Tigers, Hangings and History

Tigers, Hangings & History

The Death of Joseph Kiddle

In the eighteenth century, The Steam Crane was known as The Bull, around 1900 it was changed to The Star. In 1827, when it was The Bull, Mr Martin, the publican, visited Bristol harbour and purchased a live tiger.

The tiger was placed inside a cage within the outbuilding on the left as you look outside the back of The Steam Crane. This attracted a number of additional visitors to the pub.

To attract even more people to the pub Mr Martin paid a man, Joseph Kiddle, to get inside the cage with the tiger. Even without the benefit of hindsight, the result seems inevitable and Mr Kiddle was killed by the tiger.


The Trial of John Horton

Inside The Steam Crane,  John Horton was tried and convicted of murdering his former girlfriend Eliza Balsom.  Two days later on 13th April 1821, he became the first person to be executed by hanging at the New Bristol Gaol.

John Horwood was an 18-year-old miner from Hanham.

When their relationship had ended in 1820, John Horton allegedly swore that he would ‘mash her bones to pieces’ if he ever saw her with another man. Early the following year, spotting Eliza with her new boyfriend, he threw a stone at her, striking her on the head.

The stone only caused minor injury, but she was treated at the Bristol Royal Infirmary for a depressed fracture and Dr. Richard Smith decided to operate, causing a fatal abscess, and she died, four days later, on 17 February 1821.

During the early 1800s surgeons were keen to acquire bodies for dissection in the belief that knowledge of human anatomy was essential to the practice of medicine.

Dr. Smith gave Horwood’s name to the police and during the trial Smith testified against him.

After the public hanging, John Horton’s body was handed over to Dr Smith for dissection.

Although that wasn’t unusual in itself, events took a macabre turn when Dr Smith also had the body skinned, tanned and used to bind the Book of Skin, which held all the papers in the case.

The Book of Skin is today kept at the M Shed museum in Bristol and is embossed with a gallows motif.

For years, Dr Smith kept the skeleton at his home in Park Street, Bristol. It was passed to Bristol Hospital after his death and later to Bristol University. On Wednesday 13th April 2011, at 1.30pm – exactly 190 years to the hour he was hanged – John Horton was buried, alongside his father, at Christ Church, Hanham. The coffin was draped in velvet and carried on a wheeled bier in the manner of funerals of the period of his death

Mrs Halliwell became determined to secure a proper burial for John Horton’s remains after discovering that he was the brother of her great- great- great-grandfather.

Mrs Halliwell said: “As a descendant of his, my wish is to lay him to rest as his parents wanted – to have him buried in a dignified way.”

“After 190 years I will have fulfilled his parents’ wishes, and that is the most important thing. It will give me peace of mind that I can put closure to it.”

The “real” Steam Crane

The Fairbairn Steam Crane was patented in 1850 by Sir William Fairbairn.

Around the world are a number of hand powered versions but Bristol is home to the only Fairbairn Steam Crane. It is located in Bristol docks on the quayside at Princes Wharf.

In the 1870s, Bristol docks was going through a period of modernisation. Iron-hulled ships were becoming larger and cargos heavier. Crane capacity was limited though – none of the harbour’s 17 cranes being able to lift more than 3 tons.

In 1875 a powerful steam crane was ordered, to be capable of lifting 35 tons directly onto a railway wagon. In August 1878 the crane had been completed at a cost of £3,600.

The crane weighs 120 tons. A vertical boiler inside the cab operates at 100 psi and supplies two twin-cylinder steam engines: one for turning and one for the lifting chain.

The crane extends below ground for 25 feet (7.6 m).

Although mechanically capable, the crane was not a great success commercially. In 1890 it was only used for 16 days of the year, for a profit of just eleven shillings and six pence. Ships had increased in size by this time and the jib could no longer reach far enough.

In 1892, hydraulic machinery, including cranes, appeared in the docks. In 1906 electric cranes appeared too. The steam crane was required less and less often; for a whole year between April 1905 and April 1906 the crane went unused. From 1903 to 1909 it made a total of 143 lifts. It remained useful for heavy loads, however.

During World War II the crane’s heavy capacity came into its own. A Landing Craft Flotilla Unit was stationed on Princes Wharf, and over 1000 new assault landing craft were delivered by road for adaptation for use in the Far East. The crane was used to unload the lorries and to launch the craft after completion, a total of over 2000 lifts in three years.

With the gradual closure of the City Docks, in 1973 the crane was passed to Bristol City Museum. In 1976 it was made a Scheduled Ancient Monument, as the last surviving Fairbairn steam crane. From 1988, it was restored to operational condition as part of the Bristol Industrial Museum. The crane operates on special museum days. It is now in the care of the M Shed.


Previous Names

Previous names for building, include The Bull, The Star, The Florikan and Firkin, The Aurora, Bar Salt, The Bay Bar and finally The Steam Crane.

We are keen to find out as much as we can about the building and its history so if you know any interesting facts about The Steam Crane, or if you have any pictures of the pub in the past, old pictures of the inside etc. anything… we’d love to hear and possibly load up here for all to see.