In the 1800s North Lanarkshire became associated with a range of engineering industries but one of the most successful was the manufacture of cranes. Some of these companies were small or short-lived enterprises; others were large-scale civil engineers that lasted for decades. Even some of the relatively small crane builders exported worldwide.
Cranes were an essential tool in heavy industry for lifting heavy components. Sometimes the crane was static and other times it could move on wheels, such as locomotive steam cranes that ran on standard gauge railway track. Other times it would be built into the structure of the factory as a jib crane attached to a column or an over head travelling crane that spanned the part of the factory and moved up and down on rails near the roof.
George Russell and Company
In 1865 George Russell started a crane works in Motherwell, the town’s first. Situated near the Caledonian Railway line the Alpha Works produced a variety of steam cranes, drawing on Russell’s own expertise in boilermaking. The museum collection contains several advertising leaflets illustrating the company’s products.
Chambers, Scott and Company
This versatile and internationally-successful but short-lived firm built steam and electric powered winches until its Motherwell factory was devastated by fire in 1926. They built electric winches for the liners RMS Olympic and RMS Titanic and machine tools and cranes for clients as far afield as the South Australian Harbours Board to whom they supplied two 10 ton steam cranes in 1925.
Marshall, Fleming and Company
Founded in 1890, this was a Motherwell company that had a much longer existence, only closing in the early 1980s. Three of their steam cranes are known to survive, one in the collection of East Lothian Museums and two at Summerlee Museum, Coatbridge (one of which is on loan courtesy of the Trustees of National Museums Scotland). All three were used in Scottish iron and steel works. The crane in the CultureNL Museums collection must have been one of the last steam cranes to be built in Scotland as it was constructed in 1944, the castings being made from older wooden patterns that date from around 1900. Happily those same patterns survive in the museum collection too.
In Coatbridge the postwar years saw the arrival of the fledgling Hydrocon Crane Company, which had been set-up in Glasgow by the Lambert Engineering Co. Hydrocon made hydraulically-controlled mobile cranes at their new factory on the former site of the Summerlee Iron Works. The factory’s main erecting shop is now the Exhibition Hall of Summerlee Museum.