Saltburn, Cleveland (c) Ian Hay

Britain from the Air - Saltburn

What do salt, smugglers and quirky Victorian engineering have in common?

This railway, clinging precariously to the clifftop, started its life in 1872 as part of the short lived ‘Whitby, Redcar and Middlesbrough Union Railway’. Dwindling passenger numbers and expensive repairs meant that by the late 1950s the line was no longer viable and work began dismantling it. Some of the concrete was recycled and used to build sea defences.

The line was revived twenty years later when a potash mine was sunk at nearby Boulby. Today freight trains still carry heavy supplies of potash and steel along the track. The mined potash is a mixture of salt and potassium chloride which is sometimes used in food as a healthier alternative to salt. Boulby is the UK's only commercial potash mine. After coal, oil and gas, potash ranks as Britain’s most important mining operation.

Funicular railway 

The cliff lift at Saltburn is a fascinating piece of Victorian engineering and the oldest water balanced funicular railway in the UK. Opened in 1884, the railway was designed to give easier access to Saltburn’s pier at the shoreline. The railway operates by using water as a counter balance. The two carriages are connected by cables. When one carriage reaches the top its tanks are filled with water. This weight causes the carriage to start moving down the slope while simultaneously pulling the bottom carriage up the cliff face. The lift has weathered the elements well and is today as popular a tourist attraction as in Victorian times.

Infamous history

The history of Saltburn is brimming with stories of villainy, treachery and daring deeds. Between 1700 and 1850 the town was a hotspot for smugglers, the most notorious being John Andrew. When he became landlord of The Ship Inn in 1780, he started using the premises as a hub for his extensive smuggling network. Yet at the same time, as a stalwart of the local community, he also held a position on the local police force - the very same people tasked with stamping out smuggling!

While smugglers may enjoy a romanticised image in our stories and folklore, they often used violence and intimidation to get their way. 

Click to reveal the full picture

  • share
Location: Saltburn, Redcar and Cleveland, TS12 1HY
Grid reference: NZ 69468 21685

Britain from the Air - Saltburn credits

Thank you to -

Ian Hay for aerial photography

Text researched and written by the Royal Geographical Society (with IBG)

As a town founded and dominated by Quakers, for many years Saltburn had no pubs!