Samson and Goliath, the twin shipbuilding gantry cranes situated in the shipyard of Harland & Wolff at Queen’s Island, Belfast, are listed on October 9, 2003, as historic monuments to ensure their preservation. The cranes, which are named after the Biblical figures Samson and Goliath, dominate the Belfast skyline and are landmark structures of the city.
The cranes are constructed by the German engineering firm Krupp, with Goliath being completed in 1969 and Samson in 1974. Goliath, the smaller of the cranes, stands 315 feet tall, while Samson stands 348 feet in height. Goliath sits slightly further inland closer to Belfast City. At the time Harland & Wolff is one of the largest shipbuilders in the world. The announcement that they are to be built is an important event at the time.
Each crane has a span of 459 feet and can lift loads of up to 840 tonnes to a height of 230 feet, making a combined lifting capacity of over 1,600 tonnes, one of the largest in the world. Prior to commissioning, the cranes are tested up to 1,000 tonnes, which bends the gantry downwards by over 12 inches. The dry dock at the base of the cranes is the largest in the world measuring 1,824 feet × 305 feet.
At its height, Harland & Wolff boasts 35,000 employees and a healthy order book, but in the years following the construction of the cranes, the workforce and business declines. The last ship to be launched at the yard to date is a roll-on/roll-off ferry in March 2003. Since then the yard has restructured itself to focus less on shipbuilding and more on design and structural engineering, as well as ship repair, offshore construction projects and competing for other projects to do with metal engineering and construction. Initially there is concern that the now largely redundant cranes would be demolished. However, on October 9, 2003 they are scheduled as historic monuments under Article 3 of the Historic Monuments and Archaeological Objects (Northern Ireland) Order 1995.
Northern Ireland Office Minister of the time Angela Smith states, “These cranes are an essential part of our city, our roots and our culture.” The cranes are not, technically, “listed buildings,” but are recognised by the Northern Ireland Environment Agency as buildings of “architectural or historic interest.”
Shipbuilding has ceased in Belfast, but the cranes are retained as part of the existing dry dock facility within the restructured shipyard, situated adjacent to the Titanic Quarter, a business, light industrial, leisure, and residential development on land now surplus to the heavy industrial requirements of the shipyard on Queen’s Island. They are kept in working order and used for heavy lifting by Harland & Wolff in its other activities.