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Rob on the road Monday, 24 March, 2003, 14:05 GMT
The end of an era
Anvil Point at dock
Anvil Point, the last ship built at Harland and Wolff
The Anvil Point may not be the most attractive ship in the world, but the snub-nosed car-ferry has a place in history - as the last ship ever to be built at the world famous Harland and Wolff shipyard.

The site which was once the biggest shipyard in the world has seen 150 years of shipbulding.

But as the Anvil Point was handed over to her owners, the workers who had built her were made redundant.

One hundred lost their jobs, leaving just 120 people working at a company which had once employed tens of thousands.

The completion of the Anvil Point is not the end of Harland and Wolff but it is almost certainly the end of shipbuilding in Belfast.

Harland & Wolff History
Harland from the air
Founded 1852
Titanic completed in 1912
35,000 workers employed at peak
Canberra was last liner built at the yard in 1960
1975 yard nationalised
1989 yard privatised

The company traces its roots back to 1852 when it was founded by a Yorkshireman, Edward Harland, and a German, Gustav Wolff.

By the turn of the 20th century it was the most prolific builder of ocean liners in the world. Its most famous project was probably the world's most famous ship, the Titanic, completed here in 1912.

Despite its disastrous end, they're still proud of building her. The luxury and craftsmanship on board the liner were acknowledged as the finest in the world.

Harland and Wolff reached its peak in the second world war when 35,000 men worked there.

They produced 140 naval and 140 merchant vessels, turning out an average of a ship a fortnight and making a huge contribution to the war effort.

After the war the yard continued to boom and the launch of the giant cruiser, the Canberra in 1960 marked its high tide. It was to be the last liner built at Harland and Wolff.

Like much of the British shipbuilding industry, the yard went into a long decline.

Like the Phoenix rising from the ashes, we'll do that again. I feel confident about the future for Harland and Wolff

Lawrence Galbraith, Draftsperson
Although the shipyard has a long history it has not always been a glorious one.

At one time 90% of its workforce was Protestant, and although some Catholics worked there, many felt it symbolised the sectarianism of the city.

In 1971 thousands of Belfast shipyard workers marched, demanding that IRA leaders be interned.

Men from the yard also played a key role in the Ulster Workers' council strike aimed at bringing down the power-sharing government.

Despite its problems, closure of the yard would have been politically unacceptable as well as economically disastrous for Northern Ireland.

The government was horrified at the prospect of thousands of men being thrown onto the dole. It was nationalised in 1975 and billions of pounds were spent on keeping it open.

Rob stands in the deserted shipyard
Rob stands in the deserted shipyard

The company was privatised in 1989. But once again it struggled to survive as a shipbuilder in an increasingly competitive market.

Three years ago it lost out to a French yard in the bidding to build the new Queen Mary 11. The order book was empty and shipbuilding was about to come to an end.

The company now has a new focus. It sees its future in technical consultancy, specialising in offshore marine work and structural engineering.

I think we have a good opportunity to make this company work. We have a good workforce, good facilities and with everyone behind us we can take it forward here in Belfast

Robert Cooper, Chief Exec, Harland & Wolff
It has contracts to carry out specialised research and development work for shipyards around the world. It's also diversifying and has supplied bridges for Dublin.

The giant cranes of Samson and Goliath dominate the city skyline. From the top of the 300 foot high Goliath you get a sense of just how vast the shipyard is and how much has changed. Much of the land has now been sold off, perhaps inevitably, to the property developers.

Below the handful of workers who remain look like ants as they scurry around vast empty acres of industrial wasteland which once teemed with life.

A once great company has shrunk to a tiny shadow of itself; it's a haunting illustration of the decline of a great shipyard and a symbol of the UK's rapidly disappearing manufacturing might.

The BBC's Rob Pittam at Harland and Wolff
Rob looks back over 150 years of shipbuilding history
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