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The Priestman Story

Tempted by stories of lost Spanish gold and untold riches beneath the waves bulit a machine for dredging the ocean floor. William Dent Priestman and his brother Samuel failed to locate the hidden fortune of Vigo harbour but the winch and grab mechanism they created to aid the search for a lost galleon in 1876 helped them create a company that lasted more than 100 years. It took them from a humble yard in Hull to the top of their fields and an international reputation.

The story began in 1876 when William Dent Priestman, who had founded an engineering firm in Hull six years earlier, was asked to build a winch and grab for work off the west coast of Spain, in an attempt to locate lost gold. Though nothing was ever found, the mechanism that William Dent created was found to be equally effective at dredging mud and silt in docks, rivers and harbours.

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It was used soon after at Hull Docks with such success that it was soon in demand all over the world. Success after success followed, before the firm went into liquidation in 1895.


Restructuring followed, and Priestmans began to shine brightly once more. By the First World War, its cranes were being used to rebuild French villages , and by 1921, a small "ditcher" for field drainage was produced, followed by funding from the Ministry of Agriculture for further developments.

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Face shovels, dragline excavators and backactor ditching machines as well as power grabs became the mainstay of the expanding Priestman company.


In 1928, Priestmans produced the first of their "animal-named" excavators. Such names as the Lion, Tiger and Panther would later become synonymous with Priestmans.

Work started on their Marfleet base in 1950. It would eventually cover 63 acres in Hull, and by 1963, when the firm embraced hydraulic power, it had long been a household name. In 1970 it merged with a Coles of Sunderland and in 1976, began building offshore cranes for North Sea oil rig platforms.

Today, what is left of the firm trades in Bradford under a new owner but its legacy will live on.

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(Above) The Priestman Wolf cable operated Dragshovel a precursor of the now ubiquitous hydraulic backactor digger. (below)

(Left) The Lion which can be configured as a crane or a dragline is one the machines latterly sold under the Coles brand name.
Known re-badged units are the Lion and the Bear port crane.


Thanks to
(2) Hull Maritime Museum - Yorkshire Post -
(6 & 8) John Roberts and Abbey Farm Excavator collection.
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