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Cunningham’s Holiday Camp chairlift to be scrapped

MECHANICAL MARVEL: The remains of the Cunningham escalator - PHOTO: Mike Proudfoot MPO130129 (6). Below: Imposing arched gateway to the chairlift in its heyday (Peter Kelly Collection).

MECHANICAL MARVEL: The remains of the Cunningham escalator - PHOTO: Mike Proudfoot MPO130129 (6). Below: Imposing arched gateway to the chairlift in its heyday (Peter Kelly Collection).

 

IT has been a remarkable survival of the island’s tourism heyday, lying almost forgotten for nearly half a century.

But sadly, the end is in sight for the escalator that once took happy holidaymakers from Douglas promenades to the Cunningham’s holiday camp – as an order has been signed for its demolition.

A wonderfully Heath Robinson affair, passengers were carried up the hill at Little Switzerland in continually moving bucket seats that were fixed sideways to a clattering endless belt, the seats flipping over and underneath when it reached the top.

It was called the Golden Staircase as local lads would offer to carry suitcases up for a few pennies for the visitors.

Health and safety would have had a field day if it was running today.

But the Cunningham Camp escalator last worked in 1968 and has remained in place ever since, although in a state of increasing dereliction.

Now, worried about its dangerous condition, the owners of the site are soon to begin its demolition.

Isle of Man Newspapers columnist Terry Cringle remembers the escalator working. ‘It travelled about walking pace and was very noisy. Health and Safety would take a very hard look today.

‘It closed for a time during the war when the camp became a Royal Navy shore base - it wasn’t thought to be good for discipline for the sailors to take a ride. The escalator reopened with the tourism boom after the war. You wouldn’t have been able to ride it back to the camp after getting drunk in town as Cunningham’s was dry. Anyone suspected of being drunk would be made to leave the camp.

‘It’s just been forgotten. In recent years it had got very dangerous. Shoprite went to a lot of trouble to stop people going in there. It would be pointless to preserve it even if it was possible - you can’t save everything.’

Cunningham’s opened about 1902 and was one of the earliest holiday camps in the British Isles, pre-dating Butlin’s.

The escalator was installed just after the First World War, replacing a staircase. It is thought to have been built by JT Skillicorn of Onchan. In 1938, a second escalator was provided, both working in the up direction and running within a wooden shelter. If you wanted to go down, you walked.

The lower station, an imposing structures complete with an archway and castellated turrets, still survives.

Local historian Peter Kelly said in 1986 an American had plans to buy the escalator but this came to nothing.

Conservation officer Steve Moore said: ‘Unfortunately it really is in a poor state of repair. There is no point in registering it at this juncture.

‘You couldn’t think of restoring it without a lot of alterations so people can get on and off in a safe manner. Before it is demolished we will go and record it and make sure that record is placed with the museum for posterity.’

 

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