Tour Locations | Derrie Danders: A Guide to the Quayside and North City
The Quay - Shipbuilding History of the city
We have just reached a storyboard on your right that shows a picture of a ship and the title "The North of Ireland Shipping Company Ltd". Once you've had a good look, continue walking while I will tell you more about the history of the ship building industry, and in particular Captain William Coppin.
When I grew up in the city, many years ago, this area had been filled with warehouses and cranes for unloading ships. These have all disappeared as the city's main port has been re-located to a few miles downstream at Lisahally. Even though the Foyle Bridge is constructed in such a way as to allow bigger ships to pass underneath, very few now come into this part of the city.
In a Northern Ireland context when you talk of shipbuilding, you normally think of the Belfast's Harland and Wolff shipyard which famously built the Titanic in 1912. But this city also had a shipbuilding past, and the earliest shipbuilding yards were located at this section of the Quay.
The establishment of shipbuilding was largely due to the efforts of Captain William Coppin, and although there were 4 periods between 1830 and 1924 when Derry had a shipbuilding industry, unlike Belfast, it never became a permanent fixture. William Coppin was born in Co Cork in 1805, and he arrived in the city in 1830 having learned the trade of a shipbuilding in New Brunswick, Canada. Ship operators from this city were sourcing ships from there and he arrived and then stayed to captain ships between Derry and Liverpool. In 1839 he purchased the existing shipyard of Pitt Skipton & Co. and he set about expanding it and increasing the range of vessels it could build.
In 1841 Coppin set about building a very ambitious vessel - a giant steamer called the Great Northern, which was powered by a radical new method of propulsion, the screw propeller. When the famous English novelist William Makepeace Thackery visited the city in 1842, he remarked on the great thundering and clattering of noise of its building. At the time she was launched in July 1842, the Great Northern was the largest steamship built anywhere in the world and the first to be powered by screw propulsion. Unfortunately the expected sale fell through and she had to be sold for scrap, and this contributed to the financial disaster of the yard.
Coppin lived in a four storeyed house called Ivy House along the Strand Road, and from its flat roof he could watch the river and his ships being built.It was only demolished in 1991. Although other shipbuilders did start up, different circumstances culminating in the Great Depression of 1924, finally ended the city's shipbuilding history.