Business

Belfast tool shop, which supplied Titanic to close after 122 years

McMaster's tool shop in Belfast is to close after over 121 years in operation
Gareth McKeown

THE Belfast shop, which supplied the tools used to build the Titanic is to close after 122 years in operation.

W.M. McMaster on Church Lane, will close at the end of January after announcing details of a 'retirement sale' before Christmas. The closure will bring down the curtain on a business, which survived both the Great War, the Belfast Blitz and the Troubles.

The business was founded in 1896 by William McQuoid McMaster. A joiner at Harland and Wolff, he fell and broke his wrists leaving him unable to continue his employment. He decided that if he couldn't use his tools, he would instead sell them. Mr McMaster opened his first shop at Ann Street in the city, before moving to Church Lane in 1910, where the store has remained for over a century.

In that time the store has supplied tools to tradesman all across Belfast, including Harland and Wolff, which at one stage employed up to 35,000 staff and was one of the largest shipbuilders in the world. Even the tools used to build the ill-fated Titanic, built in 1911, were purchased in McMaster's shop.

In 1936, William McMaster's three sons took over the family business and the shop building emerged unscathed from the devastating Belfast Blitz of 1941. It was not so lucky during the Troubles, as in 1972 the shop was badly damaged by a terrorist bomb. After being repaired it continued to be a Belfast mainstay and up to the 1990s was run by William McMaster's sons and grandsons. The proud tradition continued into the 21st century, with the business now run by a fourth generation of the McMaster family.

Speaking to the Irish News managing director Gavin McMaster admitted it was a difficult decision to close the business and cited an increase in online shopping and rising overheads from rates as key reasons behind the move.

"The Internet makes it very difficult, because online businesses can do it for cheaper. I just family businesses, whether it's tools or whatever, they're getting pushed out," he said.

"Some of our customers have been coming here 30, 40, 50, even 60 years, but unfortunately this is where it ends. We've gone through a lot, but at the end of the day it's just a sign of the times."

Mr McMaster said there are currently no concrete plans for the site at Church Street and no decision has yet been made on whether the property will be sold.

He thanked the customers, suppliers and all those who have supported the shop through the many years of business.

The shop will officially close on January 31 following the completion of a 'retirement sale'.

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