Safety systems include, emergency breaking should there be a power failure and a safety device attached to the doors, should they be opened whilst in motion. The volunteers collect fares and issue tickets. The summer of 2018 will be remembered for its long hot summer, on Monday 2nd July 2018 the unthinkable happened…The dry grass alongside the historic cliff lift caught fire, thankfully the fire brigade were very quickly on scene, and were able to douse the flames before it had chance to take hold.
The Cliff Lift was re-opened by the Mayor of Southend on Tuesday 25th May 2010. The first major use of the restored cliff lift was the Southend Air Festival just five days later. In 2011, the council announced it was looking at volunteers or a charity to help run the cliff lift so that it could run longer throughout the year. The volunteers would be given full training to operate the historic structure, whilst the council would retain maintenance, if a registered charity took charge they would have been able to engage in a profit share scheme. The cliff lift continued to be operated by the Council throughout the 2011 season and into 2012, on Thursday 26th May 2012 a fault developed with the lift resulting in it being out of action for the weekend during the towns last airshow. The cliff lift remained out of action for three weeks, as it is of unique design, parts cannot be picked off the shelf, but need to be specially ordered, the cost of having parts built and stored on a shelf for many years is not cost effective, some parts might never break, so having them made to order is more cost effective in the long term.
The current cliff lift was built by Waygood & Company in 1912. (R. Waygood & Co Ltd would later become Waygood Otis Ltd, which in turn became Otis Elevators Co Ltd). The lift opened on August bank Holiday 1912, the area by this time was owned by the Corporation (Council). The lift is a single track twin gauge counterweight rack railway. The car runs on an elevated 4 foot 6 inch gauge track with the counterweight running on a 1 foot 9 inch gauge track below the car track. The length of the railway is 130 feet (40 meters) climbing from the seafront to cliff top rising 57 feet (17 meters) with a gradient of 43.4% (1 in 2.28). The car could carry 30 people at a time, the traction was supplied by electric motors. The first major refurbishment of the railway came in 1930, this saw the car replaced, whilst in keeping with the original design the new car had room for 30 people, a general refurbishment of the whole railway was also undertaken. At the same time as the refurbishment a fairy windmill was built alongside the upper station, the windmill was part of Never Never Land, and would be illuminated at night.
Postcard view of the Electric Stairway
Winters Day in 2016
2017 The restored Cliff Lift
2010 The Mayor Opening the Restored Cliff Lift
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