The shipyard that was to become Harland and Wolff was established by Robert Hickson in 1853, Hickson owned an iron works in Belfast, in 1854 he appointed as manager Edward Harland, a shipbuilder from Tyneside in Northumberland. Harland bought the yard in 1858 and established a partnership with Gustav Wolff from Hamburg whose family had connections with the Bibby shipping line of Liverpool.

During the early period of steel shipbuilding understandably the designs were based on the hull form that had evolved when ships were built entirely of wood, Harland realized that using iron as it was then ships could be built longer in relation to beam (Width) and with fuller sections, this enabled ships to carry much more cargo.

Many people predicted that Harland's ships would break in two in a storm, when these predictions proved unfounded, the yard's order book began to fill. Between the years 1891 to 1894 the yard became the largest in the UK exceeding 60,000 gross tons, by then the yard extended to 80 acres and employed 8,000 people. One of the main reasons for Harland success that is often overlooked was that the yard kept wages low; this was especially true for unskilled labour.

The Harland & Wolff shipyard is located on Queens Island in Belfast Lough, named after a visit by Queen Victoria in 1861, previously the land was called Dargan's Island after William Dargan a famous engineer and contractor who was responsible for dredging the channel to the Lagan, the spoil from this was used to build the so called island.

During its history it has built more than 1,700 ships and at its peak in the 1950's employed about 35,000 people. One of its busiest times was during the second world war when it produced 140 naval ships and 140 for the merchant service, this works out at about one ship a week.

During this period the yard diversified into aircraft production and began to produce diesel engines which were beginning to replace steam engines. The yard built the battle cruiser Glorious, 19,000 tons the Glorious was powered by Parsons turbines she was later modified to become an early aircraft carrier and was sunk by the battle cruisers Scharnhorst and Gneisenau on 8 June 1940 while returning from Norway.

In 1939 the yard built the cruiser Belfast (now in the Thames London) The Belfast was involved in the sinking of the Scharnhorst on 26 December 1943.

At the beginning of the 20th century H & W were probably the most prolific producers of cruise liners in the world, the success of yard was beneficially felt by many companies all over Ireland and the UK. Unfortunately this era cane to an end in 1961 with the launching of the P&O Liner Canberra

The decline of the shipyard appears to have been underway at this time, shipyards in the far east which had, and indeed still have much lower overheads in the form of energy, raw materials and labour costs, not forgetting also their lower health and safety requirements. They were also not encumbered with with restrictive practices and demarcation which the unions insisted upon, consequently the overseas yards were able to produce ships more cost effectively.

Having said that, and with the advantage of hindsight the management could have perhaps of diversified to other sectors of engineering. Consider the equipment and the expertise that was amassed at the Queens Island, when the yard was at its zenith almost everything that a ship contained was made in the yard, from anchors to windlasses and including exotic hardwood furniture, portholes, electric generators, engines, the list could go on. Surely this vast pool of expertise and equipment could have been used as the embryo of many sub industries. The 50's and 60's saw the upsurge of the hydraulic excavator, had the yard embarked on the manufacture of these we may now refer to a digger as a H & W instead of a JCB.

Today most of the land once owned by Harland & Wolff is now owned by a property development company apparently based in Dublin. Several exclusive housing developments are currently under construction. There are many industrial units built on the site occupied by a diverse range of local companies. It would appear that these are merely transitory and within a comparatively period of time will be replaced with more lucrative developments.

In the Titanic Quarter building there is a model the photographing of which is prohibited



Recent Projects.

The Brambleleaf a 40,870 tonne Royal Fleet Auxiliary, Fleet Support Tanker was dry docked at Harland's in 2004 for a three month refit. She sailed from Belfast on 29 October 2004.

During the later end of 2004 and early 2005 the fabrication shop of the yard has been busy fabricating steel bridges, for Colchester, Taunton, in England Montrose in Scotland and Mayo in southern Ireland. At the time of writing (31st March 2005) the order books appear to be at a low ebb.

Harland's have recently (April 2005) leased half of the dry-dock and the use of Goliath to a UK company who intend to assemble large wind generators destined for marine wind farms.




Building Gantry with Olympic.

12 Ton Oil Rig Anchor.


Read about the Shipyard from Mary Lowry's 'Histoty of Belfast'