As you enter Belfast from the sea there are many amazing sites, but maybe the most striking, which really brings it home that you are entering a modern industrial city, is the view of the two massive gantry cranes, Samson and Goliath in the Harland Wolff shipyard. This is where the Titanic was built by the labour of thousands of tough and skilled men, and her sister ships Olympic and Britannic.
The shipyard stands on Queen’s island on the banks of the River Lagan; there was a massive engineering project in the 1840’s to widen, deepen and straighten the river, and the shipyard was built on what was essentially reclaimed land. In 1854 the company of Robert Hickson, ship-builder took on a very young, but very experienced general manager to oversee the building of the steel-hulled ships under construction, he was Edward Harland, aged only 23. He didn’t stay general manager for very long, in 1858 he bought the company! he needed financial help for this massive adventure, and took on the nephew of a Liverpudlian businessman, another young man who soon became his partner, Gustav Wilhelm Wolff.
In 1873 they built the first of more than 70 ships for the White Star Line, the Oceanic… but of course, their most famous project was the tragic Titanic. Edward died in 1895, at the age of just 54; Gustav lived to see the dreadful tragedy of the sinking of the Titanic, he died in 1913, aged 79.
Harland and Wolff is still operating today, describing itself as “a project based engineering company serving the marine, offshore and structural fabrication markets’, and its projects at the moment include renewable energy, off-shore rigs and ship repair and conversion