First British Cable Car Opens
We may associate cable cars with Swiss and French mountain resorts, and if asked to take a guess as to where the first such people-mover in Britain was built would perhaps suggest Snowdonia or the Cairngorms . The right answer, however, would be the Devil’s Dyke in the South Downs near Brighton.
The great V-shaped valley had been a significant draw for tourists for many years already when the cable car was mooted. The year before it opened indeed it is said that 30,000 trippers came on Whit Monday alone, many arriving via a branch-line that brought trains from Hove to the site.
One William Brewer designed the system, which from old photographs would not perhaps inspire total confidence in modern passengers and would have struggled to get past the health and safety authorities, its somewhat open cage maybe increasing the thrill of the thing more than its security. An oil engine drove the 1200 feet of cables that pulled two four-person cars across the ravine, at one point passing 230 feet above the ground.
Sadly the attraction was to prove a relatively brief success, closing in 1909. A funicular railway on the same site lasted even shorter, opening in 1897 and being shut down in 1907.
We can enjoy the same thrill today, with improved safety considerations, at the Heights of Abraham at Matlock Bath in Derbyshire and in Llandudno where passengers can travel between Happy Valley and the top of the Great Orme. And a new system has recently been approved for London , hoped to be ready in time for the Olympics, running from the Greenwich Peninsula to the Royal Victoria Docks and capable of ferrying up to 2500 people per hour across the Thames.
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