The Cowes Hammerhead Crane Trust

Cowes hammerhead crane trust

About us

The Cowes Hammerhead Crane Trust was formed in 2006 seeking to preserve this iconic tribute to England's early industrial design engineering and as a symbol of the importance of Cowes' engineering and shipbuilding heritage. We focused on actions to preserve the structure of the crane, such as increasing the protection levels to a grade II star listed structure on the English Heritage 'at risk' list, media articles and lobbying actions with the Island Council and Heritage England.

As we worked with English Heritage and the Island's conservation team we learnt what engagement and support to the community really meant - we have matured. Our aspirations have widened. We know we can do more, 'Making this important past part of our future'.

We are promoting the 1912 Hammerhead Crane as our 'brand', not only to restore the crane, but to tell the story of our shipbuilding heritage at Cowes and to inspire young people to take up careers in engineering and heritage related fields such as craftsmanship, restoration or heritage tourism.

We see the crane, already a key landmark, in it's heritage community setting, the focus of community adhesion, a venue for events, activities, and enabling people to enjoy the historic waterfront.

But we needed help. The crane was in need of urgent repair. English Heritage stepped forward to support the Isle of Wight Council by underwriting the costs of serving Urgent Works Notices on the owners to address the most rapidly deteriorating elements of the crane. You might have seen the extensive scaffolding erected in 2018 and 2019 to allow engineers to repair the worst areas and stabilise the decay of the crane.

The Cowes Hammerhead Crane Trust continues to fight to support the crane and is looking for donations to set up an interpretation centre. If you are able we have provided a gift aid application form to enable us to take advantage of the Revenue Departments support for charitable donations.

Download the Gift Aid Declaration Form


Preserving the crane as part of the Cowes Medina Yard Development

The ‘Medina Yard’ development, on the west bank of the river Medina next to the chain ferry, was approved by the Island council in April 2018. This comprises a substantial mixed use development on 12 acres of prime riverside land over a number of phases, starting with the northern end residential area, with a marine employment area to the south as phase 4, and includes the repair of the 1912 grade II* listed crane.

The efforts of Heritage England, the island council conservation team and the Trust during the councils review of the planning application were successful putting the case for “The full restoration of the 1912 cantilever (hammerhead) dockyard crane as a functioning crane capable of demonstrating how ships were built and the engineering skills of the early 1900’s”.

From the Trust’s point of view the planning approval that included a commitment by the developer to provide £1.7 million to ensure that the hammerhead crane is restored as a functioning machine is key so that people can fully understand and interpret the crane’s role in our shipbuilding history. We need the crane to be alive, not a dumb piece of painted steel sitting in the background. By way of comparison, just look at the historic Stothert and Pitt crane on the Gunwharf Quays in Portsmouth harbour. One can see most people just walk by with hardly a glance up at the crane.

The Medina Yard development includes a maritime museum in the later phase 2 works. The Trust has entered into a ‘Mutual cooperation agreement’ with the Classic Boat Museum to ensure that the heritage interpretation at this museum can encompass all aspects of the rich maritime heritage of Cowes.

The Trust hopes that the continued support of the council and the planning committee will result in a vibrant, functioning, fully restored historic crane, handed over to the Trust in perpetuity for operation and maintenance, able to keep the Island’s shipbuilding history alive and inspire youngsters into engineering careers.

The Cowes Hammerhead Crane

The 1912 80 ton hammerhead Crane was ordered by Cowes shipbuilder J.S. White in 1911 and came into use the following year. It was the key element of a new fitting-out quay, as part of White's increased capacity for the production of naval warships. The Crane was designed by Babcock and Wilcox and engineered at their Renfrew plant, but it was the only giant cantilever Crane they ever built. This type of Crane would eventually dominate the skyline of shipyards throughout the world. The Cowes structure falls within the first decade of their development and the Crane is probably the earliest example in existence beyond the Clyde, and the only remaining pre-WW1 hammerhead crane in England. Two warships that were built under the crane are still in existence; HMS Cavalier preserved at Chatham, and the Polish Navy’s destroyer ‘ORP Blyskawica’ preserved in Poland.

The 1912 hammerhead dockyard crane at Cowes is a magnificent symbol to all of what the Island is capable of achieving and of the many ships that Cowes and the Island have built.  

hammerhead dockyard crane at CowesThe Crane has been out of use since 2004. The findings of two engineering surveys carried out in 2005 and 2009 show that the Crane is structurally sound.   The Cowes Hammerhead Crane was listed Grade II on the 2nd August 2004 through the good efforts of the Isle of Wight Industrial Archaeological Society, upgraded to a Grade 11 star 30th October 2007, and placed on the English heritage ‘At Risk’ list July 2008.

The 1912 hammerhead Crane is likely to be the only reminder of Cowes’ marine industrial heritage; standing proud on the Cowes skyline, a landmark looking down over the approaches to Cowes, the Solent and the Medina River.  The Crane is a magnificent symbol to all of what the Island is capable of achieving and of the many ships that Cowes and the Island have built.  The challenge is how to make the Crane, and the maritime heritage it represents, mean something to people today and for the future.

“Sammy” the crane

“Sammy” the craneMaking the past part of our future calls for engagement with children of all ages to give them inspiration in thinking of opportunities for careers in engineering. 

We have created ‘Sammy’ the crane to appeal to younger children.  Sammy is named after John Samuel White who established a major shipbuilding in Cowes in 1838 and who ordered the construction of our Cowes Hammerhead Crane in 1912.

The Future

So where does the Trust go from here.  We have raised the profile of the crane on the island.  People are beginning to appreciate the crane as a landmark.  We have learnt more about how to inspire people.  Now we need to progress the recognition of the engineering aspects of the crane, the physical steel structure, its design, the electrical systems, and how this can open student’s eyes to their future employment opportunities.    

The Trust continues to work with the developer who has included the crane as the focal point the overall design so that when construction commences the trust can begin to prepare to take over the operation of the crane when restoration is complete, educating people of our Islands rich maritime heritage; the crane as the story teller.   

Interested to join or help the Trust?

We are actively looking for people to help us as friends or to take on management roles as trustees; it will be interesting and great fun to participate in the cranes operation on the river bank, over looking the harbour and all that goes on. If you are interested please contact us at the email address or phone number below:

[email protected]
or call Jon Fisher on 01983 293755

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Registered address: Kent House Stables, Connaught Road, East Cowes, Isle of Wight, PO32 6DP. Company number: 05999817, incorporated on the 15 November 2006
Charity Commission registration number: 1119813 dated 25 June 2007