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Wednesday, 22 February 2012

The Past in the Present: Titanic Quarter's Journey

In this series, The Past in the Present, we explore how the historic urban character of a city can be part of a dynamic and continually evolving contemporary society, with an aim to spark debate on the topic of conservation and heritage in our cities and further afield.

Series curated by Ailish Killilea and Anna Skoura.

We are living in the year of the Centennial anniversary of Titanic, since it departed Belfast on its maiden voyage across the Atlantic Ocean. The following article explores some the Titanic's history, how some of the heritage buildings are put to use today and the future development for Queen's Island.


S.S. Titanic, April 1912. (picture via The Modern History Blog)


Harland & Wolff was formed in 1861 by Edward James Harland (1831–1895) and Hamburg-born Gustav Wilhelm Wolff (1834–1913, in the UK from age 14). In 1858 Harland, then general manager, bought the small shipyard on Queen's Island from his employer Robert Hickson. The ship building company was made a success through several ship building innovations, in particular the replacement of the wooden upper deck with iron ones. Harland & Wolff became known as one of the largest shipbuilding company in the world, building ships such as the White Star trio Olympic, Titanic and Britannic, the Royal Navy's HMSBelfast, Royal Mail's Andes, Shaw Savill's Southern Cross and P&O's Canberra. Harland & Wolff, established Belfast, Northern Ireland as the World's leading shipbuilding city.


Coming into the 1970s, Shipbuilding at Harland & Wolff began to see a major decline, leading to the deterioration of the Queen's Island site. In light of this the company sought to broaden their portfolio from solely shipbuilding and began focusing on structural engineering and renewable energy development, such as offshore wind turbine and tidal power construction. Harland & Wolf have also began constructing a series of bridges throughout the UK and Ireland, including the James Joyce Bridge, Dublin and the restoration of the Ha'penny Bridge, Dublin.

Many of the different buildings and structures historically used throughout the growth of the Harland & Wolff shipbuilding company are still present on Queen's Island today. Most notably the Harland & Wolff "Samson" and "Goliath" Cranes, located on the Belfast Docks, which have become part of the city skyline and an identifiable landmark for Belfast City.

Samson Goliath Cranes. (Picture via geograph.ie)
Other Harland & Wolff buildings are finding a new use today, with many film and TV productions using historic buildings on Queen's Island such as "The Paint Hall" and the former Harland & Wolff headquarters and Drawing Offices for filming. Including: HBO series Game of Thrones (2011), Your Highness (2010), TV series Occupation (2008), City of Ember (2008) and Breakfast on Pluto (2005).

Inside the vast building of The Paint Hall (Picture via 28dayslater)

Today Harland & Wolff have relocated their headquarters elsewhere and Queen's Island was renamed the Titanic Quarter in 2000. The Titanic Quarter is seeing a major brown field regeneration development on its 185-acre site which began work in 2001. The Titanic Quarter development is co-promoted by Belfast Harbour and Titanic Quarter Ltd.

Presently the Titanic Quarter has begun phase 2 of the 5 phase development, with the Titanic Quarter Visitor Centre due to open on the 31st of March this year. Just in time to kick off the Titanic's Anniversary party!

If you are interested in the the present and future developments of the Titanic Quarter, come along to the Regenerating Titanic Quarter discussion with Mike Smith (Chief Executive of Titanic Quarter) where he will give insight into how this former industrial zone will be developed.

When: Wednesday 29th February from 1-2pm.
Where: Group Space, Ulster Hall, Bedford Street, Belfast.
How do I book? Book here now using the online booking form.

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