14th Oct 2022
Whilst in some cases a town or city gets to choose its symbols and iconic landmarks such as the Sydney Opera House, in other cases the representation of a city’s heritage is decided by history.
This is especially true in the case of the Finnieston Crane, which despite having been replaced by a different crane hire decades ago and no longer in use, remains as a symbol of the engineering heritage of Glasgow to the point that it still appears in the background of the BBC programme Reporting Scotland.
It has even inspired the most unlikely of artists, but why is this the case? How did a crane lift itself up to become such a cultural touchstone?
The Biggest Dockworker On The Quay
One of the more confusing elements about Finnieston Crane is that it refers to two separate but very similar cantilever cranes.
The first was originally erected on York Street but by 1848 had been moved to Finnieston Quay with the specific role of lifting heavy machinery (typically steam locomotives) from the dock onto steamships to export around the world, hence why it was built on the River Clyde.
By 1877, Queen’s Dock had been opened on Finnieston Quay to help export goods from the centre of Glasgow, and a 130-tonne steam crane was constructed by the 1890s to help facilitate this.
Unfortunately, the first Finnieston Crane no longer exists; there was a proposal to build a bridge between Finnieston and Mavisbank and the initial crane was demolished to make way for this.
The bridge ultimately never came to be, so in 1928, the Clyde Navigation Trust commissioned a replacement tower, officially known as Clyde Navigation Trustee’s Crane #7 or the Stobcross Crane, but commonly referred to simply as Finnieston Crane regardless.
Decay And Rebirth
Queen’s Dock was closed in 1969; by this point, Glasgow and the banks of the Clyde had transformed thanks to the lingering effects of the Clydebank Blitz and general economic shifts away from the UK.
As of 1988, the crane is no longer functional, but the last major job it had highlighted its importance to the future.
The Mayfest Arts Festival in Glasgow had an exhibition in 1988 known as TSWA 3D, a UK-wide campaign by Television South West Arts to create new locations for striking art installations at various different sites.
The Finnieston Crane was used to lift a straw sculpture of a train for 48 days before the model was ceremonially burned, leaving only its metal frame and a question mark, which itself was hung from the crane in 2012 after the death of its creator, George Wyllie.
Unlike the original crane that bore its name, it never ran the risk of being taken down, being made a listed building in 1989 and ensuring it would hang over Glasgow’s former dockyards as they were further regenerated.
It has since appeared in several fascinating places such as on early boxes of Meccano as illustrated by W.H. Pynion.
As well as this, alternative comic Limmy referenced the “Cran’” in an often quoted sketch from 2011’s Limmy’s Show.