The building on the right of our photograph stood silent, barred
and decaying on the afternoon when we visited. Unless you knew its significance,
it would not invite a second glance. But back in 1908, on July 29, it was
crowded with VIPs. Across its long bench tables were spread the shipyard's
detailed plans for realising the Olympic and Titanic dreams.
For this was the draughting department of H&W manager Thomas Andrews
and here the great ships first materialised- on paper. With the benefit
of hindsight, we may identify as crucial the deliberations that went on
here as to how many lifeboats Titanic should have.
A visit to the design office by H&W general manager, A.M. Carlisle,
focussed discussion on the provision for lifeboats. Carlisle asked for the
lifeboat davits to be designed to allow for four lifeboats per pair of davits,
on both Olympic and Titanic. Such an arrangement could facilitate 32 lifeboats
per ship: twice the compulsory number under (out-dated) Board of Trade regulations.
In the event, Titanic was to be supplied with 20.
Had Carlisle's original desire for 64 lifeboats materialised, all passengers
and crew aboard the Titanic would have been adequately provided for.
The H&W workforce resolved to tackle the work with all the determination,
skill and enthusiasm which has always characterised the Ulster workplace.
For just £2 a week wages, the 15,000 workforce would labour from 07.50
to 17.30 hrs., Monday to Friday, with only 30 minutes for lunch. But they
didn't have a gantry that would fit the size proposed for Olympic or Titanic.
So they built one... an enormous new gantry, taller than any previously
used. The Great Gantry was an impressive structure, which dominated both
the shipyard and every view of Belfast city.
Look left:- Olympic. Look right:- Titanic.
Under the Great Gantry, with a good start having been made on the Olympic,
the keel of the Titanic was laid on its slipway on 31 March 1909.