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Opening up the Titanic’s toolbox: Rare shipyard artefacts go on display

Maeve Moreland, destination manager of Titanic Foundation, with an old standard diving dress
Maeve Moreland, destination manager of Titanic Foundation, with an old standard diving dress
Communications assistant Jenna Sloan with a model of a ship’s diesel engine
A sewing machine used for making sails
Tools from the shipyard
Lauren Harte

By Lauren Harte

Tools believed to have been used in the building of the Titanic form part of a new summer exhibition celebrating Belfast's maritime history.

Many of the items have never been valued and are being displayed for the first time within Titanic Belfast's Andrews Gallery from today.

The Out of Stores: Explore Our Shipyard Collection runs throughout August and has opened up Titanic Foundation's extensive archives to showcase a selection of never-seen-before items.

Everything on display is related to the historic shipyard and those who worked there, allowing visitors an opportunity to learn more about how the men of Belfast built these world-class ships and how the city's shipbuilding legacy was born.

Many of the items came into the collection of Titanic Foundation - the charity responsible for preserving Belfast's maritime heritage - through donations from former employees and their families.

The display also features artefacts loaned from National Museums NI and Belfast Harbour commissioners.

Others are connected to projects that the foundation has worked on, such as the development of Titanic Belfast, the restoration of the shipyard's drawing offices and preservation of SS Nomadic.

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They include caulker's tools, donated by the grandchildren of James McNeill. Born in 1874, he became an apprentice at Harland & Wolff and trained as a caulker (machine man).

Titanic was one of the ships he worked on during his career and it is likely he used some of these tools to build the ill-fated liner.

An extra large industrial sewing machine, possibly used for making sails and other large fabric items, is among the collection alongside draughtsman's and welder's tools, drawing office keys, spare portholes for Titanic's 'little sister' SS Nomadic, a scale model of a ship's diesel engine and a diving suit dating from the 1950s.

The exhibit includes a saw, donated by the granddaughters of Harry Streight, a joiner who was given the saw by his chargehand Mr Thompson, who had used it when he worked on the Titanic.

Also on display are linen samples, produced by a tracer for Harland & Wolff in the 1930s. Tracers would make copies of plans in very fine linen.

The samples are rejects, donated by Rosemarie Graham (nee Howard), who started working for Harland & Wolff in 1939. Among the ships she worked on was HMS Belfast.

Those with a keen interest in maritime history can view original Harland & Wolff drawings which were abandoned in the drawing offices in 1989 when the firm was privatised in an employee/management buyout after a troubled financial history.

A large part of the shipyard including the drawing offices was eventually sold off and redeveloped into the Titanic Quarter.

Titanic Foundation saved the drawings, which relate to areas of the shipyard and buildings long since demolished.

Kerrie Sweeney, chief executive of Titanic Foundation, said: "We are absolutely delighted to be able to pull together this exhibition to give a real flavour of what it was like to work in the shipyard.

"The exhibition is open to the general public and we will also be encouraging the local community, including people with connections to the shipyard, to come along and tell their stories, helping us bring these artefacts back to life".

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