A historic crane has been restored to its original condition by the Kennet and Avon Canal Trust at the Burbage Wharf, south of Marlborough in the UK.
The wooden crane was originally constructed in 1833 and was used to load and unload coal, timber, lime, bricks and other commodities at the then-busy wharf, which had been constructed some 23 years earlier in 1810. It was one of 17 cranes used to unload barges on the canal route between Bath and Reading. This was the time of the industrial revolution in Britain and canals were the preferred means of transportation for timber, stone and agricultural products.
The exact lifting capacity of the crane is unknown but a list of charges found on a wharf near Keynsham, between Bath and Bristol, suggests that it was capable of lifting 2.5 tonnes at a fixed radius of just under a five metres.
Following the decline of the Britain’s canal systems the cranes gradually disappeared, in fact the original Burbage crane was dismantled in 1971. A small team of industrial archaeologists - led by Don Cross of Shrewton, Wiltshire - recognised that the crane was the last surviving model of its type and set about organising its restoration. The crane was originally restored by engineers at Stothert & Pitt in Bath and reassembled on the quayside in 1978. However the restoration used treated softwoods rather than the original oak and within 25 years it was rotting away.
The archaeologists finally managed to organise a more thoughtful restoration of the crane following the formation of a partnership between the Kennet & Avon Canal Trust and British Waterways.
Peter Dunn, a member of Kennet and Avon Canal Trust, who commissioned and tested cranes for Stothert and Pitt, said: “It was immediately obvious that almost all the crane’s timber was rotten and a complete reconstruction using original quality oak timbers was the only solution using as much of the original ironwork as possible, along with the original two tonne stone counterweight.”
With the planning and listed structures consents obtained, wharf owners Crown Estate supplied the new English oak timbers from trees grown in Herefordshire, which should last considerably longer – perhaps as long as the originals did. The parts were all shipped to Bath, where the crane was assembled at Claverton Pumping Station by a group of dedicated volunteers. After testing the crane it was dismantled into two parts – the jib and the main frame – and then transported to Burbage Wharf. It was then reassembled using an Ainscough 65 tonne Liebherr mobile crane.
The erecting of the crane, whose jib just over nine metres long and which stands at more than six metres at its highest point, was officially celebrated on March 5th when a token ceremonial load was lifted by president of the Kennet and Avon Canal Trust, David Bruce, and the last cobble stone – bearing the date 2011 – was laid by South West regional chairman of the Inland Waterways Association, Chris Birks.