27th January 2020 · ‘Funicular Railways’

Presenter: David Hanger

For our first evening Meeting of 2020, David Hanger came from Wellingborough to give a talk and slide show on Funicular Railways. Of these there were plenty on show, but there was also a number of “variations on the theme”. During his opening comments, David told us that the term “Funicular” covered a little more than we might have thought. He listed inclined planes, cable hauled routes, routes for industrial use and passenger use, cable tramways, cliff lifts, tourist tramways, ending with modern cable systems. His explanation of balancing an uphill journey with an opposing downhill journey was straightforward, as was that of the continuous cable. The methods of providing the power to enable movement from manpower, horsepower, steam power, through to electrical power was detailed. One of the better known inclined plane was at Foxton Locks, near Market Harborough, and there is hope that someday it will be rebuilt.

The first railway to employ cable haulage was in very early days, on the 1830 Canterbury to Whitstable line. An example of a winding engine is the one we would all probably have seen had we arrived on time – the lifting/lowering of trains from the new Euston Station of the London and Birmingham Railway between 1837 and 1844. Of an original total of eight cable tramways in the UK, only the one at Llandudno, the Great Orme, is still operational. A minor surprise was that San Francisco’s famous system is nowadays worked on only three of the 23 original routes.

Cliff railways today number 15, and the one at Saltburn was covered. David mentioned that Southend, with the longest pier in the UK, also possessed the shortest cliff railway! Foreign examples shown included Paris, Barcelona, Niagara Falls and Interlaken.

The second part of David’s show covered railway piers in the UK, but with space running out, despite many interesting pictures, perhaps the most fascinating one showed a very well fed seagull standing, apparently wondering the contents of a board outside a fish and chip shop instructing that the seagulls “are not to be fed”. Clearly, not only the seagulls had yet to master the English language.

Another excellent show for us; being there would have given readers much more information than this mere report.