The ascending West Hill Lift car, as seen from the descending car, Hastings. Construction of the line was started in 1889 by a private operator, the Hastings Lift Company. The line met with local opposition, which meant that the work took longer to complete than originally envisaged, and construction costs were over 50% higher than envisaged. The line finally opened in 1891, and was originally powered by a gas engine.
The first operator went bankrupt in 1894, probably as a result of the construction delays and cost overrun. The Hastings Passenger Lift Company took over and operated the line until 1947, when Hastings Borough Council bought the line. It was converted to electric operation in 1971. To mark the railway's centenary year, the line was fully refurbished in 1991.