W Crane Wagon Works – Fransham

The wagon builder from Norfolk, who’s company went on to be one of Europe’s most famous trailer manufacturers

In 1865, at the age of 24, William Crane set up a Blacksmith’s shop in the village of Great Fransham in Norfolk. Little could have William known that the name of Crane would go on to become one of the biggest names in transport in the 20th Century.

W Crane wagon works Fransham and Dereham suggests a post 1920 build date

William and his three brothers all followed in their Father f by becoming apprenticed Blacksmiths. William went on to develop a new type of horse rake, cart wheels and farm Wagons. Later with his two sons, the business expanded further and was registered in the 1883 White’s directory as “William Crane – Agricultural implement maker, joiner and builder, smith and wheel wright and church bell hanger”. Due to a bad dept, they received a load of timber which provided the raw material for the production of various carts and wagons.

William passed away in 1906 and his two sons carried on the business which continued to expand and in 1913 Cranes acquired the former Mallons agricultural works at South green in Dereham. Cranes by this time had such an excellent reputation for its products that is secured a substantial order for gun carriage wheels and field ambulances for the army. In 1920, Edward Crane returned to the Fransham workshop to continue his Timber business and the Dereham facility branched out into road trailers in 1920. Cranes had an excellent reputation for specialist trailers and secured some significant military contracts on the back of their expertise and quality of build.

Crane’s began making trucks using designs by the American-based Fruehauf Corporation in the early 1960s, with the North Walsham factory opening in 1962 and Toftwood (Dereham) in 1968. The Crane name then became intrinsically linked with Fruehauf and the Crane Freuhauf brand became synonymous with the trailer units plying their trade all over Europe, following the growth of roll on – roll off routes to the continent.
Taken over by General Trailers in 1997, the company later reinstated under the Fruehauf brand.

When the Crane Fruehauf factory in Dereham collapsed in 2005, laying off its remaining 345 workers, an important chapter in Norfolk’s industrial history came to an abrupt end. However it is still possible to see some fantastic work being crafted on the site of the first Crane factory known as ‘Crane Corner’ in little Fransham. Nigel Barnett now runs Fransham Forge, and is an extremely talented blacksmith. He has opened a gallery of his work on site, as well as a museum of Crane’s memorabilia. Nigel is more than happy to help out with any iron work connected with cart or shepherd hut reconstruction (including ours) and can also fabricate Shepherd hut wheels. The well equipped ‘Smithy’ is an Aladen’s cave for those who appreciate a good job well done – the atmosphere is worth the trip alone. Nigel can be contacted on 01362 687116 and E-mail: franshamforge@uwclub.net

 This large Cranes hut stored in a dry barn carries a second plaque stating she was originally built for Eastern counties farmers. The hut also contains contains a perfectly preserved interior. A faded photo on the wall shows the hut and is inscribed with the date of 1920. Combined with the fact that this was the date that Cranes moved to their Dereham premises, this is a good indicator that this is the build date for this lovely hut. The current owner believes she was purchased in a sale at Halesworth in Suffolk by his Father and was towed to her home behind a steam tractor.




 Another W Crane hut, albeit a lot older. This is a fixed axle example owned by Eddie Anderson who produced a fantastic piece with us for the ITV Bygones series. Inspired by our efforts he remembered a hut in woodland near his home and it now awaits restoration. The plaque above the door reads W Crane Wagon Works Fransham.By the design of this hut I wouldn’t mind suggesting this old girl dates from around 1883. The cover over the hut to keep the weather out is interesting as I have been told that tilts were used for this before Iron became common place.