A Superb c.1896-1903 Set of Five Craftsman’s Scale Illustration Plans for Railway Cranes Prepared by Cowans Sheldon & Co

Origin: British
Period: Late Nineteenth / Early Twentieth Century
Provenance: Unknown
Date: c.1896-1903
In Frames:
The Largest: Height: 29.5 inches, Width: 44.25 inches
The Smallest: Height: 26.75 inches, Width: 37.75 inches
The Remaining Three: Height: 28.75 inches, Width 41.75 inches
Condition: C+ to B

The group of five large framed and glazed pencil and ink intricately hand drawn illustration plans on linen to include ‘5 Tons Accident Crane, Barsi Railway’, ‘35 Cwt Steam Travelling Coal Whipping Crane’, ‘10 Tons Hand Accident Crane, Lagos Railway’, ‘7 Tons Hand Accident Crane Caledonian Railway’ and ‘20 Tons Hand Breakdown Crane, San Paulo Railway’, all dated to 1896 through to 1903 and prepared by Cowans Sheldon & Co Ltd Engineering, St. Nicholas Works, Carlisle.

The plans are in fair to good overall condition with some creasing and discoloration commensurate with age, with some having more than others. They had previously been rolled together and have now been protected in good quality glazed frames. There are two or three old tears and repairs to these tears and some light handling creases and marginal fraying. They show their age but in an aesthetically pleasing way. The frames are contemporary and are of good build quality. There are some scuffs to their edges.

In the very earliest days of the British railway system, locomotives and other items of rolling stock were light enough that any derailment or other accident could normally be attended to without assistance from a crane.  The time was soon to come, however, for purpose-built railway breakdown cranes to be essential for keeping the railways running.  The breakdown crane, or “accident crane” as it was more generally known until circa the Great War, was a development of the travelling hand crane which had come into use in the 1850s for goods yard and civil engineering work.  In 1853, the Great Northern Railway ordered their first “accident” crane from Kirkstall Forge Co, for stabling at Peterborough; this crane being hand powered and of 8 tons capacity.  It is notable that, though steam power for travelling cranes appeared in the 1860s, hand powered breakdown cranes were not totally dispensed with until implementation of the Modernisation Plan in the 1950s.

The first steam powered “accident cranes” were built by Appleby Bros in 1875. In 1886 the Caledonian Railway received from Cowans Sheldon two four-axle 15-ton cranes, these being the largest capacity breakdown cranes of the time.  This was followed by orders for similar cranes from the Highland Railway (1887), the Glasgow & South Western Railway (1893), the Midland Railway (four built in 1893, another four in 1899 and a ninth in 1903) and many others. Most other major railways began ordering steam breakdown cranes in the late-1880s and 1890s, often of only 10 or 12 tons capacity.

Founded in 1846 at Woodbank Upperby, this Carlisle based engineering firm established a world leading reputation in the construction of rail and dock cranes. The firm was simply known in the city as “the cranemakers.” Cowans cranes were exported across the globe to countries including Japan, Argentina, Nigeria, South Africa, Iraq, China, Canada, and Bolivia.  Generations of young men from the city took up engineering apprenticeships at the Cowans Sheldon St Nicholas works.

In 1857 Cowans Sheldon moved to the St Nicholas site on London Road that had once been the St Nicholas Leper Hospital. By 1858 the first railway crane had been produced and was used by the Carlisle & Maryport Railway Company. By 1866 Cowans Sheldon had built a massive 532 railway turntables. Many were exported around the globe to locations including Australia, India, Egypt and Russia. By 1891 the company had built the largest dockside crane in the country and in 1907 the first floating crane had been produced. In 1926 the firm built the largest floating crane on the planet for the Japanese Navy. This crane was used to secretly build the Japanese warships used in the pacific war campaign. During both World Wars the company boomed due to the high demands placed upon heavy engineering for both the war effort and home front.  Closer to home, in the 1890s Cowans Sheldon constructed Carlisle Market Hall which has the look and feel of a Victorian railway system.

Massively intriguing, undeniably scarce, beautifully detailed, hugely decorative; there really is nothing not to like here.