Victorian Diagram comparing Ordinary Cranes with Fairbairn's Swan-neck Tubular Crane

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John Latter on April 5, 2011

This first 19th Century illustration relating to "The Mystery of the Victorian Fairbairn Tubular Crane on Esplanade Quay, Dover Marina" (see below) is taken from the 1877 book, "The Life of Sir William Fairbairn, Bart" (1), an autobiography and biography by Sir William Fairbairn and William Pole.

Accompanying text (abridged):

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 figures of the drawing.

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.

There's an 1868 Fairbairn swan-neck tubular crane (2) similar to the one in the drawing located on Esplanade Quay, once called Ordnance Quay, on the southern side of the non-tidal Wellington Dock in Dover Marina.

Wellington Dock is a Grade II Listed Building (3). The following extract is © Crown Copyright and reproduced under the terms of the Click-Use Licence (PSI licence number C2010002016):

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. (Source: English Heritage)

A minor mystery concerns whether or not this Victorian crane is a "small hand-driven rotatory crane", as described above, or a decommissioned steam-powered crane whose performance specification was downgraded ("de-rated to 20 tons") at some unknown point in the past, perhaps as a result of the power unit being removed.

The questioning of the crane's original power source arose as a result of resolving a discrepancy in the spelling of the manufacturer's name: English Heritage state, "It was built by the Fairburn Engineering Co. of Manchester in 1868", while the nameplate is inscribed with, "The Fairbairn Engineering Company, Limited. Manchester" (ex-William Fairbairn and Sons).

See how the full story unfolded at:

Mystery of the Victorian Fairbairn Tubular Crane on Esplanade Quay, Dover Marina

Also see:

Victorian Drawing of Large Steam Crane built on Sir William Fairbairn`s Principle

(Check subsequent "Comments" for further additions.)

A Dover Harbour Industrial Archaeology (Archeology) and History photo.

(1) The Life of Sir William Fairbairn, Bart: Chapter XVIII - The Manchester Manufacturing Business. An autobiography and biography by Sir William Fairbairn, the Scottish civil engineer, structural engineer, shipbuilder, and 1st Baronet of Ardwick, edited and completed by William Pole (1877).

(2) See the Wikipedia entries for Fairbairn steam crane and Cranes

(3) Grade II: buildings that are "nationally important and of special interest".

Click to see all photos of Dover's Fairbairn Crane, Listed Buildings, and English Heritage sites.

John Latter / Jorolat

Dover Blog: The Psychology of a Small Town

This is the Images of Dover website: click on any red or blue "John Latter" link to access the Entry Page.

John Latter on April 5, 2011

The "Accompanying Text" in the caption to There`s more to the Dover Victorian Fairbairn Crane than meets the Eye has provided a clue as to how the Dover Fairbairn Crane was first powered.

A link to the full explanation will be added here once it has been uploaded.

John Latter on April 13, 2011

Click to see the Solution to the Victorian Fairbairn Crane Mystery, Dover Marina, Kent, UK:

"...Four men, each working a winch of 18 inches radius, act by two 6 inch pinions upon a wheel 5 feet 3 and 3/4 inches diameter..."

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  • Uploaded on April 2, 2011
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    by John Latter