The Archaeology of Trafford in 12 Objects Part 12: Hand Crane, Sale

The twelfth and final item in our festive look at the archaeology of Trafford in 12 objects, is a hand crane that stands by the Bridgewater Canal in Sale. This crane is used to hoist stop planks to close off the canal and enable sections to be isolated in the event of a leak or for maintenance.

It was important to keep the canal’s quays and the flow of coal from the Duke’s mines at Worsley working, even if other sections of the canal needed maintenance or were damaged, as happened at Dunham Massey in 1971 and at Castlefield in 2005. As the Bridgewater Canal had no locks, except at the Runcorn terminus where it joined the River Mersey, emergency stop locks that could be swung into place by a hand crane, as at Sale, were a vital piece of equipment.

The hand crane at Sale, which stands on the western bank of the canal by Sale Bridge on School Lane, rises 1.2m high and has an open framework jib with steel bracing, 4m long. There are gears for lifting and swivelling the crane on a pintle-type bearing. A stack of five wooden planks stand beside the crane, ready to be swung into place to block the canal.

This is one of a number of such cranes installed at roughly two-mile, or 3.2km, intervals along the length of the Bridgewater Canal. Three survive in Trafford: at the eastern end of the Barton Swing Bridge, a second here at Sale, and a third west of the wharf in Broadheath. Such hand cranes were in use along the Bridgewater from the mid-19th century onwards. However, the date of the installation of the crane at Sale is uncertain, although it appears to be mid-20th century.

The construction of the Bridgewater Canal through Trafford in the 1760s marked the beginning of industrialisation in the area. Its route provided a spine along which goods, transport systems, and new communities grew up during the 19th and 20th centuries, creating the geographical framework for 21st century Trafford.

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