The "Wee" Middle and South Cranes VS81 and VS82

Country and region: 
United Kingdom: Northern Ireland
Town, city: 
GPS localisation: 
geographical coordinates: 
Wee Crane VS81
present state: 
preserved but needs restoration
built by: 
Thomas Smith & Sons of Rodley (West Yorkshire)
in use since: 
out of use: 
Lifting capacity: 
five-ton maximum lifting capacity
forward reach: 
35 - 40 foot (ca. 10,5 - 12 m)
Lift Height: 
33 foot (ca. 10 m)
Description : 

Steam cranes were an indispensable part of shipbuilding in Belfast, with records of their use dating back to the 1870s. This were two of the three three steam cranes, called the ‘Wee’ Cranes by some. They were manufactured by Thomas Smith & Sons of Rodley (West Yorkshire) for Harland and Wolff, and these three cranes are the only survivors of the many cranes that served the shipyard and the Harbour estate. Purpose built for the small railway that served the shipyard, they were the last steam cranes built by Smith & Sons, and among the last steam cranes ever built in Britain.

The Middle Crane VS81 and the South Crane VS82 were ordered in 1957 and delivered the following year. They were also destined to work in the Victoria Yard, but as the yards were all interconnected by a small railway, ended up at the Thompson Dock. They were used up until 1989 when they were decommissioned and stored at the Thompson Dock, and then at the Titanic Studios, overlooking the remaining railway lines they used to run along.

Since they were decommissioned, there has been a continued interest in the steam cranes, not least because of the myth that they were involved in the building of the Titanic. Sadly, this isn’t the case, but they did work on many of Harland & Wolff’s later ships and other projects. In recent years, one of the cranes also had a cameo role in the 2002 film Reign of Fire, an apocalyptic action fantasy set in 2020 Britain; it was directed by Rob Bowman and starred Christian Bale and Matthew McConaughey.

Titanic Foundation currently have the lease for the steam cranes and are exploring a number of recommendations for their future. They are currently stored on private land so are only visible to the public from a distance.