The cliffs also posed problems for the burgeoning tourist industry. Holiday makers began to arrive at Lynmouth on paddle steamers from Bristol, Swansea and other Bristol Channel ports, from about 1820. Ponies, donkeys and carriages were available for hire, but the steep gradients led to the animals having only short working lives.
The first proposals for a rail-based lift, able to carry passengers and goods, were made in 1881, although this first scheme was to have been steam powered.
Opened on Easter Monday in 1890, the railway has been in continuous use ever since. An Act of Parliament formed the Lynmouth & Lynton Lift Company in 1888, and a further Act gave the company perpetual rights to the water from the Lyn Valley.