Victorian Fairbairn Crane, Esplanade Quay, Wellington Dock, Dover Marina, Kent, UK

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John Latter on July 24, 2011

This 19th Century hand-driven, or manual, rotary crane with its swan-neck jib is located on Esplanade Quay, once called Ordnance Quay, on the southern side of the non-tidal Wellington Dock in Dover Marina.

The white building at centre-right is the southern end of Dover Harbour Board's, "Harbour House", part of Waterloo Crescent and overlooking the English Channel.

To the front of Harbour House the twin towers of Dover Coatguard Station are just about visible on the distant White Cliffs of Dover.

The box-like structure on the skyline the crane appears to be about to pick up is the Keep (or "Great Tower") of Dover Castle.

Wellington Dock (with its yachts and boats) and the Western Heights (with its Napoleonic Grand Shaft) are out-of-shot to the left; the Tidal Harbour (with the Dover Lifeboat Station) is behind the viewer.

Cullins Yard Restaurant and the De Bradelei Wharf shopping centre are at the end of Esplanade Quay (to the left of the Fairbairn Crane), above which is Burlington House).

The Victorian crane is of riveted box frame construction and was built in 1868 by the Fairbairn Engineering Company of Manchester in the north-west of England. It was once used by the Ordnance Department and originally capable of lifting 50 tons, but this was later de-rated to 20 tons. It could lift yachts out of the Wellington Dock.

The nameplate reads:






The caption to Mystery of the Victorian Swan-neck Crane of Esplanade Quay chronicles an internet search to establish whether the Fairbairn crane had originally been hand-driven or steam-powered. In a sense, this was "re-inventing the wheel" because one of the sources already contained the information, I just hadn't read it properly! (the answer is given in Solution to the Victorian Fairbairn Crane Mystery)

The duplication of effort wasn't wasted (1), however, not least because of the Victorian drawings which were discovered. One of these - There’s more to the Dover Victorian Fairbairn Crane than meets the Eye - took me completely by surprise by showing that a third of the crane on Esplanade Quay is underground! The illustrations and other photos of the crane can be seen by clicking on the Fairbairn Crane tag.

The above Dover Harbour photo was taken at 5.42 pm on Wednesday, 6th of April, 2011, while on my evening cycle ride (Robsons Yard - Eastern Docks - Prince of Wales Pier - Robsons Yard).

Standard information for Fairbairn Cranes

William Fairbairn, later Sir William Fairbairn, 1st Baronet of Ardwick, opened an iron foundry in 1816 and was joined the following year by a Mr. Lillie, and the firm became known as "Fairbairn and Lillie Engine Makers", producing iron steamboats (paddle steamers such as PS Lord Dundas, PS La Reine des Beiges, and PS Minerva). (2)

When Mr. Lillie left the firm in 1839, the name changed to "William Fairbairn and Sons" and the company's attention turned to railway locomotives.

The Manchester company was also noted for its construction of steam cranes, the Fairbairn steam crane being described as a type of harbour-side crane of an 'improved design'.

The sole surviving operational example of a Fairbairn-designed steam crane, built in 1878 by Stothert and Pitt, is located near the Museum of Bristol, once the Bristol Industrial Museum (3), and has a "swan neck" identical to the crane in the photo above: click to see the Bristol Fairbairn Crane.

The Bristol crane was in regular use until 1973, loading and unloading ships and railway wagons with loads up to 35 tons. It has been restored and is in working order and operates on some bank holidays and during the Bristol Harbour Festival.

Wellington Dock is a Grade II Listed Building (4).

The following extracts are © Crown Copyright. Reproduced 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

II 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.

HISTORY: Although visible fabric does not pre-date the early-C19 (19th Century), Wellington Dock follows the approximate outlines of part of the C16 harbour developments west of the town. The layout of the dock can be traced back to the early outline of the Great Pent built in the C16 as the replacement to the original first paradise devised by John Clerk in the early C16. The arrangement of docks and basins, now comprising the Wellington Dock, Granville Dock and Crosswall Quay, was originally arranged to take advantage of a shingle bar which formed a lagoon behind which the River Dour flowed. A large cross wall was built across the lagoon to form the Great Pent. This relates to the present Wellington Dock, from whose north end the River Dour flows. Water from the River Dour was then released through a sluice to clear the other half, or Great Paradise, of silt. The position of this crosswall is still present as Union Street, now containing a C20 swing bridge, replacing an earlier one of 1849 which was probably in or near the location of the original sluice.

REASONS FOR DESIGNATION: Wellington Dock, Dover Harbour is designated at Grade II for the following principal reasons:

Wellington Dock has historical interest because it occupies the approximate footprint of the Great Pent, shown on maps of Dover since 1595.

The handsome ashlar walls with granite coping date from the early 1830s and were completed by 1844. James Walker, the distinguished maritime engineer who inherited Thomas Telford's unfinished commissions, is responsible for the post 1834 dock walls.

The crane at Esplanade Quay, Cullins slip and various cleats, bollards and mooring rings are reminders of Dover's shipbuilding and trading past.

Source: English Heritage.

(1) The duplication of effort began with English Heritage's mis-spelling of Fairbairn as Fairburn (see the Crane entry in the Listing Text for Wellington Dock above). However, they aren't the only ones to do so:

Extract from a Network Rail webpage about London's Liverpool Street Railway Station:

The 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.

The Lucas Brothers webpage for 1870 states:

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.

(2) Wikipedia entry for William Fairbairn and Sons

(3) Wikipedia entry for Bristol Industrial Museum

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

Also see "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).

A Dover history and industrial archaeology photo.

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.

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Photo details

  • Uploaded on July 23, 2011
  • © All Rights Reserved
    by John Latter
    • Camera: PENTAX Corporation PENTAX K100D
    • Taken on 2011/04/06 17:42:40
    • Exposure: 0.004s (1/250)
    • Focal Length: 20.00mm
    • F/Stop: f/13.000
    • ISO Speed: ISO200
    • Exposure Bias: 0.00 EV
    • No flash