The machine demands a sacrifice: Shannon cranes

Update April 2012

Added some photos of the cranes at the patent slip and dockyard in Killaloe.

Update June 2011

Added some thoughts on the Carrick-on-Shannon crane.

Update October 2010

Added some thoughts (below) on the Banagher, Limerick and Kilgarvan cranes.

Update 16 August 2010

Added more photos and information about the Killaloe and Banagher cranes.

On 3 August 1900 James Kirkland, Secretary and Manager of the Grand Canal Company, wrote to the Secretary of the Limerick Harbour Commissioners about the Company’s trade to Limerick and the likely effects thereon of a dispute with the Board of Works (which managed the Shannon and the “Limerick Canal”). Mr Kirkland’s letter was a series of complaints about the Board of Works and it included a lament for the £30,000 the Company claimed to have spent during the period it managed part of the middle Shannon; even though the arrangement had ended over fifty years earlier, the Company was still bitter about having been paid only £5 for its trouble.

In the course of his letter, Mr Kirkland wrote this:

As an example of the facilities afforded by the Board of Works I may mention that early this year this company wrote to the Board pointing out the condition of their crane at Banagher, and asking them to have it put in proper order, but nothing was done except to supply a new chain. The crane was a very old one, cumbrous to work, and should have been replaced by a more modern one long ago. We had to continue working the crane until May last, when it broke, resulting in a fatal accident to one of the men who had been using it. Even now, notwithstanding this accident, they propose to erect another old patched-up crane which has been removed from Kingstown [now Dun Laoghaire].

It may be that the Grand Canal Company’s complaints had some effect, because the crane at Banagher has a plaque saying (inter alia) 1-8-00, but was that a date? And if it was, was it the date of installation, inspection, refurbishment or something completely different?

The Banagher crane

The crane at Banagher
Banagher’s crane seen from the bridge, with Haughtons Mills (later the Malt House) in the background
Rear view
Another close-up

The oval plate in the last photo reads:

Board of Public Works
To lift 3 tons
Shannon Navigation

Is 1-8-00 is the date of installation? There is some evidence that may suggest a different explanation (see under Portumna below) and enlightenment would be welcomed.

Des Fforde (see Comments below) says that:

I think that the crane did use a chain rather than wire rope, judging by the grooves in the barrel. A counterweight would usually only be used on a mobile crane.

And have a look at the “other crane” in Limerick, near the bottom of this page. Hard to say, but it has some points in common with the Banagher crane.


I know of only two surviving cranes further upstream than that at Banagher, and the Shannonbridge crane (of which, alas, I have no close-ups) is of a different design.

The Shannonbridge crane 1
The Shannonbridge crane 2


The other upstream crane I know of is at Carrick-on-Shannon (if I have missed any cranes, especially upstream, I would be glad to learn about them). The Carrick crane is above the bridge, and it lacks a jib. Unlike the other cranes, it has been painted green; it bears the number 12.

The Carrick-on-Shannon crane 1
The Carrick-on-Shannon crane 2
The Carrick-on-Shannon crane 3

After prolonged examination, I have made a guess at the wording on the upper plate in the second photo. I think it says

?? Mather Dixon & Co
Bath Street

If you would like to have a go at deciphering it, and would like a full-size (3.7MB) version of the photo by email, please say so in a Comment at the bottom of the page. I would be glad to hear from anyone with more information than Google produces about the firm.

If my guess is correct, then this is an old crane. According to Wikipedia, Mather, Dixon & Company, locomotive manufacturers, were at the Bath Street Foundry from 1826 to 1839, when they moved to Bootle. In 1842, John Grantham, who had been apprenticed to the firm, became a partner; he was the author of Iron, as a Material for Ship-Building (1842), and the son of the John Grantham who brought the first steam-ship to the Shannon. The firm closed in 1843, before the Shannon Commissioners began work at Carrick.

In their seventh annual report, in March 1846, the Commissioners for the Improvement of the Navigation of the River Shannon reported on the Upper Shannon:

At Carrick-on-Shannon, the bulding of a new bridge of five arches, and taking down and removing the old one, constructing a quay, wharf-wall and harbour.

A contract has been made for the supply of the necessary cranes for the quays on the river.

Their ninth report, made in 1848, said that almost all the works at Carrick, except the harbour, were complete, but the cranes were not mentioned.

It seems, then, that the crane at Carrick is older than the quays. In 1832 Thomas Rhodes had reported of Carrick:

Above the bridge, on the Leitrim side of the river, a harbour is now being made by — St George Esq, for the loading and unloading of craft; when completed, it will be of very great convenience and service to the town and surrounding country.

He listed the partly-made harbour at Carrick as one of only fourteen on the Shannon, of which “scarcely one is furnished with a crane”. It is conceivable (but I have no evidence either way) that this crane was installed my Dash St George Esq at his new harbour and repositioned by the Shannon Commissioners when they extended the quays.


Most of the surviving cranes are on the lower Shannon, from Portumna down. Here is the crane at Connaught Harbour, Portumna.

The Portumna crane
This is Crane No 8, but rated for only 1 ton as opposed to the 8 at Banagher. Note that the date (if date it be) is the same: 1-8-00
Starboard side
Rear view

Note that the rectangular plate seems to say “Shannon Commission”. I would have expected that phrase to have fallen out of use once the Board of Works took over the Shannon, and that might suggest that this crane is older than 1900. Could the 1-8-00 be a date of inspection or refurbishment rather than a date of installation? Or might it be something other than a date?

Here is another piece of evidence.

Portumna crane: builders

You probably can’t read that, but I think the words on the side say


In The Post Office Annual Directory and Calendar for 1843, Courtney & Stephens, of 1 Blackhall Place, Dublin, is described as “agricultural implement factory and iron works”. But according to the Dictionary of Irish Architects, the firm of Courtney & Stephens, of Blackhall Place, Dublin, became Courtney, Stephens & Bailey in 1865. That suggests that this crane may be original Shannon Navigation equipment.


I have but one poor photo of the remains of the crane at Kilgarvan on the east side of Lough Derg.

The Kilgarvan crane

This is the only crane that has what might be called imitation cursive. I wasn’t able to read the first line; the second seems to say

Warranted to carry 25 cwt

I am not at all sure of the number, and I note that the final word seems to read “cut” rather than “cwt”, the usual abbreviation for “hundredweight” (one twentieth of a ton).

I looked again at this photo recently, and I now think that the upper line reads “Shotts Iron Works”: Shotts, half way between Edinburgh and Glasgow, had an iron works from about 1802.

If you would like to have a go at deciphering the text, I can supply a 1.4MB version of the photo.


We pause on our way downstream to note that the crane at Williamstown (formerly Cow Island) is of a different pattern from those we have seen so far, which would not be surprising as Williamstown was not a Shannon Navigation harbour. I understand that this crane was fitted to the canal-boat Peter Farrell (operated by John Weaving) before it got hydraulics.

The Williamstown crane


The crane at Scarriff seems to match that at Portumna.

The Scarriff crane

I should have shifted those barrels to check the manufacturer’s name.

It has the familiar plate …
… and says Shannon Commission on the back


The cranes at the patent slip and dockyard will be covered in more detail on a different page; here are five photos as a temporary measure.

Killaloe dockyard cranes

The large rail crane


The small rail crane

Static crane (without jib)


The crane at the quay

The Killaloe crane, which is not of the same design as the Portumna and Scarriff cranes
The Killaloe crane from the far side of the canal
Crane with cheese
This crane has a geared mechanism for turning (slewing?)
Manufacturer’s plate

There is a similar plate on the far side. It is undamaged, so I could read the full address, but my photo is less good. The manufacturer was:

William Jones, 154 Upper Thames Street, London

Googling has produced no information about the firm or its years of operation; I would welcome information.


There were two cranes at the canal harbour in Limerick.

The downstream crane, photographed before the harbour was tarted up
The crane has now been partially buried

Rather less remains of the other crane.

The second Limerick crane

Industrial heritage bits
More heritage bits

However, it has some points of resemblance to the Banagher crane. I must take more photos ….

Saleen pier

I’ve written about Saleen Pier here. As far as I can see, it is the only one of the estuary piers constructed by the Shannon Commissioners that still has a crane. However, the Shannon Commissioners’ reports up to 1850 do not show any income from cranage from Saleen (or indeed from any of their estuary piers other than Kilrush), so it is possible that the crane was installed later.

Saleen Pier and crane
The manufacturer’s plaque is at the bottom of the crane
The design differs from that used at Portumna and Scarriff

The manufacturer’s plaque says


According to John D’Alton’s The History of the County of Dublin (1838)

Mr. Clarke has an iron foundry here [Ringsend], where about fifty men have daily employment […].


Now that I know what to look for on Shannon Navigation cranes, I must revisit some of them and take more photos …. In the meantime, if anyone can add to the store of knowledge, do please leave a Comment below. From the GCC letter, it appears that the cranes could be operated by persons not employed by the Board of Works, but what were the commercial and working practices that governed their use? What other cranes are still around? And, if Carrick-on-Shannon is No 12, how many were there altogether and where were they located?

If this sort of stuff interests you, sign up to the RSS feed on the site front page. You’ll get a brief note every so often, calling attention to the addition of a new page or to significant updates to existing pages.

Oh, the title of this page? Clue: Pete Brown.

27 responses to “The machine demands a sacrifice: Shannon cranes

  1. An interesting variety of cranes!
    The Banagher crane could surely not have lifted 8 tons. I am tempted to think it was 3, but I think even that would have overtaxed it.
    This type of crane, without counterweight, would normally lift about 1 to 11/2 tons. we had some fairly similar ones at the Waterways Museum in Gloucester, where I used to work

  2. Thanks for that, Des. Your comment prompted me to go back for another look at my original of the photo, and I think it does indeed say 3 tons. It’s still more than the other cranes for which I have a figure, so this might be the despised “old patched-up crane” from Kingstown. Would these cranes have used chains rather than ropes?

    I don’t see anywhere that a counterweight might have been mounted.


  3. Pingback: Shotts wha hae … | Irish waterways history

  4. Saw your note in RCHS Waterways History Group mailing.
    Banagher crane appears to be made of steel, the others iron, and the design of the Banagher crane suggests a late C19th or early C20th date. The other cranes look earlier and most appear to have wrought-iron jibs. The Carrick on Shannon crane and the Kilgarvan crane include iron castings.
    As far as ~I can tell all the cranes are provided with a brake but not with ratchett and pawl safety gear. None seem to have any wooden components. In general the amount of wood used in a crane’s construction decreased through the C19th. Late C18th cranes are mainly of wood.
    All these cranes are of a type known as a ‘centre-post’ crane. The central post, of cast-iron, sits in a deep pit with most of it below ground. This arrangement obviates the need for a counterweight. since the crane cannot be pulled over.

  5. Tim: thank you very much for that very interesting information. I’ll see if I can find any more information, in the Shannon Commissioners reports, about the operation of the cranes. I’ve also taken two recent photos of Grand Canal Company cranes, with wooden parts; I’ll add them to the site when I find out more about them.


  6. Nice work on the cranes. The crane at Scariff Harbour was erected between the 5 September and the 10 October 1892 in advance of a visit to Scariff by Willie Redmond on the 27 October.

  7. Thanks, Ger. That’s interesting because in design it seems to be similar to others on the Shannon. Might it have been moved from elsewhere?

  8. Well i never !. I have been looking ito these canal and other stationary hand cranes for years, this site has given me a great wealth of knowledge, so i just wanted to say, thanks to everyone. If i can add bits into the thread i will do, but i need to look over all the material again and check the comments etc.

    By the way i have a much larger interest in Railway self propelled cranes, like the ones at Killaloe in Co Clare but also steam powered rail cranes. I cannot find the seperate page dealing with the Killaloe cranes and i really would love to see what has been posted on them, so if anyone can guide me to that page, it would be apprciated.

    When i get a spare momment, i will check my crane lists for rail cranes and others as supplied to the Board of Works, in the least i think they had at least five such large rail mounted cranes, still it might be next week before i can check same as i am in work until then.

    Anyway, thanks a million for the site and all the photos, what an eye opener !

  9. Thanks for that. If you can add to the information, I’ll be very grateful. I still haven’t done the Killaloe pages (or several other topics: so many photos, so little time!) so I’ve added a quick-and-dirty section above under Killaloe. bjg

  10. a plate on the water tank at Rickmansworth station says it was also built by the firm of William Jones of 154 Upper Thames Street, London EC. Googling that address finds a notice in the London Gazette that William Jones died in 1925 and the firm also made railway lamps and took out a patent on tipping mechanism for railway carriages.

  11. Thanks, Nat. That suggests that the crane is from the latter part of the nineteenth century. bjg

  12. Hi Brian
    Am working on a report on the steam cranes at H&W, Belfast. As you surmise, slewing is the same as turning.

  13. Many thanks for taking these photos and making them available.

    Some of those old hand cranes are fine examples of the patternmakers’ and ironfounders’ art. They are often the only surviving examples of the work of a long-forgotten company.

    Regarding the Carrick-on-Shannon crane, I sure the first part of the maker’s name will be ‘J. P.’, for John Philips Mather. William Dixon was his most durable partner, various others being involved from time to time, including the splendidly-named Ormerod Heyworth.

    Mather, Dixon & Co made early railway locomotives, including some with unreasonably large wheels (10 ft/3 m diameter), and marine engines.

    I have updated the ‘Grace’s Guide’ entry for Mather, Dixon and Co, and added a link to this website.

    Thanks again,


  14. Thanks, John, and thanks too for the valuable extra information. Grace’s Guide is here. bjg

  15. I noticed in GG a digitized version of a volume of The Enginner. How much of ths publication is accessible in this format?

  16. Regarding the Kilgarvan crane, that’s the first time I’ve seen such elegant ‘handwriting’ on a piece of machinery!

    There seems to be surprisingly little published information on the early work of the Shotts Iron Works, especially considering how long the company lasted. It may be of interest to know that they supplied a crane and other equipment to Robert Stevenson (Robert Louis Stevenson’s grandfather) for use during the construction of the remarkable Bell Rock lighthouse c.1809.

    Incidentally, there’s some good stuff on the web about the construction of the Bell Rock lighthouse, and the book ‘The Lighthouse Stevensons’ by Bella Bathurst is a good read.

    Regarding Fred’s question about ‘The Engineer’, there’s about 50 years’ worth of volumes so far downloaded to Grace’s Guide. Go to the link that Brian gave, and there’s a text box which says ‘The Engineer. Volumes of this important publication are being made available on-line for the years 1862-1926. See them here.’ Click on ‘here’. NB: Each week’s issue is a PDF file of about 15 MB.

    There’s some fascinating stuff in those old copies of ‘The Engineer’. With hindsight, we can see that many of the ideas were barking mad. I suppose some of the horse-drawn readers at the time probably thought they all were.

  17. Thanks, John. The quay at Kilgarvan was not built until 1891; I suspect that the crane is older.

    The cranes at the patent slip at Killaloe include one by Bray Waddington, which I am told is one of only two remaining, the other being at Driffield, as you show on your site. There are bits of a crane by Forrest, which I am told may be unique. There is a Jessop & Appleby, without its jib, which I am told is the only one in these islands. And there’s a P and W MacLennan on a track, which again I believe to be fairly rare. If photos of any of these would be of any use to you, let me know. My information on rarity comes from Andrew Waldron of the Industrial Railway Society.

    On old magazines, Google has scanned some collected volumes of the Mechanic’s Magazine and I’ve found them both entertaining and useful for the period I’m most interested in. Again, lots of lunatic ideas, but some that actually worked. bjg

  18. Many thanks for the information.

    I can’t claim any credit for Grace’s Guide! I’m merely one of several contributors. The site’s owner is driven by genuine altruism, funding the site himself, and putting a massive amount of effort into it. He does need to update the stated scope though, as it now includes all sorts of companies around the world.

    I had seen a small Jessop & Appleby crane like the one you’ve shown. I’m not going to challenge ‘these islands’, though – it was in New Zealand!

    Regarding the Bray, Waddington crane at Driffield, I hadn’t seen those pictures before, and it’s a real beauty. Some of its deatils are remarkably similar to a nicely restored crane at Gloucester Docks, made by the Midland Railway Co in Derby as late as 1902.

  19. Thanks for the info on The Enginner. A bit slow to download, but fascinating all the same!

  20. Pingback: Scarriff | Irish waterways history

  21. Colosseum: The Machine Needs A Sacrifice
    Lyrics: Pete Brown

  22. That’s right: the world’s greatest band. bjg

  23. Margaret Smith

    William Jones Ltd was founded by my great grandfather, about 1879. His three sons worked with him, including my grandfather Basil Jones, although he left in 1931 to develop Sevenoaks Brick Works . They were an iron and steel company, with several sites along the Thames, and provided railway material in Europe and India. The firm was taken over by Ace Machinery in 1966.

  24. Margaret

    Thank you very much for that very useful and interesting information.

    Has the firm’s history been recorded or written up anywhere, do you know?


  25. Another Bray and Waddington crane has been salvaged from Ferns railway station and is on its way for preservation at the Waterford and Suir Valley Railway.

  26. There is a page on the firm in John Smith, History of Charlton (privately publishes) and several pages in Industrial railways and locomotives in the County or London published Industrial Railway Society. I am working up an article on the firm for Greenwich industrial series,

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