HEDON MUSEUM HAS OPENED for the new season with an exhibition looking at Hull company Priestman.

William Dent Priestman founded his first engineering firm in Hull in 1870, but it was only when he was asked to build a ‘winch and grab’ in an attempt to locate lost gold in a Spanish harbour, that he hit upon the idea of manufacturing the grabs to dredge docks and rivers.

Used first at Hull docks, the Priestman grabs were soon in demand all over the world and the business expanded into producing dredgers, cranes and excavators.

The Priestman manufacturing plant moved to Marfleet, Hull in 1958 and in its heyday employed over 1,500 workers on that site. The business expanded rapidly becoming an household name. However, the firm became a victim of the recession in the 1980’s and the Hull factory closed in 1984.

Bill Bromwich, who worked at for the company for 30 years, eventually as its publicity manager, salvaged thousands of brochures, photographs and memorabilia when the Hull plant went under. He has organised an exhibition which opened at Hedon Museum yesterday and tells the story of Priestman – at Work, at Play.

Hedon Museum is open Saturday and Wednesday from 10am – 4pm and the current exhibition runs until Wednesday, 16th March 2011.

Also referring to Hedon Museum see: Appeal for FS Smith pictures of Holderness.

37 thoughts on “Remembering Priestman – at work, at play

  1. Priestman Brothers were very family orientated as the name would suggest. I followed my brothers John apprenticed in 1955, Peter apprenticed 1963 and myself apprenticed in 1965. John and I both became fitters and worked closely together in fitting shop under Harold Todd, Frank Harvey, Mick Lawson, Roy Metcalf, Geoff Maslin, Pete Huggins. Peter always the smart one didn’t like getting dirty became a draughtsman and later a design engineer under Ken Deighton.
    I worked in fitting shop from 1969 mainly on Mustang and Cub Undercarraiges and then final rectification until successfully applying for a position in Birmingham service department at the same time as Trev Sturdy and Steve Cook went to Bristol. I was on service in Birmingham for about 4 years before returning to the Hull factory to take up the position of company Test Engineer working on prototype equipment including Hydraulics and Structural testing attached to the design office. On one occasion I did a trip to Heather Alpha offshore platform to carry out some modifications to a Sealion 60D after which I was invited to apply for a job in Taperex with Jeff Wood as Sales Engineer continuing in that role until I emigrated to Australia in 1982. Even then Priestmans we’re very good to me finding me a position as Grab Sales Engineer in Sydney, regrettably it only lasted until early 1983 due to economic constraints but gave me a great start in the new country.
    So thank you Priestmans.

  2. Steve Langdale
    Hi every one. I served my time here, started in 1968 and left in 1981. Was a fitter and than got into maintenance. Last two years i was in research dept. In 1981 got a job with Cornhill Insurance as an Engineer Surveyor and retired in 2012 aged 60. I still meet up with Pete Townsend and Peter Holmes. Peter Hildreth, Arthurs son, was my manager. Other people that joined Cornhill were Pete Holmes, Mike Waudby, John Railton, Les Kitchen, Dave Atkinson and Pete townsend. On the 1st Tuesday of the month a few of us meet in the Nags Head in Preston for lunch at 12.00. Anyone will be welcome.

  3. Does anyone remember the Ukranian crane drivers name who operated the 20 ton overhead crane in the fitting shop.I was in the building 2 weeks ago and the crane is still there as large as life.(not operating though) I started my apprenticeship in 1969 until 1973 and he was there then.
    Would like to here from anyone in my apprentice intake .
    Phil Rogers

    1. Hello Phil, I still have the apprentice intake pictures, although I think you were the last person I have seen and that was a while ago, worked for Paul Cleary for a short while years back.
      Cheers Ken

    2. Hi Phil,
      I cant remember his name but he was always arguing with the german fitter on lion bedplates

    3. I cannot remember his name but the fitter was Franz Hunneld he worked in between Gordon Chaytor and Roy Metcalf on bedplates. Alf was the slinger on that crane whilst I was there 1962-69

    4. Hi Phil,

      It is just by chance that I came across your post. I believe the person you are asking about was my grandad, Andrij Boczko. You may have called him Adrew, I’m not sure. Andrij sadly passed away in 1998.

      If anyone reading this has any photos of him at work that they could share with me, I would appreciate it.


  4. I was at PB from 1972 thru to 1984. I started as a turner in the machine shop under Ron Straker and John Butcher then went into the inspection dept. under Fred Silk.

    1. Ron Straker got me onto a Radial Arm Drill, then a Lathe in Machine Shop. Union rep and good guy. Humpy, Stumpy and Grumpy ~ nicknames for him and the 2 Foremen [me 1976-79].

  5. Does anyone remember my dad Peter Dean, he worked for Priestmans Hull. He died quite young in 1992 but I know he loved his job.

    1. Hi Julie I remember Pete Dean very well he worked on test apron with Jim Beevers, Ted Neylon, and a few others under Nev Collinson foreman. Pete also did demonstration work showing customers what our machines could do. Pete was always jovial and fun loving we had some good laughs.

  6. I stumbled upon this site accidentally and saw the name Brain Scrafton mentioned. Sad to hear he has passed away. I worked offshore as a crane operator and first met Brian on the Murchison platform where he worked as a crane mechanic for Sparrows offshore. His oppo was Duncan, can’t remember his last name offhand. Later on, Brian and I were crewmates on the Hutton TLP when Conoco employed both of us and Duncan as crane operators. Brian and I worked on the same crew and shared a room for nine years. He was a hell of a nice guy to work with and we had many a good laugh as well over the years.
    As for Priestmans, I drove a couple of them over the years with William Tawse, Edmund Nuttall and Sparrows. Great machines that would do whatever you asked of them and smooth as anything I ever operated in over 25 years as a crane driver.
    RIP Brian.

  7. For Kevin Holmes

    HI Kevin Just picked up your reply to my earlier enquiry Dont know if were the only 2 left off outside service I havnt heard from any of the outside service lads for years nice to hear from you though

    1. Hi Pete and Kev, I worked as a service engineer out of Bristol. I served my apprenticeship with Priestmans and went on to to work with Steve Cooke and Colin Hughes from the Bristol depot, originally from the Coles Cranes depot then we shared a new premises in Fishponds Brisol with Acrow.
      Only just found this blog and found it very sad to find out Bill Kirke Brian Scrafton and Fred Lennox had passed away, we used to call Brian the human extractor, he could move anything. He was a great bloke and I have fond memories of them all. I remember you Kev from apprentices and the service dept. Pete I work with you in my early days as a service engineer, I was the one who pilled the rope too soon, it came loose from the wedge and caught you in the face, I cant remember if it broke your nose or just gave it a good crack still feel bad about that.
      Would love to catch up with Steve Cooke or Colin Hughes if anyone has a contact for them, I now live in Spain (in the sun).
      I think Colin Hughes went on to be Managing Director of Leibherr Cranes but that was years ago.

      1. John Clarke here Trev – I think we were in the same (or very near) apprentice intake along with Mike Townsend (who broke his leg falling off his motor bike?)
        I left PB on finishing my apprenticeship in 1970 and ran away to sea. And I’ve been connected with ships ever since. I’m now in Keppel Shipyard Singapore on a tanker conversion for offshore oilfield use – but this is my last big job and coming back home to Hull.
        I know that Les Sharpless died 10+ years ago.
        Tim Dillon lives down the road from me in Anlaby

  8. in the mid 60s I was 14 and worked for a cousin of mine in the holidays and saturdays, he had a large car breakers /scrap yard in hendon nth london he bought an old priestman drag line I think it was a cub not sure of the age it was old , it was converted to just a crane and the drag line we used as a winch to drag cars up the yard which had been left at the entrance, well we used and abused that old girl always overloaded with the back coming up in the air when lifting a heavy old car we even tipped it over once but it was nigh on indestructable good old british over engineered

  9. For Pete Jacobson, Hi Pete I worked my way up from Apprentice Fitter in 1962 through to Service Engineer in 1976. I then traveled the UK and World Servicing Cranes , Excavators, Grabs, Dredgers and Slewing Rings for Priestman until they Closed in 1989. I think the one you were thinking of was Arthur Hildreth. He jumped ship from Priestman’s and went to work for our USA Dealership in Cincinnati Ohio.
    Fred Lennox has just passed away August 2013. Bill Kirk passed away and Brian Scrafton passed away.Norman Taylor is still about 🙂 I worked as an Apprentice with Len Grantham for 6 months repairing and servicing PLA Port of London Authority Dredgers

  10. Has anybody heard of my granddad ( my dads dad) called Robert Fewster Rutherford? My dad would like to know a bit more about his own father. One thing he did know was that he worked here. If you have any info Send me an E-Mail Paulcoatespaul@aol.com

    1. Morning paul,your Granddads was known as Bob Rutherford and he work as a maintains engineer at hedon road factory, before that he started at there marfleet road plant in hull and was part of the task force that moved them down to hedon road area untill his death in december 1966

  11. Hi,to all you plant fitters that worked on Priestman excavators, I am working on a late model VC20 that was headed for the scrap metal yard and have managed to sorce parts from Italy and the UK, it’s now in working order, as these machines were rare in Australia and I’ve been working without a workshop manual And would like to get my hands on one please email samstratti@y7mail.com

    1. Sam, try Kevin Stevenson Holmes he has a blog on this page he spent many years working on VC20 might have the manual. If not try Australian Grab Manufacturers in Campbelltown,Sydney
      I’m an ex Priestman employee now living in Sydney.

      1. John Clarke here Mike – see my reply to Trev Sturdy above
        I visited Sydney many times in my merchant navy days and since too – a great place.
        How is you big brother Pete and his missus (Denise?)

        1. Hi John, just testing my memory, think you were the intake after us, mine was 1965. Been in Australia since 1982 missed redundancy from Priestmans in 1981 so decided to try my luck here. Retired about a year ago.
          Let me try and place you were you the big blonde guy and did you play for Rovers or Hull ?
          Peter & Denise are grandparents now doing ok I think probably going back to Hull for a visit next year.

          1. Hi Mike,

            I was 1965 too but not in your group. But I wasn’t around much as I did 2 years ONC and then full time HND after that – and then I joined the merchant navy in September 1970.

            I was (am) a short guy who played cricket (badly) so now I play golf (equally badly.)

            If you wanna get in touch and send some pics (and meet up next year in Hull?) my works e-mail is john.clarke@lundinmalaysia.com.

            Do please pass on my kind regards to Peter and Denise.

            I thought about Priestman’s over the weekend and can tell you that John Butcher died suddenly ~ 15 / 17 years ago. Paul Andrew is still on the go – he was eventually the boss of Harlands printers and then Data Image Processing where they pioneered bar coding and made lots of money I think. Big John Wilson played cricket quite well for Zingari.

            What work did you do in Sydney?

            I’m working in Keppel Shipyard Singapore till Nov / December.

            Cheers for now – John C

      2. Hi Mike,I worked at PB when you were there .I think Pete was your brother and he was a couple of years older than me.I worked in the DO. I am now living in NZ.Have you any info re past workmates?

        1. Hi Jeff,
          We worked together in the fitting shop when you were there in between college. I keep in touch with Sue with an E-mail each Christmas.
          Bill Meekin

          1. Hi Bill
            I sure do remember you,I’d like your e mail so we can catch up. Mine is “puskas.tucker4@gmail.com”
            Look forward to hearing from you.

  12. I was a service engineer on outside service from 1965 to 1978
    We were based first under the Chiswick flyover in London then moved to ashford in Middlesex
    The service staff at hull included Norman taylor(service manager) Fred lennox(device controller) and the hull based service engineers included billy kirk (who I know sadly passed away) Brian Scrafton Lenny grantham(who repaired the dredgers) and a big lump of a bloke who played rugby whose name regrettably I can’t recall
    I had to make regular visits to the hull works and I have some of the fondest memories of my working life when I worked for PBLtd
    It’s sad what present working life in heavy industries(or what’s left of it ) has turned out ….I can’t recall a day of my working life ….especially with priest mans service…when I regretted going to work

    1. Arthur Hildreth is probably the guy who’s name you can’t recall. I worked with him Bill, Brian, Lenny for a short while before moving to Birmingham Service division in the mid 1970’s.

  13. I have not lived in Hull for over 30 years, but after having lunch with friends Karen and I decided to have a ride to Paull, passing the old Priestman works, what a shame!
    I serves my apprenticeship there from February 1960 and left in September 1972 redundant.

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