Coles logo casting - cropped IMG 9808

Coles Cranes logo cast into counter weight block

Coles 5 ton crane - 1917 at Beamish 2010 - IMG 1326

The earliest Surviving Henry J Coles crane in the UK

AEC chassie with Coles crane

Coles Lorry crane on AEC chassis

Neal site crane at VET

Neal site crane at VET museum at Threlkeld in Cumbria 2005

Coles no 35840 yard crane nr malvern - IMG 0396

A 7 ton Coles Yard crane seen nr Malvern in 2010

Coles Cranes Ltd was founded in London in 1879 by Henry James Coles (1847-1905). The company then changed hands and moved several times over its 100 year history. COLES CRANES LIMITED later acquired several firms like R H Neal & Co of Grantham, Lincolnshire and F Taylor & Sons of Manchester. However in 1984 COLES were taken over by Grove of America but were then closed down in 1999, after Grove had taken over the crane operations of Krupp from Germany.


Henry James Coles, was born in 1847 in London, an started work for a sawmill machinery maker at 13. He then moved to "Maudslay, Sons and Field" a firm of steam engine makers in 1870, and then in 1874 to Appleby Bros. a railway crane maker. Henry Cole took over the works in Southwark when they moved to East Greenwich in 1878 and started building his own cranes.

He started building a variety of machinery and by 1895 it was noted as having built 18 cranes that year. These included 3 cranes for Woolwich Arsenal that worked on mains (water) Hydraulic pressure.

He became an experienced engineer, started his own business with his other brothers who were fond of anything mechanical. He was renowned as an innovator who laid the foundation for what was to become a world-famous company - Coles Cranes.

Derby WorksEdit

By 1898 the firm moved to Derby, a major railway centre in the North of England.

The modern story of crane-making in Sunderland started in 1939 when Henry J Coles Ltd was sold to Steel and Co Ltd.

Steels & Co. SunderlandEdit

In Victorian Sunderland another firm - a builders merchants - was founded, in 1879, by Lancelot Steel. The company grew rapidly so that by the turn of the century it was one of the biggest of its kind in the North.It expanded into heating and ventilation engineering and, in the 1930s, into industrial catering equipment. By then it was run by John Eric Steel and his brother James, grandsons of the founder. In 1937 Steel and Co became a public company with an issued share capital of £220,000. John Eric Steels aim was to bring to Sunderland heavy engineering which was not linked to shipbuilding. With the purchase of Henry J Coles in 1939 the first steps towards that ambition were taken. The Egis shipyard at Pallion was purchased and renamed the Crown Works - it was said in recognition of the amount of Government work the expanded group was carrying out.

Crown WorksEdit

Crane-making started almost immediately. The site also produced a huge range of other products, including pulley blocks, fireplaces, electric vehicles, snowploughs, and anchors. Most of these products came under the umbrella company of Steels Engineering Products in 1943. But the Coles product name was kept. During the Second World War British forces standardised on Coles cranes and production soared. In the late 1940s huge sums were spent on completely re-equipping the Crown Works. James Steel, later to become Sir James, embarked on what was to become a ten-year programme of export missions while John Eric focused on ways of developing the product range. In 1959 there was the acquisition of R H Neal & Co of Grantham and F Taylor & Sons of Manchester. The name was then changed in 1964 to the British Crane and Excavator Corporation and another change in 1970 to Coles Cranes. Around 1984 Duncan Wordsworth tried to buy the firm, but was turned down and went on to buy the remains of Aveling-Barford instead. By this time the firm had expanded with over 40 models and several overseas operations. Plants included ones in Sydney in Australia, Brazil, TIL in India and Bumar-Coles in Poland.

Acrow takeoverEdit

In 1972 the cranes busines of Steels group was acquired by Acrow and renamed as Coles Cranes Group. Although mobile cranes represented a massive departure from existing Acrow products a huge investment programme in Coles' factories enabled much improved processes and crane output over the following decade. But in 1984 Acrow group collapsed. A management team hoped to take over the Sunderland operation but it went to American-owned Grove.

The Grove yearsEdit

A manufacturing review was carried out this year "to determine how to address the severe financial losses the company has experienced over the past six years". Then the decision to cease manufacturing at Pallion was taken. Over the years there have been job losses and job boosts as the market fluctuated but manufacturing continued until now. (statement from the time of closure in about 1998)

News article from Peterborough Today;

END OF AN ERA FOR CRANE-MAKING Hundreds of workers will tomorrow be redundant following the closure of GROVE, Coles, Steels - they are all names which have been synonymous with crane-making on Wearside for more than half a century, reflecting the fortunes of the Crown Works in Pallion, Sunderland. The huge, 100-acre riverside site was given the name in 1939 but the story goes back much further to the Wearside and London of Victorian times. It is a site steeped in industrial achievement, gaining the title of Europes biggest crane manufacturing plant, a fact which makes its demise even more tragic.

Main article: Grove for post merger details and models.

Model rangeEdit

Coles CranesEdit

Due to the huge model range that Coles Cranes Limited developed and produced since the late 1890s concerning all types of their original cranes this list is incomplete so updates are welcome to conclude their Model Range List.


  • Hydracrane - 1945 based on a Morris Commercial 4X4 ex army chassis.
  • Jumbo Speedcrane - 1962 (renamed the Coles Hydra Speedcrane)


  • Neal Pelican Loader - (popular in coal yards)
  • Neal GM crane - compact mobile unit often used for Sewer works.
  • Neal NS46 - A diesel mechanical crane, 4 tonne lifting capacity, it was used on many docksides around the world.

Preserved MachinesEdit

Coles rail crane at Stainmore station 2013 - IMG 8176

Coles Ranger Rail model self-propelled rail crane

Some of the Railway Preservation Trusts have examples of old cranes used to assist with building work and repairs to engines but have any actually been restored ?

Examples can be seen in scrapyards and various derlick haulage and garage sites and the odd marina parked in the corner but are mainly abandoned due to H&S rules making them too expensive to maintain for occasional use and the increase in large hydraulic lorry mounted loaders being used for moving engineering parts has reduced the need for the yard crane at a lot of firms.

Known examplesEdit

  • Henry J Coles no. 762 a 1917 Steam crane Restored by Grove in the 1970s, now on display at Beamish Museum in County Durham (near Steels former Sunderland works)
  • Coles crane (s/n 12902) on a AEC chassis. (photo above, seen at Cromford Steam Rally in 2008) The Coles crane on an AEC chassis featured at the top of the page is a rare example of a restored Coles crane. Are there any more in preservation ?
  • Coles Crane no. 3995 a Aircraft crane mounted on a Thornycroft truck. (seen in the Yorkshire Air Museum collection).

Template:PML Coles cranes

See alsoEdit

References / sourcesEdit

For more info See; Lincolnshire archives - Here

External linksEdit

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