£1.5m funding for Titanic’s birthplace

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THE dry dock where Titanic was built has been awarded the largest investment ever given to an historic site in Northern Ireland.

Environment Minister Alex Attwood announced yesterday that £1.5 million will be spent on preserving the Thompson Graving Dock.

Often referred to as “Titanic’s footprint”, the 887ft long and 44ft deep dock gives an unparalleled perspective of how huge the great ship really was.

It was the biggest dock in the world when it was built in 1911 by the Belfast Harbour to accommodate Harland and Wolff’s huge ships, the Olympic and then the Titanic.

The steel gate which divides the dry dock from the sea measures 150ft at its widest point.

However the gate bears age damage and the Department of Environment said there is a real risk of future flooding which could result in damage to the dock as well as the equally historic pumphouse.

The dock is a key part of the historic infrastructure of Belfast’s shipyards, and is specially protected as an historic monument.

The preservation work will involve the construction of a permanent structure in the style of a gate, outside the original dock gate. When completed, this new gate will sit in the ‘Titanic slot’, an outer position in which the original gate would have been positioned to accommodate the sheer length of the Titanic.

A temporary coffer dam is being constructed to provide a dry working area around the original gate and Titanic slot, and to allow the construction of the permanent structure.

Mr Attwood explained: “The dock is now over 100 years old and it is important that we take action to ensure its long-term viability.

“The work will not only preserve the original dock gate but will also allow better public access to the dock and the working dock floor.

“When the work is completed, the Thompson Graving Dock will complement other Titanic attractions and help to showcase Belfast’s industrial and maritime history.”

The dock currently sits inside the Northern Ireland Science Park. Its director of corporate real estate and facilities, Mervyn Watley, said they are delighted with the investment.

“From April 2012 the public will be given access to the floor of the colossal Thompson Dry-Dock for the first time ever.

“This unique attraction will further add to the Titanic experience at the Science Park along with the 100-year-old Edwardian pumphouse which includes a state-of-the-art interpretive centre.”