Many people don’t realise that two of the most prolific builders of funicular lifts were involved in the building of Babbacombe Cliff Railway although one never got any further than a proposal, that was rejected, the other consulted by the then Torquay Corporation.
Sir George Newnes MP
In 1890 Sir George Newnes MP offered to build a cliff railway to connect the Downs to Oddicombe Beach.He was a man of distinction. Born on the 13th March 1851, the youngest of six children. In 1881 he launched the journal ‘Tit Bits’ which was to supply his future funding for such projects. In 1885, elected as Liberal MP for Newmarket. 1887, he moved to Lynton North Devon where he funded the installation of the water balance funicular lift, which still exists today.
1890, the same year as proposing the cliff lift at Babbacombe, he teamed up with George Croydon Marks, later Baron Marks of Woolwich. 1895, he lost his Newmarket seat and given a Baronetcy.
1897, he started the now renowned journal ‘Country Life’ 1900, elected MP for Swansea seat although some reports say this was in 1906. He died in 1910 and was buried in Lynton; he never saw the realisation of his proposal of a cliff lift at Babbacombe!
George Croydon Marks (The early years)
The story of George Croydon Marks is more poignant Torquay Corporation consulted him on the installation of the lift, which started in 1923 described by one report as being a “disciple” of Isambard Kingdom Brunel. He was born in 1858 eldest of eight children of which only four survived infancy. 1875, he became one of the first Whitworth Scholars and was educated at Kings College, London. He worked for Tangye a company associated with funicular lifts, appointed head of the lift department and in charge of the installation of the funicular at Saltburn.
1880, he set up a private practice in Birmingham and married Margaret Maynard. A year later in 1882, some reports say 1887, he formed a partnership with Dugald Clerk, later Sir Clark together they set up the now famous Marks & Clerk patent company which still operates from Lincolns Inn Field in London today.
1890, he teamed up with Sir George Newnes and had a run of success and appointed on a number of funicular installations, 1892 Bridgnorth, 1893 Bristol Clifton and in 1895 Aberystwyth.
He was also to follow a political career and in 1906 elected as MP for Launceston and North Cornwall. In 1910, he opened a New York office with Thomas Edison and in 1911, knighted. In 1929, he received a peerage and became Baron Marks of Woolwich. During his lifetime, he was the director of two record companies, Columbia and EMI, and could have been the Richard Branson of his time. He passed away in Bournemouth on the 24th of September 1938 whereupon the peerage became extinct.
The Railway becomes a reality
In 1923, the Torquay Tramway Company announced the intention to install a lift to Oddicombe Beach and Waygood Otis appointed to undertake the installation. Work started in December 1924 and the Babbacombe Cliff Railway completed in 1926 the line cost £15,648 to construct.
On April 1st 1926 the Mayor of Torquay, Alderman John Taylor, made the first trip. The ticket number A000 framed in silver by Mr H Thomas, the lessee of Oddicombe Beach which was presented to the Mayor. Photograph Courtesy A Pictorial & Historical Survey of Babbacombe & St Marychurch.
The tramway company worked the line until the 13th March 1935 then it was taken over by Torquay Corporation for the sum of £18,000.
The later years
Early returns showed that 192,000 people had used the lift that year! In 1941, the line closed due to wartime restrictions and the beach sealed off. The line did not reopen until 29th June 1951 at a further cost of some £10,000 after refurbishment by J & E Hall.
In 1993, the track was replaced and the lift reopened in 1995 the Mayor conducted the opening ceremony.
Sadly, in 2003 an accident occurred when the safety gear operated halting the lift car in mid travel position requiring the rescuing of passengers. All passengers were evacuated safely and after being closed for 6 weeks the railway was reopened.