Belfast: Ship Building (cont'd)

Boom and Bust

The outbreak of the first world war in 1916 generated a marked increase in production in the shipyards. However, the ensuing economic slump saw shipyard employment figures fall from a pre-war high of 25,000 to just 2750 in 1933. Workman and Clark were bought over by the Tyneside company Northumberland Shipping, but declared bankruptcy in 1928. A management buyout was arranged, but a combination of the Wall Street Crash and a serious fire on the dock bound liner Bermuda finished off Workman and Clark in 1935.

Harland and Wolff survived the slump by changing the type of boat the yard produced. The opulent heights of the Titanic degenerated into rudimentary hulls with engines attached. But fewer workers were required to build these vessels and unemployment continued to shadow the yards.

War Returns

Harland and Wolff were by now the only the only shipbuilders on the Lagan, and survived to emerge as a key component in the war effort of 1939 to 1945. Employment in the shipyards returned to over 20,000 as the firm made boats, tanks and guns in the early rearmament drive.

However, half their yards were destroyed by the German blitz of April 1941 and, while they were able to rebuild quickly, Harland and Wolff also lost boats and men in one of the most devastating air raids of the war.

The Long Decline

Harland and Wolff did not suffer a post war slump due to shipping companies having to restock in the aftermath of world war two. The yard was still one of the world's leaders when the Canberra was launched in 1960.

From this point on, however, shipbuilding slowly declined. A renaissance in shipbuilding has not materialised and on Friday, January 17, 2003, Anvil Point, the last boat to be fully built in Belfast, slipped into the sea.

previousPrevious - Belfast: Ship Building