Last month, Salford City Mayor, Ian Stewart, made a decision to demolish the iconic blue Cargo Cranes at Salford Quays, arguing that while he has "a huge emotional attachment to them as a reminder of the dock workers who built our city…the current economic climate of coalition cuts, means we just haven't got the money to save them. It would be wrong to spend £1million on preserving two rusting and dangerous cranes, when the people of Salford are struggling to make ends meet…"
The figure of £1million is misleading and comes from an independent feasibility report by Stuart Molyneux B.Eng(Hons), C.Eng, M.I.C.E., which looked at the various costs of saving the Cranes - between £648,500 and £982,990. Molyneux recommended the scheme with the lower figure of £648,500 to `disassemble, refurbish and re-erect'.
To the £648,500 figure can be added the Council estimate of £100,000 maintenance every twelve years, or £8,333 per year.
Salford Council has £626,000 ring fenced in its capital budget to pay for the refurbishment (in the same way that it has £2million a year ring fenced for spending on Media City), so the actual shortfall is £22,000 plus just over £8,000 a year from after the Cranes have been refurbished.
What is incredible is that the Cargo Cranes have never been assessed by English Heritage throughout the ten year saga of their destiny. Following an application last month to English Heritage by Alice Darlington, who has an interest in community heritage, a report has now been compiled on whether to nationally list the Cranes and save them from demolition. A decision based on the English Heritage report is expected by the Department of Culture, Media and Sport this week.
In the meantime, we asked Alice to write a bit of a short history about the Docks and the Cranes, and to explain why they are so unique and should be saved. It's their one leg…
A Dip Into the Docks – by Alice Darlington
Originally over two hundred cranes were on the docks constantly unloading and reloading goods. Out of these only two remain. These Stothert and Pitt manufactured DD2 cargo cranes were moved from Dock 6 to Dock 8 where they now stand as monuments.
The DD2 received acclaim for its design - four legs allowed for trucks to pass directly underneath. Examples of this innovative structure can be seen at Victoria Dock, Canary Wharf and Bristol. The DD2s at Salford with one single column leg were made specifically for Dock 6 due to the lack of available space. This was a design challenge for makers Stothert and Pitt due to the restricted distribution of weight. A DD2 crane operator at Salford docks described the cabin swaying a foot forwards then a foot back each time it picked up a load.
Now redundant and towering over the surrounding buildings, the DD2 cargo cranes stand iconic, and impressive.
Re-branded in the 1990s as Salford Quays, the Docks are almost unrecognisable today. With modern buildings and clean waters the area seems sterile compared to the times it was operational. At Dock 8, (now Ontario Basin) the art deco dock office and two statuesque cranes are the only original structures. Elsewhere around the Docks new restaurants, a shopping complex and arts centre bring again visitors and much needed revenue. But the Docks past and original purpose has not been forgotten.
Salford Docks in its heyday enveloped the senses. It was a smelly, noisy hub of industry, giving Ordsall a gateway to the world. The Docks provided thousands of local jobs, from casual labour to opportunities on the merchant ships and a chance to travel. The Docks, opened in 1894 by Queen Victoria, as part of the the newly completed Manchester Ship Canal, allowed much larger ships than before to navigate the waterways to Ordsall.
Dock work was casual, at 7.45am workers lined up with their ticket in front of the foreman, those who weren't chosen were sent back home. Work was varied, from unloading cotton or grain to assisting the dock diver. Before the days of cylinders, oxygen would have to be manually pumped down to the diver. Raymond Probert, who trained as a fire stoker on the floating cranes, remembers that constantly pumping oxygen to the divers was a particularly tiring job.
Some workers endured difficult conditions. James McHugh who unloaded bananas recalls shaking his clothing clean of wivel bugs every evening and seeing them all scuttle over his back yard. Rod Sellers described the smell on the docks as being pungent, fumes pumped out from lorries and trains mingled with waste rotting in the water.
Those working with lamp-black washed well every evening, only to find it reappearing later through the pores of their skin. James Mchugh remembers the dock strikes and the criticism strikers received. He explains, "They don't know how hard it was and the conditions we worked under".
During the war, American sailors would give Juicy Fruit chewing gum to the dockers, and sweets or oranges to the local children. The larger American liners used to hold parties with food in abundance for groups of children. A coach was sent up to Henshaws and blind children were brought to the dock to be entertained and fed. Edith Withington, whose father worked on the docks, remembered food often being scarce and a young neighbour boasting how he'd once eaten a whole egg for breakfast.
Salford docks were an obvious target for the Nazis. James Houghton remembers Ordsall being "pounded with bombs" but says it was amazing to see the amount of goods that still came in. Bomb disposal divers were sent down to find devices and after the war the docks became vibrant and thriving once again.
Eddie Kearney lived in Monmouth Street and grew up seeing the ships come and go from his bedroom window. He described New Years' Eve as a time when everyone came together, at 5 to 12 people would come out onto the street. At the stroke of midnight all the ships in the docks would sound their horns and everyone would wish each other a happy new year. For Eddie, communities are no longer the same, in those days he saw his street as his community and could go into any house after school and would be given a jam butty if his mother wasn't home.
Derrick Howarth began work at Manchester Liners as a deck apprentice, since 1720 every generation of his family has had someone at sea. From the youngest age, Derrick wanted to drive ships on the canal, today his son works on the ferries. He explains, "It's like something in the genes, like deja-vu, that carries down the chain and is passed on". John Baker recalls the rodent catcher, who'd have to bring a sack of dead mice into the dock office before he was paid. Rats living beneath the cabins on 8 and 9 Dock and were caught by whippets. John believes the rat bodies were sent to Salford University for research into diseases.
The Docks closed in 1982, huge container ships too large for the canals had begun to transport greater volumes of goods. These days Ordsall has lost its connection with the rest of world. Former Spillers worker James Houghton feels a sense of isolation; he remembers the "tremendous port" and wishes the canals were commercially in use today. Salford Docks brought not only international goods to the people of Orsdall, pony-tailed sailors wearing strange and exotic clothing became a regular sight as diverse cultures came together for a common purpose.
The two blue Cargo Cranes that remain at Salford Quays are truly magnificent examples of engineering. They watch over the docks as sentinels, a lasting testament to the workers of Salford and a lost industry.
See previous Salford Star articles on the Salford Quays Cranes...
Salford Quays Cranes Hope As English Heritage Gets Involved - click here
Salford Quays Cargo Cranes To Be Demolished - click here