On a wet and windy Wednesday a group of local historians and others gathered at 6 Station Road, Sydenham to mark the life and achievements of one of the world’s great shipbuilders, Gustav Wilhelm Wolff, exactly 100 years after the day of his death.Chris Spurr, Chairman of the Circle, welcomed all to East Belfast for this special event, the latest of he Circle’s blue plaques. In this area of the City were plaques to playwright Stewart Parker in Larkfield Road, CS Lewis in Circular Road and WR Rodgers in Belmont Avenue. The three writers were now joined by the shipbuilder and entrepreneur, Gustav Wilhelm Wolff – the ‘W’ on the mighty cranes that are such iconic landmarks. His business partner, Sir Edward Harland has a statue at the City Hall but until now Wolff has had no tribute in Belfast to mark his work and his legacy. Wolff’s enterprise and expertise helped create what were in their day the world’s biggest shipyard and the largest ropeworks. Together they employed thousands of people and brought great benefit to Wolff’s adopted city of Belfast. Today, exactly 100 years after his death, the Ulster History Circle was delighted to celebrate his life and achievements.Since the early 1980s, the Ulster History Circle has put up more than 150 plaques all over Northern Ireland to celebrate the achievements of those men and women who have contributed significantly to our history, locally, nationally, and internationally. It is an entirely voluntary organisation, and relies on the support of local authorities, individuals, organisations, and businesses to fund the plaques. He thanked Belfast City Council and its Development Committee for funding this plaque. He also thanked Brian Fulton, the present owner of No 6 Station, for allowing the erection of the plaque on his property, which was next to the site of ‘The Den’, Wolff’s residence when he lived here in Belfast.When the Circle wanted to invite someone to speak about Gustav Wolff and unveil the plaque it was thought a good idea to invite a former Lord Mayor of Belfast and also a former High Sheriff of the City, a former MLA for East Belfast, a man who served several times as a City Councillor and a renowned local historian and author, but instead of inviting six people, only one was needed to fulfil all these roles and that person was Ian Adamson OBE.
Ian Adamson said it was a great privilege to be invited to unveil the plaque in this fine area of Sydenham. In the history of the early development of the shipyard there were three musketeers – Edward Harland, Gustav Wolff and William James Pirrie. When asked about the roles of the three in the business Wolff is reported to have replied that Sir Edward built the ships, Mr Pirrie made the speeches and he smoked the cigars. He used his influence in Europe to develop Belfast’s shipbuilding industry. Wolff’s contribution has largely been left out of the account of the shipyard’s development, as have those their wives who were instrumental in the greatness of all three. Also important in Gustav’s life were his mother Annie Schwabe and her brother Gustav Schwabe, who was his favourite uncle and after whom he was called. The three personalities together made a really powerful force that was able to develop the greatest shipyard in the world.
As well as being a great shipbuilder, Gustav was a great entrepreneur, a great financier and a great MP, representing East Belfast for 15 years. He only left Belfast in the last couple of years of his life to reside in London where he died on 13 April 1913.
He concluded that it was a great privilege to be here to recognise the work of Gustav and to make sure that people would know about him in the future.
Here are some photos of the event.
|People gather for the plaque unveiling|
|Circle Chairman, Chris Spurr||Unveiling the plaque||With the plaque||Presenting Cathy Nesbitt, occupier of No 6, with a framed biography of Wolff|
|The plaque in place|