Titanic shipyard renovated for business park

A pair of huge yellow gantries — they’re known locally as Samson and Goliath — dominate the skyline of Belfast, capital of Northern Ireland. They mark the Queen’s Island shipyard of Harland & Wolff and stand as reminders that here in l909 the keel was laid for the White Star liner Titanic, the most famous ship ever built.

A rare 1911 photo shows Titanic sliding down the ways at Harland & Wolff in Belfast, Northern Ireland. At that time, Harland & Wolff was the world’s biggest builder of trans-Atlantic luxury liners.
   Image Credit: Ulster Folk and Transport Museum

The Titanic story has been told and retold in dozens of books and at least two motion pictures. Launched from Harland & Wolff’s slipway No. 3 on May 31, 1911, the ship sailed 11 months later at the start of what should have been its maiden voyage, from Southampton, England, to New York.

On the night of April 14, 1912, the 46,000-ton, 883-foot vessel, then the largest afloat, struck an iceberg in the western Atlantic. Early the next morning it sank with a loss of some 1,500 passengers and crew.

Nine decades ago, Harland & Wolff was the world’s biggest builder of trans-Atlantic luxury liners. In addition to Titanic (hull 401) and its slightly smaller sister, Olympic (hull 400), the yard launched the Holland America Line’s Rotterdam and the White Star sisters Britannic and Georgic. With a 1911 and 1912 workforce of around 14,000 — the number peaked at 40,000 during World War II — the firm played a key role in the economy of Northern Ireland for much of the 20th century.

Today all that has changed. Although Harland & Wolff preserves historic links to a shipbuilding past, a falloff in new construction has reduced it to little more than a relic of once-preeminent size and importance.

According to a company spokesman, Peter Harbinson, the yard is currently undergoing “restructuring and downsizing, which, when completed in early 2003, will leave a core workforce of some l20 people.” Harbinson said the firm’s future business will focus on technical and design services, ship repair, and structural steel work.

Samson and Goliath may still stand, but developers are planning to turn 80 acres of the Queen’s Island shipbuilding site into a mixed-use park of office and apartment buildings, shops, and restaurants. Harbinson said the enclave will be called Titanic Quarter.

By Ocean Navigator