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Newspapers in education: Titanic, past and present, week one

This article has been specially written for thousands of pupils from across Northern Ireland who are doing the Belfast Telegraph cross-curricular project on the Titanic. Over the next six weeks we will focus on the iconic ship which was built in Belfast.

How shipbuilding took off in Belfast

RMS Titanic is one of the most iconic ships in history. It may have sunk over 100 years ago but millions of people around the world remain fascinated by it.

The famous ship was built in the Harland and Wolff shipyard in Belfast which is the largest city in Northern Ireland.

The shipbuilding industry became big business in Belfast. Before that a lot of the money generated in Belfast was due to the linen industry.

In 1787 Lord Donegall provided four acres of land in Belfast for the trade and the White Linen Hall was built. The business boomed so much that the city became known as the 'linen capital'.

Shipbuilding would also emerge as a hugely important asset for Belfast. A crucial factor in this was the creation of a company in 1785 called the Belfast Harbour Commission.

It controlled and operated the port in Belfast and decided to straighten the last stretch of the River Lagan to allow more ships to enter the waters. The process started in 1839 and took many years to finish under the supervision of engineer William Dargan (below right), considered the most important figure in railway construction in Ireland having constructed over 800 miles of railway connecting key cities in the country.

The excavated soil from the river created a 17 acre island which became known as Queen's Island after Queen Victoria.

Another important event happened in 1853 when the Harbour Commissioners created a yard for Robert Hickson to build iron-hulled boats. Edward Harland was hired to be the manager. He quickly earned a reputation for improving the standard of workmanship, carrying a piece of chalk and a ruler around with him to mark mistakes.

By 1861 he and his former personal assistant Gustav Wolff had founded Harland and Wolff and so one of Northern Ireland's most well-known firms began.

The ships built in Harland and Wolff were numbered. Numbers 1, 2 and 3 were named Venetian, Sicilian and Syrian.

As the years passed by, the shipyard quickly grew in stature and the growth of Belfast benefited from it with the population rising rapidly.

There was still the building of the Titanic to come.

Each week we will write about various people with a connection to the Titanic

We start with Sir Edward Harland and Gustav Wolff founders of Harland and Wolff where the ship was built.

Born on May 15, 1831, Mr Harland, along with Gustav Wolff, created Harland and Wolff where the Titanic was built.

Originally from Scarborough in North Yorkshire, he moved to Belfast in 1854 to manage a shipyard at Queen's Island which he would eventually buy.

In 1861 he entered into a business partnership with his former personal assistant Mr Wolff, launching what would become one of the most famous shipyards in the world.

Harland would later bring William Pirrie on board as another partner. Together the three men ran a successful business, receiving orders from across the globe.

Harland, who served as the chief Belfast Harbour Commissioner, Mayor of Belfast and a member of Parliament for Belfast North, was granted a knighthood in 1885. Four years later he retired and died on Christmas Eve in 1895.

In his obituary in The Times newspaper, it was said he designed the company's ocean liners "on the model of a fish swimming through the water".

It was at Harland & Wolff that the most famous ship of all would be built some years later.

He may have been born in Hamburg in 1834 but it was in Belfast where Mr Wolff made his mark with Edward Harland as they formed Harland & Wolff which is still around today.

Mr Wolff moved to England from Germany in 1849. Years later he would become Mr Harland's personal assistant, prior to the duo operating as business partners.

Wolff's early work at Harland & Wolff involved engineering and managing the shipyard. He had links with the Jewish community in Germany and Britain and attracted important business.

He officially retired from Harland and Wolff in 1906.

Wolff served as a Belfast Harbour Commissioner and like Harland was a Member of Parliament. Wolff's constituency was Belfast East. He also co-founded the Belfast Ropeworks. He died in 1913 in London, aged 78.

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