WHEN it opened in August 1912, Southend residents and daytrippers breathed a sigh of relief. Now the Cliff Lift had arrived, no longer would they face a clambering climb up the slopes of the cliffs in their Edwardian finery.

Known back then as “the big lift from the seashore” which would be “interesting to invalids”, the lift had come about following daily complaints from tourists and local Southend residents and workers to the council, pleading for an easier way up the hill from the Western Esplanade.

There had been an earlier lift installed by American engineer Jesse W. Reno.

However, this soon proved to be noisy and unreliable due its exposed location. Something more modern was needed.

And so in May of 1912, council bosses sprang into action. They organised for the old Reno elevator to be dismantled and handed the land over to builders to create a new electrical lift. The project was put into the capable hands of ‘Messrs R Waygood and Co Ltd, of Great Dover Street, East London’ who were well known lift specialists of the time.

What the company ended up building in Southend was ahead of its time.

It was a pioneering moving walkway and a forerunner of today’s escalator.

The Southend Standard newspaper lauded the modern techniques of the new gear on the lift, which was identical to ones recently used for new cliff lifts at other heaving seaside resorts of Folkstone, Hastings, Margate, Bournemouth and Broadstairs.

No expense was spared. All the parts of the lift had been machine cut to ensure the smooth running of the machine and the gear was also fitted with duplicate magnetic brakes where it was normal at the time to just have one.

Safety of passengers had been seen as a top priority. “The lift is secured by two steel ropes, each capable of sustaining the car by itself with perfect safety,” explained the Standard.

“Run on the trolley system the lift is fitted with further special safety arrangement. Should either or both ropes break the car automatically grips a centre steel rail from beneath and cannot slip”

This first electrical Cliff Lift travelled at the speed of 300ft a minute (about 3.3 miles an hour) and was built to hold 30 people each way. Inside it was originally furnished with exquisite panelled oak and fitted with two long seats. The cost of a ride in 1912 was 1d (one penny) for each person and 4d for a bath chair lift.

Today it’s 50p. Since opening in 1912 the lift has been modernised three times – in 1930, 1959 and 1990. Each modernisation has resulted in the replacement of the car.

Today it’s back open to the public and volunteers are being sought to help run it. Full training will be given.

Email vic@southend.gov.uk or call 01702 215620 if you are interested.