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Belfast Shipyard.

History of the Shipyard.

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Belfast has a long tradition of shipbuilding the image below which is undated shows a ship being built on the shore near Belfast. The earliest written account of shipbuilding goes back to 1636 when it was recorded that a vessel of 150 tons had been built by the Presbyterian clergymen of the city.

In July 1791, William Richie set up the first official shipbuilding industry, employing ten men. In July the following year he launched the 300 ton Hibernia, by 1812 Richie had two shipyards employing 120 skilled men and apprentices.

Throughout its history Belfast has had several shipyards the most famous of which is Harland & Wolff which was established when Edward Harland a young engineer from Yorkshire, purchased a shipyard belonging to Robert Hickson for £5,000. In 1861 he took Gustav Wilhelm Wolff (From Hamburg Germany) as a partner. The yard went from strength to strength, and at its zenith in the late 1940's during the war years 1939-45 the yard built 139 naval ships, including 6 aircraft carriers, 47 corvettes, 29 minesweepers, and 9 frigates, in addition 130 merchant ships were built. All this amounted to an average of one ship a week, it was not unusual for as many as twenty ships of varying size to be on the stocks at any time.

The German air force in an attempt to curtail the shipyards output, carried out bombing raids during April and May of 1941, nearly 1,000 people died in these raids. During this time Southern Ireland although a neutral country sent fire engines and crews form Dundalk in County Louth as well as several other towns, in the republic. 60 % of the works were destroyed but by 1943 all was completely rebuilt. It is the contention of some that gorse fires were lit along the east coast of county Down to guide the bombers to their target.

Probably the next most famous yard was Herdmans, no trace of the yard exists today save for the Herdman channel dredged in the Lough

The dry-dock at H & W was built in the 1970's its dimensions are 556m (1,823ft) long 93m (305 ft) wide and has a depth of water over the sill of 8.38 m (27.48 ft) it is reputedly the largest in Europe. The dock is straddled by Samson and Goliath the giant traveling cranes which dominate the skyline of east Belfast, these cranes were manufactured by Krupp industries of Germany, who incidentally are said to have manufactured the crematorium's for the German government during the last war. The two cranes are identical they are 140 M (459 ft) wide with a lifting capacity of 840 tons, to a height of 70 M (229 ft) On the south side of the dock are four traveling tower cranes, two are 60 ton Henson's lifting to 25 M (82 ft) the others are Stothers and Pitt lifting 9 tons to 40 m (131 ft) Samson and Goliath straddle the tower cranes

The dock gate is fabricated from steel and resembles a ship in its construction. To flood or empty the dock the procedure is as follows, lets assume the dock is dry the dock gate which is hollow will be full of water. Sluice gates are opened allowing water from outside to flow in, when the levels inside and out are the same the water is pumped out of the dock gate, when this happens the gate begins to float up from the rubber seal on the dock sill, when it rises sufficiently it is pulled to one side with large winches allowing entry or exit to the dock. The dock can be divided into two by a removable gate this enables half of the dock to remain dry while the other half is flooded.+

When flooded the dock holds 95,956,000 gallons nearly half a million tons of water depending on the height of the tides

Go to Belfast Shipyard home page.