Historic Environment Record images

MDE1255 - Lynton and Lynmouth Cliff Railway

ENPHER Number:MDE1255
Name:Lynton and Lynmouth Cliff Railway
Type of Record:Building
Grid Reference:SS 7205 4963

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The Lynton and Lynmouth Cliff Railway opened in 1890 and, powered by water from the West Lyn, is the only water balance cliff railway still in operation in the country.

Monument Types

  • CLIFF RAILWAY (AD 19th Century to Modern - 1890 AD to 2050 AD (Throughout))

Designated Status

  • Listed Building (II) 1206632: UPPER WAITING ROOM, CLIFF RAILWAY
  • Listed Building (II) 1201155: LOWER WAITING ROOM, CLIFF RAILWAY
  • Conservation Area: Lynmouth Conservation Area


Lynton Cliff Railway opened in 1890. It is powered by water from the West Lyn. The water is piped to the top station and flows into a large tank slung beneath the passenger car. The weight of the water counter balances the emptied tank of the car at the bottom: as the top car goes down, it pulls the bottom one up. The railway was built to a swiss design by a local family called Jones. [1]

It is the only water balance cliff railway still in operation in the country. [2]

The Lynton & Lynmouth Cliff Railway is located at SS 7194 4961 to SS 7217 4965. This famous water operated railway with its two passenger cars connects Lynton, situated at the top of precipitous coastal cliffs, to its twin town of Lynmouth over 150 metres below. It was designed and built by a Lynton builder, Mr Robert Jones, under the auspices of the publisher Sir George Newnes, who, seeing the potential of the towns as a holiday resort, agreed to finance its construction. It was officially opened on April 9th 1890.The length of the track is 262 metres with a gradient of 1 in 1/3/4 which gives it a vertical height of about 153 metres. The gauge is 1.143 metres (45 inches) and the rails are as British Rail pattern; sleepers are inverted rails set in concrete and the rails are bolted to these to form a solid track. The unique feature of the railway is the use of water ballast by which the upper car carrying the heavier weight of water pulls the lower car up the track. Water for the operation of the lift comes by way of 5 inch and 6 inch pipes into storage tanks from the West Lyn River a little over a mile away. The tanks upon which the passenger cars ride are wedge shaped welded steel, and with 700 gallons of water ballast, plus passengers, etc weigh approximately ten tons each. They are linked together by two steel cables and the operation of the lift is on the counter balance system. The speed is automatically controlled by governers which operate the footbrakes. All brakes are of hydraulic pattern and obtain their power by means of pumps operated by the wheels of the car via a system of pipes and valves. The handbrake works directly opposed to the normal brakes, being always applied and having to be released manually by the driver operating the wheel. They are like clamps gripping the sides of the rails and, when the driver releases the wheel, come into effect almost instantly. There is an hydraulic buffer at the bottom of the track. The passenger cars were altered in 1947, to carry people inside instead of on an outside platform. Timbers from Ilfracombe Pier, the Lynton signal gantry from the closed Lynton to Barnstaple Railway, and deck housing from the wreck of the ship Carare' sunk during the war near Lynmouth, were utilised in these alterations. [3,4]

However, one man more than any other had a major influence on Lynton. This was George Newnes, the publisher, a pioneer of popular journalism who established the Strand Magazine which first published, in instalments, many of Conan Doyle’s Sherlock Holmes stories. During a visit to the town in 1887, it is said that he disliked seeing horses pulling heavy loads up from Lynmouth and almost immediately provided finance for the Cliff Railway, designed by George Marks and opened in 1890. [7]

George Newnes the publisher loved the area and before moving into Hollerday House, high above Lynmouth, in 1893, had been largely responsible for building the Cliff Railway, which opened in 1890. It climbs at a gradient of 1 in 1.75 and is little changed from the original cable driven water displacement method of operation. Black’s Guide of 1898 feared “it would flood the place with a class of excursionists for whom there is little accommodation, and on whom, for the most part, its characteristic beauties would be thrown away.” In fact it has long provided an essential link between the twin settlements and is used by both residents and visitors. The architectural historian Nikolaus Pevsner mentions the German flavour of Lynmouth in the Rhenish tower, the conifers, and the “Zahnradbahn” up to Lynton, when journeys up the Rhine to the Black Forest were becoming popular.
The Lower Waiting Room of the Cliff Railway with an attached workshop, built in 1890 by local builder Bob Jones, and paid for by George Newnes. It is only slightly altered and serving its original purpose. Constructed of stone rubble with timber-framing, and diagonal boarding, it is a rectangular pavilion with a deep projecting decorative gable to the south side. The original frontage is partly obscured by a later service block. The roof was formerly tiled and is supported by a king-post roof truss with cross-bracing. It is very similar to the Upper Waiting Room in Lynton, which is not included in a conservation area. The listing details record a comment made by the builder’s grandson, who was at the time still working for the railway that “Newnes’ money and Jones’ brains built Lynton and Lynmouth.” [8]

The buildings were visited in April 2012 as part of the rapid condition survey of Exmoor's Listed Buildings 2012-13. The upperand lower waiting rooms received a BAR score of 6. [9]

<1> Minchinton, W., 1976, Industrial Archaeology in Devon, 10 (Monograph). SEM7626.

<2> Haselfoot, A.J., 1978, The Batsford Guide to the Industrial Archaeology of South-East England: Kent, Surrey, East Sussex, West Sussex, 18 (Monograph). SEM7627.

<3> 1992, Lynton and Lynmouth Cliff Railway Handbook (Monograph). SEM7628.

<4> Sainsbury, I.S.S, Field Investigators Comments, RCHME Field Investigation (Unpublished document). SMO7324.

<5> Cliff Railway, Lynmouth, Lynton and Lynmouth (Collection). SMO6040.

<6> Turton, S.D. + Weddell, P.J., 1993, Preliminary Archaeological Assessment of Lynton/Lynmouth Sewage Treatment Works (Electricity Sub Station), 4 (Report). SEM6852.

<7> Fisher, J., 2002, Lynton: Conservation Area Character Appraisal, 6, 12, 24 (Report). SEM6953.

<8> Fisher, J., 2003, Lynmouth: Conservation Area Character Appraisal, 5-6, 16 (Report). SEM6954.

<9> Lawrence, G., 2014, Exmoor National Park: Rapid condition survey of listed buildings 2012-13 (Report). SEM8060.

<10> Devon Buildings Group, 2013, Devon Buildings Group: Newsletter number 31, 13 (Serial). SEM8259.

Related Pages

Other References

  • 2012-3 Building At Risk Score (6): 858/1/4/19
  • 2012-3 Building At Risk Score (6): 858/1/4/85
  • Devon SMR (Devonshire): SS74NW/11
  • Devon SMR Monument ID: 681
  • Exmoor National Park HER Number (now deleted): MDE20046
  • Local List Status (No)
  • National Monuments Record reference: SS 74 NW22
  • National Park: Exmoor National Park
  • NBR Index Number: 81512
  • Pastscape HOBID (was Monarch UID): 35195
Date Last Edited:Feb 12 2018 10:42AM


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