Hamilton Dock and The Caisson Gate

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Hamilton Dock and Pumphouse

Situated in the heart of the Titanic Quarter beside the Harland & Wolff shipyard in Belfast, Hamilton Dock and Pump House sit proudly in front of Titanic Belfast – seamlessly linking the old with the new.

The plan to build the dock initially caused some controversy and was unpopular with the local shipbuilders who preferred the docks to be on the County Antrim side of the river and closer to their homes - remember in those days Belfast had few bridges. However, the recently formed Harland and Wolff shipbuilders were adamant and put pressure on the Harbour Commissioners to construct Hamilton Dock, thus paving the way for the rise of shipbuilding on Queens Island.

Take a stroll on the original setts of the historic Hamilton Dock!

For over 120 years (from 1867 until the 1990’s) Hamilton Dock was used for repairing, maintaining and fitting out ships. Photographs taken of Queens Road when Titanic was being built place the Nomadic beside Hamilton Dock and it is strongly believed that she was originally fitted out in the dock in 1911.

Hamilton Dock was last used in the 1990’s and quickly fell into disrepair and it stayed that way until 2009 when the Nomadic Charitable Trust was looking for a new home for the restoration of Nomadic to be carried out. It seemed like a perfect solution to combine two authentic maritime assets and restore them both as a tribute to a time when Belfast was the envy of all other industrial cities in the British Empire, as home to the world’s biggest shipbuilder.

The Caisson Gate

Built by Harland & Wolff in 1867, the original caisson gate for Hamilton Dock now stands proudly on display beside the Nomadic. Although called a caisson 'gate' it is actually a vessel in its own right.

The caisson is a hollow vessel built from wood and steel which, when flooded with water, was sunk down into channels at the head of the dock so that the water could be pumped out of the dock via the pumps in the pump house. When the ships were ready to leave the water was pumped out of the caisson gate so that it floated up out of the channel and flooded the dock, allowing the ship to leave.

The oldest Harland & Wolff vessel in the world?

The caisson is listed as “Hull No 50” on Harland & Wolff’s shipping register and is believed to be the oldest Harland & Wolff vessel anywhere in the world. For over 130 years the caisson sat at the mouth of Hamilton Dock, holding back the sea of the Abercorn basin and protecting the ships that were dry-docked for repairs. Even when Hamilton Dock was no longer in use, the caisson gate still sat in position at the mouth of the dock.

In 2009, the decision was taken to move SS Nomadic to Hamilton Dock. The original caisson was then removed, but realising the historic importance of this artefact it was decided that it should be protected and displayed in the dock it has called home for over 145 years. A new gate has now replaced the original caisson at the head of the head and is designed to keep the dock dry.

Caisson Gate
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