The Folkestone cliff lift is a water balanced funicular opened in 1885, and remarkably remains substantially intact as built.
The original lift is still in full working order and is in daily operation during the summer months. It was the third such hydraulic lift in the world, now listed as being of historic importance, but the first constructed by Waygood-Otis, pioneers of ‘ascending machines’ who went on to build the first escalator fifteen years later. Amazingly, it is estimated that it alone has already carried about 50,000,000 passengers, which is not only a testament to its original quality but also makes the carriages possibly the most used ever built – where else could you sit where several million have sat before you, overlooking the English Channel with a panorama of the busiest shipping lanes in the world and the French coast as a backdrop on clear days?
The mode of operation is simple: there are two cars connected by a rope over a wheel at the top; the brake is released, the top car’s tank is filled with sufficient water to make it heavier than the bottom car; the heavier car descends pulling the other car up the other track. When the heavier car reaches the bottom, the water is released into the bottom reservoir, and is pumped back to the top reservoir ready for re-use.