Friday, 21 October 2011

The Victorian Fairbairn Crane of Esplanade Quay, Dover Marina, Kent, UK

The Victorian 1868-built Fairbairn "swan-neck" tubular crane located on Esplanade Quay (ex-Ordnance Quay) on the southern side of the non-tidal Wellington Dock of Dover Marina:

English Heritage Listed Building Text: Hand-driven crane by Fairburn Engineering. Actually Fairbairn Engineering Company of Manchester. Built 1868. Fairbairn tubular crane in 1851 Crystal Palace Exhibition, London.
(Click this Fairbairn Crane text link to see the largest size)

The photo was taken at 7.05 am on March 22nd, 2011, from Marine Parade close to Harbour House of Waterloo Crescent.

The following extracts are copyright of the crown and are produced under the terms of the Click-Use Licence (PSI licence number C2010002016):

Building Details:



LBS Number: 507159 Grade: II
Date Listed: 16/12/2009
Date Delisted:
NGR: TR3184940985

Listing Text:


685/0/10036 Wellington Dock and associated structures, including crane situated on Esplanade Quay 16-DEC-09


Dock. Part of the eastern side was constructed in 1832, part of the western side in 1833-4 and the remainder by 1844 by James Walker. The C20 (C20 means 20th Century) swing bridge, C20 concrete extension to Ballast Quay and De Bradelei warehouses are not of special interest.

MATERIALS: Lined in Portland stone ashlar blocks with granite coping.

PLAN: It comprises a number of individually named quays which together comprise Wellington Dock. It is narrower towards the north and widens to the south where it is bounded by Union Street.


ESPLANADE QUAY: situated between the C20 (20th Century) swing bridge at the south end and Slip Quay to the north, is a straight section aligned north east to south west retaining a number of cast iron cleats and a crane.

CRANE: The crane is a small hand-driven rotatory crane with swan-necked jib of riveted box frame construction. It was built by the Fairburn Engineering Co. of Manchester in 1868. It was once used by the Ordnance Department and was originally capable of lifting 50 tons. It was later de-rated to 20 tons and used for lifting yachts out of Wellington Dock.

The above states, "Fairburn Engineering Co. of Manchester", while the nameplate reads:


Sir William Fairbairn (1), 1st Baronet (of Ardwick) (19 February 1789 – 18 August 1874) was a Scottish civil engineer, structural engineer and shipbuilder. The alternative spelling of his surname is quite common:

"London's Liverpool Street Railway Station was built by the Lucas Brothers and the roof was designed and built by the Fairburn Engineering Company who also supplied the roof to the Royal Albert Hall." (2)


"Drawings for the iron and glass roof (for the Royal Albert Hall): Chief engineers, J.W.Grover and R.M.Ordish with modifications by Sir William Fairburn, made by the Fairburn Engineering Company of Ardwick, Manchester" (3)

The Fairbairn Crane - An Innovative Design (4)

The crane's innovation was in the use of a curved jib, made of riveted wrought iron platework to form a square-section box girder. This curved jib could reach further into the hold of a ship, clear of the deep gunwales alongside the quay.

Designing a strong curved jib required Fairbairn's advanced theoretical understanding of the mechanics of a box girder. The tension forces were carried by the outer, convex surface of the girder which was made of these back plates being chain-riveted together. The inner surface carried a compressive load. To avoid this cell plate crumpling, it was made as a cellular structure: an inner plate and webs formed three rectangular cells, effectively box girders in their own right. The character of a box girder is to resist torsional twisting, so a composite face built up of them is also good at resisting crumpling.

The first of these cranes were a batch of six built for the Admiralty at Keyham and Devonport. These were hand-operated and could lift 12 tons to a height of 30 feet (9.1 m) and a radius of 32 feet (9.8 m) . The size of the crane jibs was determined by ships of the period, and their lifting capacity by men's ability to raise the load. Experiments at Keyham with loads of up to 20 tons showed the jib design to be sound, and that the jib at least was capable of handling loads of up to 60 tons.

A "colossal" crane of 60 tons was later built at Keyham, with a cell plate stiffened by four cells. This crane was worked by four men driving through a gear train of 632 times, which must have been hard and slow work at full capacity. As the capacity of the crane was so obviously limited by its motive power, not its strength, they were an obvious candidate for steam power - as was later re-applied to the 60 ton crane at Keysham. There was even a proposal for a 120 feet (36.6 m) high crane, to replace masting sheers at Woolwich. A more typical size for most of these later cranes though would be able to lift 35 tons at a radius of 35 feet (10.7 m). They were powered by self-contained steam engines, with both boiler and engine mounted on-board the crane.

William Fairbairn & Sons of Manchester built a number of these cranes and also licensed the design to other makers.

The only surviving Fairbairn steam crane is in Bristol, on the quayside at the site of the former Bristol Industrial Museum.

Excerpt from the 1877 book, The Life of Sir William Fairbairn (5):

In November 1850, Mr. Fairbairn took out a patent for an invention which was very successful, namely an improvement in the instrument called a crane, for hoisting and lifting purposes. Ordinary cranes are usually constructed on one of the plans shown in the two first of the following figures:

19th Century drawing from The Life of Sir William Fairbairn, Bart by Sir William Fairbairn and William Pole, 1877. A Fairbairn crane is located Esplanade Quay, Wellington Dock, in Dover Harbour Marina.
(Click this Fairbairn Crane text link to see the largest size)

In these the inclined strut, called the 'jib,' is placed at an angle of about 40 or 45 degrees with the vertical, so as to obtain the greatest strength. But if the article to be raised be at all bulky, this position of the jib will interfere with the height to which it may be raised.

Mr. Fairbairn's improvement consisted in making the projecting arm of the crane of iron plates riveted together so as to form a hollow tubular girder of curved form, as shown in the third figure. It allowed the article to be raised to a greater height, and at the same time offered greater strength and security.

Six large cranes were soon afterwards made on this plan by Messrs. Fairbairn and Sons for Keyham Dockyard. A description of them was given by Mr. Fairbairn to the Institution of Mechanical Engineers, and was published in their Proceedings for 1857. Each crane was calculated to lift 12 tons to a height of 30 feet from the ground, and to sweep a circle 65 feet in diameter.

These answered so well that a few years afterwards a still larger one was ordered for the same place to lift 60 tons 60 feet high, with a circle of 106 feet diameter. Cranes of this kind were soon appreciated by the public for their convenience, and strength, and became largely used.

The "Great Exhibition of the Works of Industry of all Nations" (alt. The Great Exhibition, sometimes the Crystal Palace Exhibition in reference to the temporary structure in which it was held) was an international exhibition that took place in Hyde Park, London, from 1 May to 15 October 1851. The Official Catalogue (6) has the following entry:

"417 Fairbairn, W. Manchester. - Wrought-lron tubular crane."


Elsewhere in the photo:

The cliffs in the background are that part of the White Cliffs of Dover known as the Western Heights.

The town in the River Dour valley is to the right and Shakespeare Cliff some distance to the left.

Somewhere on the cliff-face within this stretch of coastline is the secret location of Dover's Lost Castle of the Court's Folly.

The houses shown are those of Snargate Street with the entrance to the Napoleonic Grand Shaft (an underground spiral triple-staircase) just out-of-shot to the left. The unseen A20 runs parallel to Snargate Street on the other side of Wellington Dock.

On the right-hand side of the photo is the stone-coloured building of Sharp and Enright (immediately to the right of the reddish-brown one), Ship's Chandlers and "Marine Equipment Supplies".

Left-of-centre, and partially obscured by the masts of boats and yachts in Wellington Dock, is the light-blue and white premises of Smye and Rumsby: "Communications - Electronics - Marine - Navigation".


(1) Entry for William Fairbairn.
(2) Extract from the Network Rail document, "Architectural mini guide to Liverpool Street station." (Abridged)
(3) From a Lucas Brothers webpage for 1870
(4) Entry for Fairbairn Steam Crane
(5)The Life of Sir William Fairbairn, Bart: Chapter XVIII - The Manchester Manufacturing Business. An autobiography and biography by Sir William Fairbairn, edited and completed by William Pole (1877).
(6) Official catalogue of the Great exhibition of the works of industry of all nations, 1851

More information (including sources used) can be found on this photo's original webpage at:

The Victorian Fairbairn Crane of Esplanade Quay, Dover Marina

Click to see all Fairbairn Crane and Crane photos.

A Dover Harbour industrial archaeology (industrial archeology) and history photo also indexed under the Marina category label.

Wellington Dock is a Grade II Dover Listed Building (also see all Dover English Heritage photos).

Clickable thumbnails of all harbour- and marina-related photos from the main Panoramio Images of Dover website are available on this blog at Port of Dover (also linked to at the top of the page below the blog title).

The main site Panoramio photos are each accompanied by a Google Earth satellite map. However, the images are smaller than those on the Images of Dover Blog and the captions are less well formatted.

John Latter / Jorolat

Dover Blog: The Psychology of a Small Town

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