East Hill Lift

From Historical Hastings
The lift in 1959

The East Hill Lift is a funicular railway providing passenger transport between a Station just to the east of the East Well in Rock-a-Nore Road and the top of the East Hill. Constructed during 1901, the lift was originally water-powered by means of a water-balance mechanism, being driven by a pump at the nearby Dust Destructer waste disposal site, pumping water into twin tanks located in the castellated towers at the top of the lift from where the cars tanks could be filled[1]. There were two tracks in use, across a length of almost 270 feet, with a vertical climb of around 150 feet and a gradient of 1 in 1.66[2]


Construction of the lift started on the 1st of March, 1901; the work at this point consisting mainly of the removal of fences and the diversion of the footpath leading to the summit of the hill. Around this time, the steps leading from Tackleway up to the summit were also constructed[3].

Human Remains Find

As the cliff face was excavated, a skull was found (although this was shattered due to the workman putting his pick-axe through it). A watch-house was constructed to accommodate a night watchman and some twenty men were set to work trimming back the cliff face[3]. In the second week of excavations, a fragment of wall was uncovered together with a trench running parallel to the wall with numerous bones within; the trench being around six foot deep. The Borough Surveyor hoped to find a complete skull that might assist with dating these burials. It was planned that as soon as the sites for both upper and lower stations had been cleared, work would commence in cutting the incline for the track and laying the track. The safety of workers was to be assured by ensuring that any workers employed on the cliff face were supported by means of slings[4].

By November of 1901, the work of cutting away the cliff to form the incline was almost complete and the spoil removed was disposed of in the form of two large heaps of sand stored near the Harbour, which was ideal for construction work and many local builders were only too happy to assist in the clearing of the same[5].

Decision as to Power-source

There were two alternative methods of power suggested during the early construction and design; electrical power (either by means of a generator which could be installed in the Dust Destructer, or connection to the town's Electricity Generation and distribution system) or water-balance with a pump installed at the Dust Destructer, the cars running on two tracks bedded down on a concrete base[4]. In the event, power was originally provided by pumped water[2].

1902 Rumour of Condemnation

A rumour that the mechanism of the lift had been condemned circulated widely in the town during early-mid 1902 following the refusal of the Board of Trade's inspection - it not being in their remit - with the Observer having to print a denouncement of this rumour on the 21st of June[6].

Lift Stations

Close up of car at Top Station c1972

By December of 1901, the response to tenders for the construction of the two lift stations had been received and the work contracted out to Mr. W. F. Ditch of 2 Hallaway Villas in the town for the sum of £655[7].

Top Station

The top station as planned was to resemble a castle in style with a castellated roof-line, faced in blue stone and feature a waiting room measuring some 18 feet across, a refreshment room and public conveniences with both a gas main and water main connection[4].

Lower Station

The lower station of the lift was completed by John Parker in 1902.[8]

Description of Original Mechanism

On the 11th of February 1903, a conference of engineers assembled in the town. Among the topics on discussion were the Brede Waterworks and a description of the mechanism behind the Water-balance system utilised on the lift together with safety measures installed[9] An excerpt of the report is below:-

...each car, of which there are two is capable of carrying twenty passengers, or a weight equal to 2,240 lbs., and the water tank under each car is of sufficient capacity to work the Lift when the up-car is full and the down-car is empty and to be capable of performing the journey of 267 feet at an inclination of 1 in 1½ in 1½ minutes. There are two strong brakes provided, of the post type, consisting of mild steel posts and levers with hard wood brake blocks. The brake is kept on by a weighted lever, except when the attendant removes it by his hand lever to allow the car to start; when once taken off the brake will remain in this position without being held by the attendant, until the time comes for him to again apply the brake to stop the car. This brake is also actuated by a trigger arrangement fixed on the track a short distance below the upper station; a cam attached to the up-going car, when reaching a point about seven or eight feet from the top of the track, strikes this trigger, and automatically throws on the brakes. The second brake is released by a foot motion, and the first brake by a wheel attached to a capstan head. In connection with the brake is a very sensitive safety governor, which is set to a speed equivalent to traversing the distance of 267 feet in 1½ minutes; should this speed be increased, the governor immediately comes into operation, and automatically applies the brakes and brings the cars to a standstill. The construction of the Lift, although not involving a very large outlay - the total cost being under £6,000 - involved considerable niceties in the matter of engineering. It was, of course, necessary that the proper inclination should be obtained to get the proper pitch of the cross-over drums and the arrangement generally of the machinery...

There was some difficulty in getting the machinery to operate correctly, it being reported that during late July 1902, the flanges of the wheels attached to the cars requiring modification, however this was not anticipated to put the opening date back by more than a few days[10].


The lift was formally opened on the 9th of August, 1902 with six hundred passengers being carried. There would possibly have been up to 1,000 people carried, but the mechanism suffered an unfortunate breakdown leaving many would-be patrons still queueing[11]. There was not much in the way of ceremony reported regarding the opening, possibly due to the day coinciding with Coronation Day.


On the 22nd of September 1902, an accident occurred at about 5 PM when the descending car with thirteen passengers and half a tank of water was not braked sufficiently by the operator in the top station, nor correctly counter-balanced by the ascending car (which was empty at the time). The descending car was approximately 20 yards (18M) from the bottom station, braking efforts failed causing the car to come into collision with the lower station. Nine of the twelve passengers suffered cuts and bruises from broken glazing caused by the crash and the lift was taken out of service until early 1903 whilst an investigation took place. The West Hill Lift company was quick to issue a statement that since opening in 1891, they had suffered no accidents whilst transporting some two and a half million people[12]. Compensation of £231 15s. 6d. was paid to the injured parties in respect of their costs[13].

Cause of Accident

Whilst the accident was at first thought to be due to a braking insufficiency, further investigation with the manufacturer of the mechanism revealed that the cause was due to operator error. Although there was a telephone for communication between the top and bottom stations, it had not been used on the occasion of the crash and insufficient ballast had been added to the ascending car by the operator at the lower station. Notwithstanding this, it was reported at a committee meeting on the 16th of January 1903, a request had been made to the manufacturer, Easton & Co. Ltd. to install additional braking mechanisms capable of stopping any further events of the kind. This was estimated to cost £152 for the installation of an additional post brake, extra tappet gears and a longer shaft for the existing brake drum. An indemnity insurance was also taken out providing £1,500 in respect of any claims during a year. The re-opening of the lift would not take place until the remedial works had been carried out[13].

2022/23 Maintenance to Cars

East Hill Lift b.jpg
East Hill Lift.jpg

The cars are not original, having been replaced in around 1975; at the same time the lift was converted to electric operation. On the 20th of March 2023, both carriages were craned out to be taken to Rotherham for repairs; the track also undergoing maintenance. Coincidentally, the West Hill Lift's cars were also undergoing maintenance and repairs away from the railway - this being believed by Project manager Kevin Boorman to be the first time since the lifts opened that both lifts had their cars removed at the same time[14]. The lift reopened on the 23rd of October 2023 after a closure lasting 363 days; the cars having been returned to the metal carriages on the 5th of September[15].


References & Notes