“Bite-Size Bits of Local, National, and Global History”
“Bite-Size Bits of Local, National, and Global History”
Belfast in County Down, Northern Ireland, United Kingdom

Harland and Wolff Shipyard

Founded 1861


Titanic Quarter

Harland and Wolff Shipyard Marker image. Click for full size.
By William Fischer, Jr., May 14, 2019
1. Harland and Wolff Shipyard Marker

The names Edward Harland and Gustav Wolff are inextricably linked with Belfast's shipbuilding industry. Their partnership laid the foundations for what was to become one of the greatest shipyards in the world. To this day, Harland and Wolff's two magnificent yellow twin cranes, Goliath and Samson, built in 1969 and 1974 respectively, stand sentinel over the City.

In the early 1800s, the port facilities in Belfast were greatly hampered by the shallow, sinuous nature of the River Lagan. When steam powered dredgers were developed in the 1830s, the Ballast Board, later to become Belfast Harbour Commissioners, appointed William Dargan, Ireland's leading contractor, to excavate a low water channel from Dunbar's Dock to the first bend in the River Lagan, allowing large sailing ships access to the port. This was completed in 1841 and the material removed from the river bed was deposited to form a 17 acre island, known as 'Queen's Island'. A second cut, the 'Victoria Channel', was opened in July 1849.

In 1843, the Commissioners began laying out the northern part of Queen's Island as a 'People's Park'. This featured a 112 ft. long glass, iron

Harland and Wolff Shipyard Marker (back) image. Click for full size.
By William Fischer, Jr., May 14, 2019
2. Harland and Wolff Shipyard Marker (back)
and wood building inspired by London's Crystal Palace, a bathing pool, a zoo and a regular ferry service from Co. Antrim. They developed the south and east of the island for shipbuilding and a 1000 tons slipway was built by 1849.

Thompson and Kirwan set up a yard building wooden ships in 1851, but the first iron shipbuilding yard was opened by Robert Hickson in 1853. In December 1854, he employed Edward Harland, a young draughtsman who had worked at English and Scottish shipyards, as general manager. Ambitious, and with family connections that included shipping interests, Harland purchased the business from Hickson for 5,000 in 1858 and Edward James Harland and Co. opened for business. He immediately received an order for three iron steamers of 1,500 tons each. Three years later he went into partnership with his personal assistant, Gustav Wolff. Harland and Wolff had been formed.

In 1862, a pivotal figure entered the Harland and Wolff story. Aged 15 years, William James Pirrie joined the company as a 'gentleman apprentice' to learn the trade from the ground up, with a view to becoming a manager. An excellent draughtsman, he was made a partner in 1874, at the age of 27 and when Harland died in 1895, Pirrie became Chairman of the company, until his death in 1924.

Pirrie was a charismatic individual and a persuasive salesman, and under his tenure, Harland and Wolff experienced

Harland and Wolff Shipyard Markers image. Click for full size.
By William Fischer, Jr., May 14, 2019
3. Harland and Wolff Shipyard Markers
unprecedented growth. By 1897, its yards occupied 80 acres and employed 10,000 men, as compared to 1.5 acres and 100 men in 1854.

[Photo caption reads]
Queen's Road, 1911


In 1870, Harland and Wolff built Oceanic, the first of over 70 vessels for the White Star Line. The most famous of these were the trio of Olympic-class vessels, Olympic, Titanic and Britannic; devised by Pirrie and Bruce Ismay, and built at Harland and Wolff from 1908 and 1914. The detailed construction drawings for Olympic, Titanic and Britannic were developed in the company's two drawing offices, located to the rear of the company's headquarters building on Queen's Road, built between 1900 and 1919.

To accommodate the new liners, Harland and Wolff re-engineered three existing slipways in their North Yard into two larger ones that could accept the huge hulls. A massive framework of Arrol Gantry, weighing some 5,900 tons, was constructed and this was to remain a famous landmark of Belfast Harbour for nearly seventy years.

In 1918 the company opened a new shipyard on 85 acres of reclaimed land on the eastern side of the Musgrave Channel. The East Yard specialised in mass-produced ships of standard design and this brought the acreage of Harland and Wolf[f] yards up to 220 acres, with a payroll of 22,000 men.

The shipyard played a vital role for the Allies during

Harland and Wolff Shipyard Cranes Goliath and Samson image. Click for full size.
By William Fischer, Jr., May 14, 2019
4. Harland and Wolff Shipyard Cranes Goliath and Samson
World War II, building 6 aircraft carriers, 2 cruisers and 131 other naval ships, and repairing over 22,000 other vessels. It also manufactured tanks and artillery components and the workforce peaked at around 35,000 during this time. This level of activity made the shipyard a target for the Luftwaffe (German Air Force) and during the Blitz of April-May 1941, not only was the Queen's Island yard heavily bombed, but up to 1,100 people were killed and 56,000 houses damaged.

With the rise of air travel in the 1950s, demand for passenger ships declined. This, coupled with competition from the Far East, meant that the last cruiser built by the yard was RMS Canberra in 1960.

Continue up Queen's Road to see 'Blinks' - a sculpture created by four ex shipyard welders and a visual artist Peter Nelson. It pays tribute to all those who worked in the shipyard.

Today, Harland and Wolff has refocused its operations into a project management organisation, specialising in design and structural engineering, as well as ship repair and offshore construction projects. But for many, its name will always be linked with shipbuilding, and with one ship, the Titanic.

[Photo caption reads]
Completed crankshaft for RMS B[r]itannic, 1913
Erected by the City of Belfast.
Location. 54° 36.412′ N, 5° 54.585′ W. Marker is in Belfast, Northern Ireland, in County Down. Marker is on Queens Road just north of Bell's Theorem Crescent, on the left when traveling north. Touch for map. Marker is in this post office area: Belfast, Northern Ireland BT3 9DT, United Kingdom. Touch for directions.
Other nearby markers. At least 8 other markers are within walking distance of this marker. Former Harland & Wolff Headquarter Building (here, next to this marker); Caisson (within shouting distance of this marker); The Bridge Deck (about 90 meters away, measured in a direct line); First Port: Views of Belfast (about 90 meters away); 1908 Harland and Wolff Shipyard (about 90 meters away); On Board SS Nomadic (about 90 meters away); Shipbuilding & Mapmaking [Part 2] (about 90 meters away); Hamilton Dock: Refurbishment and Restoration (about 90 meters away). Touch for a list and map of all markers in Belfast.
Also see . . .
1. Harland and Wolff. (Submitted on June 19, 2019, by William Fischer, Jr. of Scranton, Pennsylvania.)
2. Shipbuilding in Belfast. (Submitted on June 19, 2019, by William Fischer, Jr. of Scranton, Pennsylvania.)
3. Harland and Wolff at Wikipedia. (Submitted on June 19, 2019, by William Fischer, Jr. of Scranton, Pennsylvania.)
4. Harland and Wolff Heavy Industries Ltd. (Submitted on June 19, 2019, by William Fischer, Jr. of Scranton, Pennsylvania.)
Categories. Industry & CommerceMan-Made FeaturesWaterways & Vessels


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Credits. This page was last revised on June 19, 2019. This page originally submitted on June 19, 2019, by William Fischer, Jr. of Scranton, Pennsylvania. This page has been viewed 58 times since then. Photos:   1, 2, 3, 4. submitted on June 19, 2019, by William Fischer, Jr. of Scranton, Pennsylvania.
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