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

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John Latter on April 13, 2011

This fourth 19th Century illustration relating to "The Mystery of the Victorian Fairbairn Tubular Crane on Esplanade Quay, Dover Marina" (see below) is taken from the 1860 book, "Useful Information For Engineers: Being A Series Of Lectures Delivered Before The Working Engineers Of Yorkshire And Lancashire" (1) by Sir William Fairbairn (19 February 1789 – 18 August 1874), the Scottish civil engineer, structural engineer, shipbuilder, and 1st Baronet of Ardwick.

The book references the diagram as follows:

Figure 62 is a plan of the crane and platform, showing the upper flanch (a variant of flaunch and flange) of the large ring a a (ie the diameter of the disc), with the holding down bolts cc c.

The above is also part of the quotation accompanying Figure 61 and Figure 63 in the There`s more to the Dover Victorian Fairbairn Crane than meets the Eye photo, the previous "19th Century illustration" uploaded (which shows a third of the crane to be underground!)

There's an 1868 Fairbairn swan-neck tubular crane (2), similar in design to the one in the above 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 concerned 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).

The way the story unfolded is described in the caption to:

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

which contains links to the first two 19th Century illustrations, both from an 1877 book (4):

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

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

The 1860 lecture notes in which Figures 61-63 appear finally revealed that all Fairbairn Cranes were designed to be manually-operated (with the built-in option of attaching a steam power unit):

Subsequently to the erection of these, the first cranes on the tubular system, a number of others followed of different dimensions, and for various purposes, all of which exhibited the same powers of resistance and other advantages. It is, however, due to the Government to state that they took the initiative in the introduction of this new system, and finding the twelve ton cranes to work to their entire satisfaction, they ordered two more for Devonport, and a colossal crane, to lift 60 tons, for Keyham...

...The colossal 60 ton crane at Keyham consists of a-rectangular wrought iron tube, curved to a radius of about 46 feet, and tapering uniformly from 9 feet deep by 5 feet 6 inches wide at the level of the ground, where from the leverage of the crane the strain is the greatest, to 3 feet 6 inches deep by 2 feet wide at the point of the jib. From the level of the platform it is also tapered downwards to about 1 foot 8 inches square at 23 feet below the level of the ground, where it fits into a cast iron shoe working in a socket or step on which the crane revolves. The point of the jib is 60 feet above the level of the platform, and sweeps a circle of 53 feet radius; so that it will lift the heaviest load perpendicularly from a mean distance of 37 feet from the quay wall, and to a height of no less than 85 feet above low water mark, and land it at 69 feet from the edge of the quay.

The crane itself is built on precisely the same principle as the tubular bridge, and may indeed be considered as a curved tubular girder inverted, the top side being the front or concave side of the crane, and the bottom side forming the convex or back part of the structure...

...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; this in its turn moves the spur wheel, 6 feet 8 inches diameter, by means of an 8 inch pinion, and on the axle of the former the chain barrel, 2 feet in diameter, is fixed. Hence the advantage gained by the gearing will be:

W/P = (18 x 63.75 x 80) / (6 x 8 x 12) = 158; or, taking the number of cogs in each wheel: W/P = (18 x 95 x 100) / (12 x 9 x 10) = 158

and as this result is quadrupled by the fixed and moveable pulleys, the power of the men applied to the handles is multiplied 632 times by the gearing and blocks. A break wheel, 5 feet 2 inches diameter, is fixed on the other end of the spindle of the spur wheel; and the power applied at its circumference is accordingly multiplied about 100 times by the gearing and blocks.

At the level of the ground the crane is firmly fixed in a strong cast iron frame, the outer edge of which is a circle of 11 feet 3 inches diameter; and on the edge of the well a similar ring is embedded in the masonry and secured by long holding-down bolts, leaving a space of 10 inches all round between it and the inner ring. In this space a number of strong cast iron rollers are placed, 10 inches in diameter, to prevent friction and facilitate the movement of the crane as it revolves round its axis. Upon the cast iron ring on the quay wall is fixed a circular rack, composed of cogged segments bolted together, into the teeth of which a pinion works, whereby the crane is made to revolve. This pinion is worked by a worm and wheel placed in the counterpoise box; and two men are sufficient to move round the crane with 60 tons suspended from the extreme point of the jib. In working the crane the men stand upon a cast iron platform attached to it a few inches above the level of the ground.

This crane, taking it altogether in regard to its strength, height, and the extent to which the weight raised can be swung round, is probably one of the first and most powerful in Europe.

Since the erection of the 60 ton crane at Keyham, a steam engine has been fixed upon the counterpoise platform, which renders it independent of manual labour, and gives greater facility and despatch in raising heavy weights. A crane of the same size as this has since been erected at Portsmouth dockyard, and has also an engine and boiler attached to the platform behind the crane, so that if occasion require it can be worked by steam.

...The tubular principle has also been applied to railway travelling cranes, as shown in Figure 68...

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

(1) Full title: Useful Information For Engineers: Being A Series Of Lectures Delivered Before The Working Engineers Of Yorkshire And Lancashire: Together With A Series Of Appendices Containing The Results Of Experimental Inquiries Into The Strength Of Materials, The Causes Of Boiler Explosions, Etc." by Sir William Fairbairn, Geological Society of London and dedicated to Major-General Edward Sabine, an Irish astronomer, geophysicist, ornithologist and explorer.

The text quoted is from "Lecture VII: On Wrought Iron Tubular Cranes" from the copy held by the University of Michigan, Department of Engineering (now College of Engineering).

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

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

(4) Taken from "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).

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

John Latter / Jorolat

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  • Uploaded on April 13, 2011
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    by John Latter