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Page last updated at 14:09 GMT, Thursday, 20 May 2010 15:09 UK
Newcastle crane 'priceless' part of Venetian heritage
Armstrong crane
The Armstrong Mitchell crane is in the Arsenale (dockyard) in Venice

A charity is hoping to raise more than 2m euros to preserve a rare example of Tyneside engineering - in Italy.

Venice in Peril wants to save a 19th-Century hydraulic crane in the Arsenale area of the city, that was built by Newcastle's Armstrong, Mitchell and Co.

It is thought to be the last remaining crane of its type and was built in the 1880s for the Italian Navy.

The architect Lord Foster described it as "a priceless part" of the industrial heritage of Venice.

The crane was in constant use in the Venice dockyard from 1885 until World War I.

It suffered damage in both world wars and was finally decommissioned in the mid-1950s.

Swing bridge

The engineer William George Armstrong was born in Newcastle in 1810 and patented his first hydraulic crane in 1846.

"He had the idea that the energy within water could be captured and used to load and unload ships and he did that first in 1846 on the River Tyne," explained John Clayson from the Discovery Museum.

Swing Bridge
Venice in Peril members visited the Swing Bridge

Armstrong is also known for inventing the rifled bore breech-loading gun and his house at Cragside was one of the first domestic residences in the country to be illuminated by electricity.

The crane that is still in Venice made use of a mechanism called a hydraulic accumulator - again devised by Armstrong.

It allowed much heavier weights to be lifted and that is what attracted the Italians, according to Anna Somers-Cox, chairman of Venice in Peril.

"They wanted to load big heavy cannons onto their new metal-clad navy ships," she said.

"It was only a few years after the unification of Italy and Italy was flexing it's muscle and wanted to have big ships on the Mediterranean - very well armed ships.

"It is an incredibly large and wonderful great creature on a kind of neo-16th-Century base."

Industrial archaeology

Representatives from Venice in Peril visited Newcastle in May 2010 with an architect and engineer to see how other works by Armstrong have been conserved, such as the Swing Bridge.

"[The Venetians] are great restorers of 16th-Century and Gothic buildings but it's the first time they've ever had to do a bit of machinery," Anna Somers-Cox said.

Cragside. Photo: NTPL/Andreas von Einsiedel
Cragside was the first home to be lit by hydroelctricity

"They haven't seen the British approach to industrial archaeology where you have a kind of spectacle around it and the public comes and you make the machinery turn over.

"That is what is new to them and is what has impressed them enormously."

But the charity faces a big fund-raising challenge before they can bring the crane back to life.

Find out more about William George Armstrong by clicking here.

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