An important piece of canal heritage has returned to Burbage Wharf after an absence of five years.
The Burbage Wharf crane is the last surviving example of seventeen cranes along the 86-mile stretch of the Kennet and Avon Canal, between Bath and Reading.
Two hundred years ago those cranes loaded and unloaded goods from and onto canal barges, travelling along a busy trade route that was the equivalent of the M4 today.
The crane was originally constructed in 1833 and was used to load and unload coal, timber, lime, bricks and other commodities at the then-busy wharf.
But by the 1950s, when commercial traffic on the canal ceased, the crane was in a state of disrepair, and many original parts were missing altogether, as metal pieces had been salvaged and melted down to help the war effort.
Project manager John Webb, of the Inland Waterways Association, told Marlborough News Online: “A replica Burbage Wharf crane was erected in 1978. But the crane had been hewn from soft wood and slowly deteriorated. This new crane is made of English oak from Herefordshire, and will last considerably longer – perhaps as long as the original did.”
The first replica crane was dismantled and removed in 2007. The new crane was made by volunteers based at Claverton pumping station near Bath, which uses a wooden wheel to lift water up 48 feet from the River Avon to the canal above.
Volunteer Patrick Lawrence said the building of the new crane had been a four-year labour of love for fifteen volunteers.
“The only original piece of the crane is the two-tonne stone counterweight,” he said. “The oak was delivered cut to size, but had to be hewn and put together at Claverton.”
The wooden structure was transported from Claverton to Burbage Wharf in two parts back in November. A large modern crane was needed to lift the structures over the roofs of the two cottages to the towpath, where it was assembled.
The erecting of the crane, whose jib is 30 feet long and which stands at over 20 feet at its highest point, was officially celebrated yesterday (Monday, March 5) when a token ceremonial load was lifted by president of the Kennet and Avon Canal Trust, David Bruce, and the last cobble stone – bearing the date 2011 – was laid by South West regional chairman of the Inland Waterways Association, Chris Birks.
It will make an unusual feature for whoever buys the 18th century farmhouse and adjoining cottages, on whose land the crane resides. The property is being sold by The Crown Estate through Carter Jonas for £900,000.
- The crane is on private property, but is best seen from the Burbage Wharf bridges on the A346 Marlborough-to-Burbage road, or from the canal towpath, which can be accessed via a track on the southbound side of the bridges. Visitors should be aware that the bridges form a narrow part of an extremely busy road without a footpath.