AT 131 years old, Scarborough’s Central Tramway has shuttled passengers from the town to the South Bay beach across three centuries.
Now the history of the iconic cliff railway is being celebrated after the completion of a £90,000 project to restore it to its Victorian glory.
A Heritage Trail Plaque has been unveiled at the site commemorating the “oldest surviving tramway company in Britain” following the six-month refurbishment.
Adrian Perry, chairman of Scarborough and District Civic Society, which awarded the plaque, said: “The Civic Society takes a great pleasure in recognising Scarborough’s historical treasures such as the tramway. This is one of the reasons we exist.”
The plaque, which is the fiftieth in the town’s heritage trail series, was unveiled by the Mayor of Scarborough, Helen Mallory and her consort Joanne Oxtoby at a ceremony yesterday.
Opened on August 1, 1881, the funicular, to this day, is still run by its original operator, Central Tramway Company, making it the oldest surviving tramway company in Britain.
The cliff railway itself is also among the oldest of its kind, second only to Scarborough’s South Spa Cliff Railway, which opened in 1875.
The third of the town’s surviving tramways is the St Nicholas Cliff Railway, which opened in 1929. The Queens Parade Tramway, which opened in 1878, closed due to a landslip in 1887, while the North Cliff Railway, which opened in 1930, was dismantled in 1998.
The Central Tramway’s refurbishment has returned it to its Victorian heritage, including restoring its original livery of burgundy and cream.
Many of the original features of the tramway are still in use today, having been painstakingly brought back to their original state.
Ian Purshouse, chairman of Central Tramway Company, said: “We see this investment in the tramway as a vote of confidence in the future of Scarborough.
“We are the custodians of a unique piece of Scarborough’s cultural and industrial heritage and we take that responsibility seriously.”
The Central Tramway was built by George Wood of Hull and was unique in using steam-powered winding instead of the water-balanced hydraulics used by the town’s other funiculars.
It remains the only known example of its kind in the UK to have used this method.
The line extends to 254ft and was originally built on a concrete, cast iron and wrought iron viaduct, costing £10,358 to complete.
By 1920, its steam-powered winding system had been converted to electric and between 1931 and 1932, the railway was extensively refurbished with a new electric motor installed and the track relaid.
Towards the end of the 1960s the viaduct was largely rebuilt as a solid concrete foundation.
A lifting gantry was constructed at the lower station and the upper station was extended to include a cafe, which is now the Parlour Tea Rooms, where celebrations continued after the ceremony yesterday.
Neil Purshouse, director of Central Tramway Company, said: “The company has survived two world wars, one Great Depression and numerous credit crises, and still proudly performs the same function of carrying over 400,000 passengers a year safely between the town and the South Bay beach.”
He also paid tribute to the skills of tramway employees and suppliers who had been involved in the refurbishment.
“We were very pleased with the commitment and dedication of our staff and all the many suppliers that helped us achieve our objective.
“We are very happy that we could find such skills within the Scarborough area. From architects to sign writers to stained glass windows – all the skills we needed were here on our doorstep.”
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