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Rare water-powered lift at risk

An historic seaside lift is facing an uncertain future after the local authority which operates it decided to end its lease. The Leas Lift in Folkestone in Kent is one of only three Victorian cliff lifts still powered simply by water and gravity.

The Victorian Society is extremely concerned that allowing such a lift to fall out of use could signal the end of the line for this Grade-II listed historic structure.

'Experience has shown us that once a building such as this is neglected, even for a short time, it quickly becomes incredibly difficult to bring it back into use,' said Heloise Brown, Conservation Adviser for the Victorian Society. 'Without regular maintenance the cost of renovation goes up and up and becomes harder to justify.'

Shepway District Council says it can no longer afford to run the lift system, as the running costs and maintenance far exceed the income from ticket sales. But without a new operator in place the Leas Lift could close as early as next week.

It has been transporting tourists and locals from the top of the cliff down to beach level for more than 120 years. The water-balance mechanism is sufficiently rare that the building has been listed at Grade II. This means Shepway District Council has a responsibility to guard against neglect, and if necessary ensure that the Radnor estate, which owns the lift, carries out repairs.

How does the lift work?

Once the lower car is loaded the toll collector contacts the brakesman at the top. To set the carriages in motion the brake is released and the cistern values opened allowing enough water into the tank of the upper car until its weight exceeds that of the lower car and its passengers. On arrival at the bottom the toll collector releases the water out of the tank. The Leas Lift was built for the Folkestone Lift Company by Messrs Waygood and Co in 1885. Only two other water balance lifts still operate; one in Saltburn in Yorkshire (listed at Grade-II*) and the other at Lynton and Lynmouth in north Devon (Grade II).

Heloise Brown added, ‘The Leas Lift must be kept going until a new operator can be found or this rare example of Victorian architecture and engineering will be lost to future generations'


Thursday 9 April, 2009

More recent item: Clitheroe’s historic workhouse saved from demolition
Earlier item: Listing request for Sussex school

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