political scaffolds

Harland and Wolff Shipyard, Belfast. Building the Titanic, ca 1910.

This is the Titanic under construction at the Harland and Wolff Shipyards in Belfast, Northern Ireland, in 1910.  In this three-dimensional thicket of scaffolding, gantries and cranes sits the two halves of the hull.  Steel plate is stacked in the foreground.  

Harland and Wolff still exists, today building wind farms and other renewable energy infrastructural components.   In the 1960s with the demise of passenger liners, the shipyard made tankers, drilling ships and oil platforms, subsequently it made bridges, aircraft carriers and cruisers and in the 2000s diversified into wind and tidal turbines.

At its peak in the late 19th century it employed 35,000 workers and was one of the largest shipyards in the world, with migration of workers from throughout England, Scotland and Ireland.  Partition of the six north counties from the rest of Ireland and Home Rule, proposed in 1914 and adopted in 1920, meant that the deep embedded energy in the shipyard and in its workforce remained in British control.  Reasons for partition have always been given as sectarian, but it could also be that Britain did not want to lose this very important resource.  

By 1989 the shipyard was reduced to just 3,000 workers and was taken over by the Olsen Line of Norway.  Harland and Wolff had been in decline since the 1960s, the consequent unemployment contributing to the Troubles of the 1970s and 80s.  

This started with a photo of some quite interesting scaffolding and the Titanic, a story everyone knows but does not associate with Belfast, although the City of Belfast is working hard to overcome that with its renewed Titanic Quarter.  The scaffolding is also the complex political structure that was erected around the shipyard that kept it going, providing employment, when so many other yards in England and Scotland closed.  It wasn't altruism, it was part of the negotiations.

Britain plans to build 7,5000 wind turbines in the next ten years, and because of the public dislike of wind farms, tidal turbines are increasing.  There is lots of work here for Belfast.

Stephanie Whiteconstruction