River Avon at Hotwells by Anthony O'Neil © geograph.org.uk/p/1861336

Fairbairn Steam CraneBristol
M Shed Cranes
Princes Wharf
Wapping Road
Somerset BS1 4RN


Some of the M Shed’s biggest exhibits are the landmark cargo cranes. On most weekends, they are brought to life by the Museum’s fantastic team of volunteers.
In the 1950s Bristol had over 40 cranes operating on the City Docks. By the end of the port’s life only eight cranes on the quayside were still operating. Of those eight, four have been saved and restored for posterity. The Fairbairn Steam Crane is the oldest and was built in 1878.
The following is reproduced from the M Shed’s own website:
“A landmark on Bristol’s docks, these cargo cranes are a link to the city’s 1950s trading heyday.
Built by Stothert & Pitt in Bath, these four cranes – the biggest objects in the whole of our collections – are the last survivors of over 40 years in the City Docks during the 1950s. Cranes like these were developed to load and unload ships as quickly as possible in port.
After the closure of the City Docks to commercial traffic in 1975, the remaining cranes were sold for scrap. The pressure group City Docks Ventures was formed to buy back two of the cranes, and Bristol City Council bought the remaining two.
All four cranes passed into our care in 1989. Our volunteers started to restore the cranes in 2001, and they’re now able to move under their own power.
Fairbairn Steam Crane
The striking banana-shaped crane is the Fairbairn Steam crane, now the oldest surviving exhibit of its type in Britain and a Scheduled Ancient Monument.
This innovative steam crane was built in 1878 by Stothert & Pitt to a design by Victorian engineer William Fairbairn, to lift heavy loads from the deep holds of ships more efficiently than other cranes of the day. It could lift up to 35 tons (35.56 tonnes) and was provided for the very heavy loads that passed through the port.
Through most of its working life it had only occasional use, except for a busy period in World War 2 when it worked day and night handling assault landing craft. When the City Docks were closed the crane passed into our care. The steam crane has now been restored to full working order.”
Accommodation - Search & Book through Tripadvisor here:
Operating Days
Experience a working crane on the dockside with trips inside the electric cranes and climb aboard the engine house of the Fairbairn steam crane. Watch the impressive landmarks at work and find out the vital part they played in the working life of the dockside.
For more information on working crane days go to Web: Bristol's working Dock Cranes
Contact & Further Information
Telephone  +44 (0)1173 526 600

Please note:

M Shed’s large working exhibits are operated by volunteers. Occasionally crew shortages, mechanical difficulties or adverse weather conditions may force them to alter or cancel the advertised event.

We advise you to check directly with them to avoid disappointment by calling on the above number

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