George Washington Wesley Watson

George Washington Wesley WatsonGeorge Washington Wesley Watson 1852 – 1929

Wesley Watson was born in Co Armagh in 1852, coming from a family with wide ranging interests in linen bleaching and manufacture.

In 1886, he entered into partnership with William Mercer and Robert McCrum, to form a linen manufacturing firm styled as McCrum, Watson & Mercer: the company being based in Milford, Co Armagh. It was formerly known as Messrs Robert McCrum & Co, as it was his father, William, who built the village of Milford to accommodate the workers of the mill that had been established in 1808. It produced high quality linen damask, napkins, towels and sheeting.

The company was immensely successful from its inception having been credited as being the first in Ireland to use the dry spinning system using water power. The founder’s son Robert Garmany McCrum (1829-1915) built Milford House, a magnificent Italianate mansion on the outskirts of the village, and appears to have been the partner most involved in the day to day running of the business.George Washington Wesley Watson Milford Factory Armagh

In 1894, McCrum, Watson and Mercer became a limited liability company with members of the management (including Watson) becoming shareholders. The company also owned a linen warehouse at 5 Linenhall Street in Belfast (now occupied by Lancashire House – erected 1959) and another linen factory at Gillis in Armagh.

In 1887, following a severe depression in the linen industry in north east Ireland, one of the largest concerns of its type in Belfast, the Northern Spinning and Weaving Company was forced into liquidation with the Managing Director, Thomas Valentine being obliged to sell the mansion house he had built in 1863 known as “The Moat” in order to liquidate his assets. Wesley Watson purchased the property from Valentine, and he and his wife took up residence shortly afterwards, having previously lived at Hannahville, Greenisland, Co Antrim.

George Washington Wesley Watson The MoatHowever, George Washington Wesley Watson’s first wife, Margaret Maria, died on 22 March 1894 (at The Moat, left), and three years later he re-married, this time to his cousin, Eliza G Watson, of East 34th Street, New York, daughter of William Watson, a successful dry goods merchant of West Farms, Westchester County, New York. William had emigrated to America earlier in the century.

Eliza, born in 1851, came from a large family, having 4 brothers and 4 sisters. Although Eliza’s father, William Watson died in 1877; the family remained in the homestead, Willmount, until the death of their mother, Maria, in 1894.

Part of the Watson estate property in the Bronx, lying north of Westchester Avenue and extending from the Bronx river to Clason’s Point Road – a tract of more than 93 acres (equivalent to about 1,200 city lots) – was sold in 1909 to the American Real Estate Company for $1,500,000. The Watson estate, with the adjoining estates of the Astors and the Trasks, constituted the largest land area entirely without development in the Bronx. The sale marked the passing of one of the great estates of New York.

Wesley and Eliza’s engagement and wedding were well documented in the Society columns of the New York Times. The service was held at the Protestant Episcopal Church of the Incarnation, Madison Avenue, and 35th Street, New York, on 5 January 1897.

George Washington Wesley Watson. Wesley and Eliza in later life

Wesley and Eliza in later life

“A pretty house wedding was that of Miss Eliza G Watson, daughter of William Watson, to her cousin, G W Wesley Watson of Belfast, Ireland, at the residence of Miss Watson’s sister, Mrs William H Tailer, at 14 East 72nd Street, yesterday afternoon. The house was decorated with orchids, palms, potted plants, and crushed baskets of roses.

The bride was given away by her brother, Francis A Watson. She was attired in a becoming gown of rich white satin, the corsage being tastefully trimmed with old point lace. Her veil was of rare point lace, the gift of her brother, Francis A Watson.

She wore several diamond ornaments, the gifts of the bridegroom, in her coiffure and corsage.

The best man was Charles F Watson, brother of the bridegroom. The ceremony was followed by an informal reception and wedding breakfast, only immediate members of the family and a few intimate friends attending.”

Life was good for Wesley and Eliza. They enjoyed a privileged and opulent lifestyle and enjoyed great standing amongst the Anglo-American community. An article in the New York Times of 15 November 1900 entitled “What is Doing in Society” records their activities at the turn of the century:

Miss Antoinette Walton Martin gave yesterday afternoon in her apartment in the Cambridge a reception in honour of Mrs Wesley Watson of London (Miss Eliza Watson of New York). Mrs Watson received with Miss Martin. There were some 200 guests present. Mr & Mrs Wesley Watson arrived here about a fortnight ago on their annual visit to New York, and will sail for England on Nov 27. Their stay here this Autumn is more brief than usual. They will spend the Winter on the Riviera.

As a result of his marriage to Eliza in 1897, Wesley spent most of his time in London, where they resided in a large house at 14 Cadogan Gardens in fashionable Chelsea; and in New York where they crossed the Atlantic in first class luxury aboard the latest Cunard Liner each Autumn. They only stayed at The Moat on their brief visits to Ireland. It would appear that following his good fortune in marrying his cousin, Wesley Watson retired from having any active part in the business, although he continued to be a director and the company retained his name as an original partner.

Eliza was known for her great philanthropic work. Daughter of William Watson of New York, she was also known as the ‘most charitable woman in London’

.No-one knows the extent of her gifts – many of them were given anonymously – but she is estimated to have spent £10,000 a year for charity. Amongst the charities she helped were Great Ormond Street Hospital, the Victoria Hospital for Children, Tite-street, Chelsea and the Queen Charlotte Hospital.

George Washington Wesley WatsonBecause of the short time that the couple spent in Ireland, Wesley put “The Moat” on the market and he was approached by Robert John McConnell, a successful estate agent and property developer from Belfast. Upon purchasing the property, he subsequently named the Baronetcy conferred upon him by Queen Victoria during her visit to Dublin, after the house – 1st Baronet McConnell, of the Moat, Strandtown (1900) – the same year that he served as Lord Mayor of Belfast

Subsequently, when Wesley visited Belfast following the sale of The Moat, he stayed at The Ulster Club at Castle Place.

Wesley Watson died in London in 1929 aged 77. Eliza survived him by 7 years (aged 87). Her memorial service was held at Holy Trinity Church, Chelsea on Wednesday 15 July 1936.

McCrum, Watson, Mercer passed from Robert McCrum to his son, William, but he had little interest in the business and by 1930, the company was in the ownership of the Northern Bank, and run by a team of managers.

During his lifetime, Wesley remained in contact with the family in Ireland and in particular, Marjorie Smyth. On his death, he left Marjorie a trust legacy of £3000 from which she was to receive an income for life. A sum of 5% war stock was allocated from Wesley Watson’s estate to meet this legacy and which would produce an annual income of £150.

Captain Watson & Mr Stuart E. Smyth were trustees.

Wesley Watson: 1852-1929 George Washington Wesley Watson

George Washington Wesley Watson 1852-1929

© Researched and compiled by History Hub Ulster Member Richard Graham | November 2018

A short history of 29 Wellington Place, Belfast

A short history of 29 Wellington Place, BelfastWellington Place

Wellington Place, being a relatively short thoroughfare from Donegall Square North to College Square East, was, like its neighbouring streets to the north, “laid out as superior terraces” in the 1790s, making it Georgian in character, rather than Victorian, as so much of the rest of Belfast is characterised by, following the expansion of the town because of the advent of the Industrial Revolution in the 1840s.

Wellington Place

It was originally named South Parade, followed by Upper Chichester Street (after the family who held the freehold to the town of Belfast) and finally Wellington Place by 1819 – so named after the Duke of Wellington, (1769-1852) who spent part of his boyhood by the River Lagan at Annadale in South Belfast. ‘Annadale’ was named after Anna, the Duke’s mother, who was a daughter of Arthur Hill, whose family established the Downshire dynasty of Stranmillis (now Stranmillis University College) and Hillsborough Castle, now the Queen’s official residence in Northern Ireland. The Duke of Wellington was the nemesis of Napoleon, Emperor of France, whom he defeated at the Battle of Waterloo in 1815.

Wellington PlaceThese superior dwellings would have housed the burgeoning middle class, such as solicitors, merchants and physicians, who would have had several servants to tend to the family’s needs looking after a large house over four floors. Although there have been many changes to the thoroughfare over the past 200 years, three of the fine terraced houses can still be seen on the north side of the street occupied by such names as Solo Restaurant and the Oasis Gaming Centre

In the early 19th century, the occupants of Wellington Place would have sent their sons to one of the most prestigious private schools in Ulster – the Royal Belfast Academic Institution (also known as Inst) which was located at College Square at the top of the thoroughfare. The main part of the building was completed in 1814 and its classical façade still stands today behind John Bell House.Wellington Place

However, as the century progressed, Wellington Place ceased to be exclusively residential and many of the houses were gradually converted for commercial use. 

Wellington Place

The Evangelical Union Church of 1858 (now Roost Coffee), which served the local population was demolished by 1895, and soon ornate linen warehouses such as that of James & Robert Young (on the corner of Queen Street) were being built along the thoroughfare. By 1850 Belfast was fast becoming the largest producer of linen products in the world, exporting to every corner of the globe such as the United States; South America; Australia and South Africa.

Wellington PlaceIt was against this dramatic change in urban living that a property developer of the time, acting on behalf of a private client, acquired a narrow plot of land in 1885 next to Young’s Linen Warehouse for the purposes of erecting a four-storey building which would service the needs of an ever-expanding metropolis. It was built of red brick over five floors with a distant ornamental gable. When it was finished it was one of the tallest buildings on the street and must have looked very impressive compared to the Monumental Sculptor’s Yard which stood on the site before. It was designed as a private residence over 5 floors … but who could afford to have such a sizeable property designed for their own use?

Wellington PlaceThe first occupant of 29 Wellington Place in 1885, was Doctor Joseph Nelson, MD; L.R.C.S.I (Licentiate of the Royal College of Surgeons of Ireland). This was no surprise as the area around RBAI (Inst) on College Square was known as the ‘Harley Street’ of Belfast. Dr Nelson would have used the ground floor as his consulting rooms and used the upper floors as his private residence. Two doors up, was the residence of Dr. J. Cumins, Professor of Medicine at Queen’s College (now Queen’s University), so the importance of the area by the time Queen Victoria bestowed the Charter of a City upon Belfast in1888 should not be underestimated.

Wellington PlaceBy 1901, Wellington Place was further becoming more commercial in nature. The former large houses were further converted for use as small hotels to serve the thousands of travellers arriving into the Great Northern Railway terminus (the main line from Dublin) on Great Victoria Street (now the site of the Europa Hotel). It was however chosen as the location for the City of Belfast YMCA, an enormously important organisation of the time for the development of young people by the Church of Ireland. It housed the Café Royale, one of the largest and most important meeting places for the people of Belfast.

Wellington PlaceOne significant lodger at the home of Dr and Mrs Nelson was a young man from Comber, Co Down, by the name of Thomas Andrews. Although he came from a wealthy background, Thomas entered the shipyard of Harland & Wolff as a ‘gentleman’s appretice’ in 1889. Part of his training was to attend the nearby Municipal College of Technology (now John Bell House) when he studied maritime architecture. In order to do so, he stayed up in Belfast during the week at Wellington Place on the top floor of No 29, returning to Comber by train at the weekends. His studies led him to become a member of the Institution of Naval Architects, after which he became Managing Director of Drafting at Harland & Wolff. Thomas Andrews is best remembered as being the Chief Designer for RMS Titanic, built at Harland & Wolff for the White Star Line in 1912. He was selected to be part of the ‘guarantee group’ aboard RMS Titanic when she set off on her maiden voyage, but was lost at sea along with 1500 other passengers and crew when the ship sank in the early morning of April 11, 1912. The rest is legend …

Wellington PlaceDr Nelson happily remained at his consulting rooms and residence at 29 Wellington Place but nearby, one major change in the area in 1906, saw his fellow physicians and surgeons on College Square leave the area in large numbers – the building of the Municiple College of Technology (now John Bell House) in the grounds of Royal Belfast Academical Institution. RBAI had almost gone bankrupt, and in a desperate attempt to raise funds, sold off the former lawns of the school to the Corporation of Belfast for the building of the new college. The surgeons and physicians felt that the area had degenerated as a result and they took themselves off to University Square beside Queen’s University which they considered to be much more prestigious.

Wellington Place29 Wellington Place remained the residence of Dr Joseph Nelson from 1885 until his death on 31 August 1910. His importance to the medical profession in Ireland was enormous, serving as President of the Ulster Medical Council for the session 1898-1899. However, as a young man, and after studying at Queen’s, he set sail for Italy where he obtained a commission from Garibaldi’s “Regimento Inglese” to fight for Italy’s unification.  He was later presented with two medals for gallantry by the King of Italy.  After gaining his MD at the University of Ireland in 1863, he once again took off, this time to India, where he became a surgeon on a tea plantation before becoming a tea planter in his own right. He returned to Belfast in 1885, where he was appointed the first ophthalmic surgeon to the Royal Hospital, where he held classes for students at 8:00 am daily. He regularly entertained his fellow surgeons and members of the Ulster Medical Society with his wife, Elizabeth at 29 Wellington Place over a period of 25 years. They had two daughters and one son, and lived comfortably with a staff of 4 servants: a housekeeper, a nurse and two domestic servants.

Wellington PlaceBy the 1920s and 30s, Wellington Place had secured for itself a prominent place in the commercial life of the city. Many of the leading architects who shaped the face of Belfast had their offices here, in addition to the leading insurance companies of the day, distributors, stock and share brokers and solicitors. Mrs Nelson sold up following the death of her husband and what had previously been a family residence was converted into showrooms for Craig & Paton, Ltd., Laundry, Electrical and General Engineers: Telegraphic Address, “Rotary, Belfast” with the upper floor being occupied by the offices of the Belfast War Pensions’ Committee. The ground floor (which today has been authentically restored for Student Roost) had a modern 1920’s shop front added, but the building retained its unique first floor ‘running’ roof.Wellington Place

Next Door was the quirkily named “Merrythought Café” – one of the social hubs of ‘Roaring Twenties’ Belfast. It was “the” place to be seen and many large companies and organisations holding their staff balls and presentations at the premises next door to Number 29 Wellington Place.

Wellington PlaceDuring the war years, many different organisations and professions occupied the 5 floors of 29 Wellington Place. Due to aerial bombing of Belfast during the Second World War, many businesses had to relocate from their destroyed premises, one being Robert Patterson & Sons whose Bridge Street store was destroyed in the Luftwaffe Blitz of Easter Monday, 1941. Patterson’s were Ironmongers, Mill Furnishers, Ship Furnishers, and Engineers and traded on Wellington Place until their premises were rebuilt in 1946.

From 1932 to 1960 the ground floor of 29 Wellington Place was occupied by the family firm of W. G. Wilson & Sons, Solicitors – (W. G. Wilson, W. G. Wilson, jun., Commissioner for Oaths; George I. Wilson; Gerard D. Wilson). The Wilsons had an extensive practice in the city with many major clients.

Wellington PlaceIt was in 1960, that the most significant change of occupier took place, when the established firm of Parsons & Parsons (Tailors) moved in to 29 Wellington Place. Parsons & Parsons had been established further along Wellington Place (at Number 37) in 1909 as Ladies and Gents Tailors. As a formal clothing hire company, it dressed the citizens of Belfast seeking to outshine others at special occasions for more than a century. The company specialised in weddings, formal wear, ladies, Highland and bespoke clothing. Whether it was formal attire for a gala ball, a cruise or a college formal, the hire store close to City Hall seemed to cater for whatever was needed. It stocked fine suits, waistcoats, dinner jackets and bow ties, as well as evening dresses, lingerie and kilts. In addition to this it offered customers a tradition bespoke service, with specialist tailors creating jackets, suits, trousers or coats all crafted to customers’ specifications – or waist size. It also provided a service selling barristers’ court suits and accessories.

Wellington PlaceSadly, after 104 years of trading on Wellington Place, Parsons & Parsons closed in November 2013. The building which had served so many different people lay empty and neglected. It was a significant property extending from Wellington Place to College Street and sharing a boundary with another historic property at 41- 49 Queen Street known as Swanston’s buildings. When the building came up for auction in 2015, a joint property deal was done to acquire both buildings for the provision of a major student accommodation development which would incorporate both sites, but at the same time retaining the historic facades of both properties.

Wellington PlacePlans were drawn up create a purpose-built managed student accommodation (PBSA) comprising 114 studios and 203 cluster rooms (317 units in total) to be named Swanston House with its main entrance at 29 Wellington Place.

The historic façade that was created as the residence for Dr Joseph Nelson in 1890 was secured using the latest construction methods, whilst the rear of the building was demolished and rebuilt, providing some of the best student accommodation in the city. The ugly and intrusive 1960s shop front was removed and a replica of the original doorway and bay windows on the ground and first floors reinstated as it would have looked in 1890.

Swanston House, managed by Student Roost, opened in August 2018 at 29 Wellington Place.

You’re more than welcome!

© Researched and compiled by History Hub Ulster Member Richard Graham | August 2018

A Short History of Swanston House – 41- 49 Queen Street, Belfast

A Short History of Swanston House, 41- 49 Queen Street, Belfast

Swanston HouseQueen Street, unlike its more upmarket neighbours to the north and west such as College Square and Wellington Place, was originally called David Street, this information coming from leases granted by the Donegall estate at the time. By 1819, it was being developed, roughly on the old town defences, hence the angle at the crossing of College Street, which would have followed the line of the town walls.

Swanston House Queens StreetThe original houses would have been substantial, but without the grandeur of those found on nearby Donegall Square beside the White linen Hall (now City Hall) and College Square beside Royal Belfast Academical Institution (Inst). As the 19th century progressed, Queen Street did however play host to some very important buildings, both commercial and institutional. The most notable of these was The Belfast Hospital for Sick Children which was established in King Street in 1873 and moved to new premises on Queen Street in April 1879.

“The hospital portion is arranged chiefly in the rear, so as to be removed from the noise of the street, the front building being devoted to administrative purposes, comprising board-room, servants’ hall, kitchen, storerooms, matron’s apartments, and bed-rooms for the officials. There are also several rooms which will be used either for a better class of patients, or for lady students, as the board may hereafter decide”

Swanston House - Carrickfergus CastleAnother important building on Queen Street of the period was the Working Man’s Institute and Temperance Hall built on the corner with Castle Street. Before the days of the internet, this building contained a library of ‘upwards of 3000 carefully selected works’ in addition to a lecture hall where talks and concerts were provided “to check the increasingly bad effects of the music saloons”, where alcohol would have freely been available. This was the beginning of the Temperance Movement which was set up by both the churches and industrialists to counteract absenteeism from the workplace, particularly in the mills and factories of the day.

Against this background, a young man by the name of William Swanston came on the scene. Although born in Barbados in 1841, where his father was serving with the Colonial British Army, the family was of Scots origin, and arrived in Ireland when William was a baby – his father having been appointed as Master Gunner at Carrickfergus Castle – one of County Antrim’s most visited tourist attractions.

Swanston House - The Old MuseumFrom an early age, Swanston showed a keen interest in geology, becoming a member of the highly esteemed Belfast Natural History and Philosophical Society (founded 1821) and the Belfast Naturalists Field Club which he joined in 1868.  The Society met in one of Belfast’s most historic buildings, The Old Museum, which is located on College Square North just across from John Bell House. Working with Charles Lapworth, later Professor of Geology at Birmingham (the home of Student Roost)

Swanston late produced a valuable paper on fossil remains in the Silurian Rocks of Co Down. In his later life, Swanston became Hon. Secretary of the Club, rising to the position of President in 1893, which he held for one year. Although he was immersed in business for most of his early life, he found time to bring much needed energy and influence to the position

Swanston HouseIt was his business interests that brought him to Queen Street. Having formed a partnership with Thomas Bones, the two men set about establishing a linen shirt, collar and cuff manufacturing business. Since the 1850’s Belfast had become the largest producer of articles of linen manufacture in the world. The partnership of Swanston & Bones provided the manufacturers of linen clothing with the accessories they required to complete the finished products before exporting them out of the port of Belfast to every part of the Empire and the civilised world. Their first manufactory was based at 50 King Street (adjacent to Queen Street) where they made shirt collars and cuffs.

Swanston House - Sir Arthur ChichesterSoon the partners began to look around for larger premises and found a plot of land on the corner of Queen Street and College Street upon which was a small cottage and garden, one of the last of its type in the city. Upon purchasing the land, they commissioned one of the leading architects’ practices of the day, Young & McKenzie to design a new manufactory and warehouse for their growing business.

The new building, erected in 1890, says much about Swanston as a person. The entrance includes a bust of Sir Arthur Chichester, Lord Deputy of Ireland, founder of Belfast, and a key figure in the Ulster Plantation. The head, made of Scottish granite, is based on a statue in St. Nicholas’ church at Carrickfergus, where he had been brought up with his family when they first arrived in Ireland. Also included in the entrance design are the coats of arms of Belfast and Ulster.

 

Swanston House - Sculptural Detail

Swanston House - Sculptural Detail

 

 

 

 

 

The sculptural detail of the doorway is notable for its quality and subtle wit. Sir Arthur Chichester is wearing a deep ruffle of the seventeenth century which neatly alludes to the collar and cuff making purpose of the business. Swanston settled in North Belfast in a Victorian terraced house at 4 Cliftonville Avenue, with his wife Isabella, son Robert, who attended Royal Belfast Academy, and daughters, Elizabeth and Isabella Forsythe. The family had two servants both named Margaret and worshiped at the nearby Duncairn Presbyterian Church on the Antrim Road.

Swanston House - ShamrockThe new building extended along Queen Street towards Wellington Place. In addition to the plot of land with the cottage and garden, the partners also acquired four Georgian houses and a cabinet manufactory belonging to Messrs McCutcheon.

Swanston House - PedimentSwanston, a Scot by parentage, also demonstrated great affection towards his adopted country. Shamrock and thistle motifs are found both on the entrance and in the pediment. A similar show of his fondness for Ireland is found in his bookplate which incorporates round towers, the Giant’s Causeway, a dolmen, a harp and most prominently the castle at Carrickfergus.

Swanston House Mr Swanston developed the entire site with an imposing frontage of 150 feet to Queen Street and 80 feet to College Street, and in the process formed five distinct warehouses; Swanston & Bones taking occupation of the most prominent corner site. A semi-circular tower on the corner topped with a steeply pitched conical roof rose to a height of 75 feet, being originally covered in green slates and surmounted with a weather vane (now removed).

Swanston’s pride in his family is reflected in the incorporation of his initials ‘WS’, the family crest and motto in the pediment above Queen Street, which has been sympathetically incorporated into the new student residence of Swanston House.

Swanston House And so, William Swanston had achieved his dream of establishing a successful business, along with his partner, at the same time erecting one of the most impressive buildings in the city centre. The status of a city had been conferred upon Belfast in 1888 during a visit to Ireland by Queen Victoria, just two years before Swanston House was built.

Swanston House - Mountcollyer LaundryAlthough he was extremely proud of his new premises, the partnership soon outgrew even this building, and the company built a new shirt, collar and cuff manufactory on the Limestone Road, which he called the Mountcollyer Factory (below). By 1901, his son Robert had joined him in the business, looking after the warehouse side and distribution of the company’s products across Europe. Swanston was by this time 59 years old, but still took an active part in the day to day running of the firm. They developed a laundry on the site which would have serviced other linen manufacturers in the city and to collect and deliver the products, the company built up a fleet of motorised vehicles, some of the earliest in the city. Such goods would have previously been moved around the city by horse and cart.

Swanston House - Mountcollyer Factory

Mountcollyer Factory

Back on Queen Street, the five warehouses that William Swanston had built were let out to many different companies.

These included:

  • – Hamilton & Robinson – a sister company of the famous Robinson & Cleaver on Donegall Place
  • – F Steiner & Co; turkey red dyers (!), prints, sateens, delaines, art muslin, handkerchiefs. Works: Church, Lancashire
  • – Nicholson, Carlisle & Morrow, Manufacturers & Warehousemen
  • – Symington, Kirkwood, & Co., linen merchants, also agents for the Manchester Fire Assurance Co.
  • – Belfast Art Society

Swanston House - Singer Sewing Machines AdvertisementIn 1901 the Singer Manufacturing Co moved into number 43 Queen Street, where they would remain for several decades to follow until the early 1970s. Founded in New York in in 1851 by Isaac Merritt Singer, the company’s sewing machines would go on to revolutionise home manufacture of clothing for the next 165 years. These were distributed all over Ireland from the company’s warehouse on Queen Street, managed by Mr James Marshall, having been manufactured in the UK at the company’s factory on Clydebank in Scotland, which was opened in1867.

Swanston House - The Office Staff of the Singer Sewing Machine Co

The Belfast Office Staff of Singer Sewing Machine Co.

Swanston would also have used Singer machines in his shirt factory at Mountcollyer in North Belfast. The majority of mills in Belfast concentrated on the spinning of flax, and weaving and finishing of linen products whereas those in Derry focused on the manufacture of shirts, with that city becoming the largest exporter of linen shirts in the world, so it was a specialist product that Swanston manufactured in Belfast.

Swanston House - Singer Sewing MachineAt Clydebank, with nearly a million square feet of space and almost 7,000 employees, it was possible to produce on average 13,000 machines a week, making it the largest sewing machine factory in the world (right)… another first, along with the largest shipyard, ropeworks and linen thread manufactory, all of which could be found in Belfast!

Swanston Building - Clydebank Factory

Clydebank Factory

With his success in business in the partnership of Swanston & Bones, William Swanston, FGS (Fellow of the Geological Society), moved from the house he had lived in for many years in North Belfast to a new villa in South Belfast, called “Farm Hill” at Dunmurry. His new home was surrounded by many acres of parkland and would have provided him with a restful sanctuary in which to enjoy his retirement.

Swanston Building - Linenhall Library

Linenhall Library

He was a member of the board of governors of the Linenhall Library (one of the finest in Ireland – top right); was an active member of the Belfast Naturalists Field Club who laid the foundation of our understanding of Natural Science today, and to which he wrote and published many papers on graptolites.

Swanston Building - Naturalist Field Club

Naturalists Field Club

He was an avid collector and built up what was one of the largest collections of Oliver Goldsmith’s works at his library at Dunmurry, which eventually he had to auction it off at Sotheby’s in London in 1926, as it threatened to take over the house! His wife Isabella had died at the age of 70 in October 1915, so it must have been a lonely existence in such a large house. William Swanston died at the ripe old age of 90 on Christmas Eve, 1932. He was buried at Belfast City Cemetery on Boxing Day, beside his beloved wife.

He left an estate in probate worth £10,414, approximately £680,000 today.

Swanston Building - Dunmurry Library

Farm Hill, Dunmurry

One of the last occupants of the buildings at Queen Street was a company by the name of The Athletic Stores. The company was established in 1936 moving to impressive new premises on Wellington Place (seen left – at its junction with Queen Street – now Ground Coffee) describing themselves as “Travel and India Rubber Goods Specialists” but soon the business diversified into all sorts of sportswear, long before the days of JD Sports or Sports Direct! In 1974, the building on Wellington Place was destroyed by fire following a terrorist incendiary attack. 

The company then relocated to Swanston’s Buildings on Queen Street, converting what had previously been warehousing to retail use.

Thousands of children would have been taken here for their first tennis or badminton racquet or the latest in “gutties” – the name everyone in Belfast used to use for today’s fashion trainers!

Swanston Building - Athletic Stores

Athletic Stores

The Athletic Stores was founded and run by the Blakely family from Bangor – of whom one of the family, Colin Blakely, who used to work in the store as a boy, became one of Northern Ireland’s best-loved local actors. He is seen here reprising the role of the infamous Dr Watson in Arthur Conan Doyle’s Sherlock Holmes.

Swanston Building - Athletic StoresThe other half of the building was also converted for retail becoming the showrooms of EDCO – the Educational Company Limited. This was and still is, Ireland’s leading educational publisher, and retailed all sorts of media for students and teachers before the days of the Early Learning Centre. Perhaps it was the advent of Competition from these new retaillers, that by 2005, both busineses had decided to cease trading on Queen Street and Swanston’s buildings became vacant and unloved.

In June 2008, a planning application was lodged proposing the demolition of the Swanston buildings on King Street – the passing of which by Belfast City Council was met with shock and anger by the Ulster Architectural Heritage Society. The UAHS challenged the decision by Judicial Review and won a reprieve for the building in January 2010. Despite proposing several alternative uses for the building, the case proceeded through the courts until February 2014, when the judge hearing the case ruled that the Department of the Environment failed to properly consider a policy presumption in favour of retaining buildings in conservation areas.

Swanston Building - Construction Works

This decision by the High Court ensured the future of William Swanston’s buildings of 1890, and in 2015, the building was acquired by Laguna Developments who put forward an impressive plan to retain the façade of the building at 41-49 Queen Street, along with that of 24 College Street and 29 Wellington Place, whilst at the same time creating one of the most exciting student accommodation developments in the city.

Swanston Building Construction Works AccommodationWork commenced in August 2016, demolishing the interiors of what had become a very unstable set of buildings (above). Using the latest construction support systems, the original Victorian façade was held in place, whilst the new building was erected floor by floor over the next two years. The new building, to be known as Swanston House was completed in August 2018 – the accommodation comprising of 317 bed spaces in a mixture of cluster bedrooms and studios located in a 7-storey low rise section and a 13-storey tower (see left).

William Swanston would be proud of the impressive and beautiful conversion of the building that still bears his name today, managed by Student Roost, one of the most dynamic student accommodation providers in the UK.  You’re more than welcome!

© Researched and compiled by History Hub Ulster Member Richard Graham | August 2018

 

Great War Trophy Guns in Northern Ireland

Trophy Guns Northerrn Ireland bannerAs early as February 1915, local newspapers reported that 150 artillery pieces captured from the Germans were in London and that they would be presented to districts, “which had done good work in the cause”, after the war. However, during the period of the war some war trophy guns were displayed in locations in the north of Ireland – two machine guns captured by the Ulster Division were sent to Londonderry (November 1916) and Portadown (July 1917) and a field gun was on temporary display in Belfast in 1916.

In December 1918, five captured guns were presented by Brigadier General George William Hacket Pain to the City of Belfast. In accepting the guns, which were placed in front of the Queen Victoria Memorial at Belfast City Hall, the Lord Mayor of Belfast, Sir James Johnston, said, “they would be cherished as mementoes of the great world war” and finished his speech with “The guns would remind many generations to come of the great victories achieved by our gallant soldiers”.  From as early as 1924, there were no guns on display at the Queen Victoria Memorial during the various Somme and Armistice Day commemorations held in front of Belfast City Hall.

Trophy Guns Northern Ireland

As had been intimated in 1915, the captured guns were distributed to locations across the United Kingdom, although guns were generally not delivered to locations in Northern Ireland until 1923 due to the civil disturbances in the opening years of that decade. Documents at the National Archives in Kew record that 72 trophy guns were allocated to Northern Ireland. Whilst most went to urban or rural councils, trophy guns were also on display at Queen’s University in Belfast, Campbell College in Belfast and Portora Royal School in Enniskillen.

Trophy Guns Northerrn Ireland Enemy Gun Letter

However, it is clear from newspaper reports that the trophy guns were not always welcomed or wanted. Also, some public representatives were dissatisfied with the trophies that they did receive and some councils either did not put them on display or removed the guns from display with unseemly haste. Some members of the public also questioned the desirability of having trophy guns on display, as demonstrated by a letter “Enemy Guns” published in the Northern Whig on 6th July 1925. 

In April 1923, the Belfast News-Letter reported that the War Office was sending four eight-and-a-half ton guns to Enniskillen and that the council was asking for the number to be increased to six guns. One of the guns was subsequently sent to Portora Royal School, which had already received one trophy gun directly from the War Office. Trophy Guns Northerrn Ireland EnniskillenIn March 1925, the Northern Whig reported that Enniskillen Urban Council had removed the German gun from the Diamond and the same newspaper reported, in December 1926, that the two guns outside the gaol were, “to be placed at the rear of the old gaol (out of the public view)”.  In September 1927, the Belfast News-Letter reported (see inset) that Sir Basil Brooke had written to Enniskillen Urban Council requesting the guns for Colebrooke House and Brookeborough. The Colebrooke House gun has been on display at Enniskillen Castle since February 1976.

Trophy Guns Northerrn Ireland Portrush

In March 1924, the Ballymena Weekly Telegraph reported that Mr George McMullan expressed the opinion at a meeting of Portrush Urban District Council that, “the German trophy should not be exhibited. I would rather it were thrown into the sea”. Mr Christie, Chairman of the council, replied that, “the gun might have been captured by Portrush men”.

Bangor received two war trophy guns – a howitzer/mortar was placed next to the coast at Kingsland and the deck gun from the German submarine U-19 was placed in Ward Park. This submarine was notorious at an international and local level, having sunk RMS Lusitania and landed Sir Roger Casement in County Kerry in advance of the Easter Rising in Dublin. This gun was dedicated to Commander Edward Barry Stewart Bingham VC and is one of only three Great War trophy guns that remain on public display. Trophy Guns Northerrn Ireland BangorOn 2nd October 1935, the Belfast News-Letter reported that Bangor Borough Council had decided to sell the Kingsland trophy gun for scrap, a decision which incurred the wrath of the Bangor Branch of the British Legion, which submitted a letter of complaint. The council subsequently reversed its decision.

One of the smallest villages to be awarded a trophy gun was Balnamore, three miles west of Ballymoney. In March 1920, the Ballymena Observer reported that Mr James Young JP of the Braidwater Spinning Mills had written to Ballymoney Rural Council congratulating the council on “obtaining a captured German gun in recognition of the splendid response to the call for voluntary enlistment for national service”. In his letter, Mr Young went on to say, “before leaving Balnamore, his company desired to erect a memorial to commemorate their unbounded admiration for the men of Balnamore who went willingly overseas to stem the German invasion, and also to perpetuate for all time their names in the district.”

Trophy Guns Northerrn Ireland Balnamore

Their proposal was to erect a suitable platform for the captured German gun on the triangle in front of Balnamore post office, with the names carved on the sides. The gun was delivered to the village in October 1923 and, in September 1933, Hale, Martin & Company (who had taken over the spinning mill) handed over the memorial platform and the gun into the council’s care and keeping.

In nearby Ballymoney, there was uproar at the Urban District Council regarding the gun that was delivered to the town in June 1923.

Trophy Guns Northerrn Ireland BallymoneyThe Northern Whig and the Belfast News-Letter both reported on discussions in the council chamber concerning the gun. Mr Robert McAfee expressed the opinion that “the town Ballymoney was deserving a better trophy. lt is 32 years ago since it was manufactured, and I question whether it was in the late war at all. It is like a piece of down pipe of spouting set on two wheels”. The field gun was placed on a pedestal in the small green at the Town Hall.

Trophy Guns Northerrn Ireland OmaghIn Omagh, there was opposition from Nationalist councillors on the urban council to the trophy gun that was to be sent to the town by the War Office. In March 1923, Mr Orr spoke in favour of receiving the guns, saying that, “this was a matter above party or politics, as the men of their local regiment, the Royal Inniskilling Fusiliers, of which they were proud, belonged both to the Orange and Green flag”. Two months later, the Mid-Ulster Mail reported on the ongoing wrangle between rival councillors. Mr McLaughlin said, “the council should never have considered the question of taking the gun at all, as the feeling of the majority of the members was totally against”

Trophy Guns Northerrn Ireland Omagh

Meanwhile, the British Legion in Omagh had secured a German machine gun (reported as having been captured by the 9th Battalion Royal Inniskilling Fusiliers). The Londonderry Sentinel reported on the ceremony in which the machine gun was placed outside the premises of the Omagh Branch of the British Legion. Following representations from a local solicitor and councillor, Captain William Henderson Fyffe MC, a German gun that had been captured by the 5th Inniskillings in Northern France in the closing days of the war was secured for the Omagh Loyalist Association and this gun was placed outside the Protestant Hall in Omagh in October 1923.

Trophy Guns Northern Ireland BallymenaIn October 1923, the Ballymena Observer reported that the German guns sent by the War Office to Ballymena had not received a fulsome welcome by Ballymena Urban District Council. The Clerk said the guns they had received – one howitzer and one Maxim – were not suited to the importance of the town. They had been promised two field guns and a machine gun but had only received one field gun and a machine gun. The Chairman remarked, “if we are to have war trophies for the Memorial Park let them be something presentable.  Other towns of much less importance than Ballymena have been able to secure something better than derelict German machine gun for their Parks”. One of the councillors, Mr Craig, went further saying, “What do we want with them, a lot of German rubbish?”.

Trophy Guns Northern Ireland CarrickfergusCarrickfergus Urban District Council had requested two field guns and two trench mortars. However, the War Office offered a heavy field gun, a field gun and a machine gun but sent two heavy guns. These guns lay in the London Midland & Scotland Railway Company’s yard in Carrickfergus until 1929. Although they were never put on public display, the council spent £40 cleaning and painting the guns. In November 1929, the LMS Railway notified the council that the guns had to be removed within two weeks, prompting the council to send an ultimatum to the War Office stating that, “unless Carrick is relieved of its cannons they would be sold as scrap”. On 3rd December 1929, the Northern Whig reported that the council had accepted a tender of £12 [approximately £700 today] from O & T Gallagher of Corporation Street in Belfast.

Trophy Guns Northern Ireland DungannonIn Dungannon, the trophy gun was pulled into position outside the British Legion’s new club premises for the Armistice Day commemoration in 1923. Six years later, due to bus traffic, the gun was moved from Market Square to a position overlooking the ex-Servicemen’s houses on Empire Avenue. In late 1937, Dungannon Urban Council considered a proposal to sell the gun for scrap, but this met with opposition from the British Legion and ex-Servicemen, who decorated the gun with a Union flag and a notice declaring “Not for Sale Lest We Forget”. There is still a German field gun on display in the park on Black Lane, the site of Dickson’s Mill. The information panel at the site records that the gun had been purchased by the Dickson family at an auction of military artillery in the south of England in 1920.

There are, to the best of my knowledge, only three trophy guns from the Great War still on display in Northern Ireland.

Trophy Guns Northern Ireland Surviving Trophy GunsA list of the locations in Northern Ireland that received trophy guns is contained in this spreadsheet which, where possible, details the fate of the guns.

Written by History Hub Ulster member Nigel Henderson.

*The below article from the Larne Times (25th May 1940) demonstrates that many were sold for scrap as part of the war effort during the second world war.

Trophy Guns Northern Ireland Disposal Articl

Grand Hotels of Belfast at the outbreak of the Great War 1914

Grand Hotels of Belfast at the outbreak of the Great War 1914

Grand Hotels Belfast

Like any major city in the UK at the time, Belfast had a wide range of hotels catering for all budgets and markets. The most prestigious of these were grand hotels found in the city centre, predominately on Royal Avenue, the premier address in the city, although many smaller commercial hotels also thrived around the railway termini, particularly the GNR on Gt. Victoria Street.

In this study, we will look at grand hotels at the top end of the market, which were designed for and patronised by the successful, the rich and the famous.

The Grand Central Hotel
Royal Avenue

Grand Central Hotel Belfast

Without question, the Grand Central Hotel was the finest hotel in the city, if not Ireland, when it opened for business on Thursday 1st June 1893. With 200 rooms over 5 floors, it was the brainchild of one of the city’s leading property developers, John Robb, who also operated one of the largest department stores in the city on Castle Place. The name came about from the original plan for the site, a central railway terminus, based on the Grand Central in New York. When the hotel opened it boasted every wonder of the age, with electricity generated in the basement which provided lighting throughout and which powered the elevators which took guests to every floor.

The public rooms of the hotel were situated on the first floor, overlooking Royal Avenue, and comprised lounges, a smoke room, billiard room, coffee room and several private dining rooms.

Grand Central Hotel BelfastThe finest suites were located on the second floor, and it was in these rooms that guests such as King Leopold of Belgium; Winston Churchill; Mario Lanza and Al Jolson stayed during their visit to the city. The hotel also played host to the cream of Ulster Society where the grand ballroom provided banqueting facilities for some of the most important events in the city, such as the official lunch celebrating the launch of the White Star Liner, RMS Titanic, in 1912.

It was therefore with a great deal of dismay that the owners of the hotel learned that they were being served with a requisition order issued by the Imperial government in Whitehall, ordering the hotel to be vacated for use during the first world war which broke out in 1914. The Robb family were forced to close the business, auction off all the contents, and hand the keys over to the War Office in London. It was only after the building remained empty for several months that the awful truth came out – a requisition order meant for the Grand Central Hotel in Bristol had been sent to Belfast by mistake! By that time the damage had been done and faced with the daunting task of re-furnishing the entire hotel, the Robb family decided to sell the business to a consortium led by the Scotch whisky distiller, John Grant, who reopened the hotel in 1927. Today the site of the hotel is occupied by Castlecourt Shopping Centre.

The Grand Metropole Hotel
York Street

The Grand Metropole Hotel York Street

The Metropole Hotel was located at 95-101 Donegall Street and 2-10 York Street, taking full advantage of a commanding corner site extending round into York Street and looking down Lower Donegall Street and Royal Avenue. Opened as the Queen’s Arms Hotel in 1850, its name was changed in 1890 by the then owners, the McGlade Brothers, no doubt to compete with it’s main competitor the Grand Central further down Royal Avenue.

The hotel was situated over four floors with its main entrance with a grand canopy on York Street, and a restaurant entrance on Donegall Street. It followed an irregular floor plan which allowed it to have lengthy frontages onto both thoroughfares.The Grand Metropole Hotel York Street

Although it opened in the mid nineteenth century, it appears to have reached its zenith in the Edwardian era, when it changed ownership several times. Although it did not achieve the same ‘celebrity’ status as its grander sisters on Royal Avenue (qv), the Grand Metropole was none the less an imposing, significant and important part of Belfast’s social history. It received much business from the nearby LMS railway terminus on York Road, to which hospitality carriages would have been sent to pick up guests, the grand hotel was also located on two of the busiest tram routes, which terminated at Castle Junction in the city centre, giving easy access to all parts of the city.

The hotel continued to flourish until 1929, when it was demolished to make way for a modern Art Deco retail building opening as Berris’s Walk Around Store in 1930. This building was subsequently demolished in 2017 to make way for the development of the Ulster University which will extend along the length of York Street.

The Midland Station Hotel
Whitla Street

The Midland Station Hotel, Whitla Street, Belfast

The Midland Station Hotel opened for business in 1898 and was in the style of the grand Victorian railway hotels of the period. It was designed by the leading railway architect, Berkeley Deane Wise for the Belfast & Northern Counties Railway Co and operated by the railway company in order to capture those passengers arriving into Belfast by rail and sea (at the nearby docks) and also as a base for touring the Antrim Coast and Glens and County Donegal. The competing railway companies built large hotels across the province, such as the Slieve Donard at Newcastle, the Northern Counties, Portrush and the Laharna at Larne.

As can be seen from the photograph, the hotel was directly attached to the impressive railway terminus buildings on York Road. The Corporation tramway also served the railway terminus directly connecting guests of the hotel to all parts of the city. The clientele would have been commercial and tourist in nature, but none the less, well to do, as many less expensive hotels existed around the area. The hotel was completely destroyed in the Blitz of Belfast in Easter 1941, along with much of the original railway terminus. It was however rebuilt, as the Midland Hotel and thrived in what later became a rather isolated part of Belfast until the 1980s when it was converted to use as offices by the Hastings Hotel Group. The building was demolished in 2017.

The Royal Avenue Hotel
Royal Avenue

The Royal Avenue Hotel Belfast

Constructed between 1882 and 1884, and designed by architect Thomas Jackson in the Italianate style, the Royal Avenue Hotel was the first hotel on the city’s main thoroughfare beating its main competitor (The Grand Central) to the title of Belfast leading address by nine years.

Royal Avenue Hotel Belfast bedroom

A bedroom in the Royal Avenue Hotel overlooking Belfast’s main thoroughfare

A four-storey building with round headed dormers and a rounded corner to Rosemary Street, it originally had 32 bedrooms – this was later expanded to 118 as the hotel grew in importance.

It was a property development devised by several of Belfast’s most successful merchants and was, until the opening of the Grand Central opposite, the most luxurious and centrally located hotel in the city. Synonymous with style and class it was typical of Victorian hotels found in city centres throughout the country.

Royal Avenue Hotel Belfast

A lounge in the Royal Avenue Hotel

The Royal Avenue was a much more intimate hotel than the Grand Central which was majestic in size and scale. The main entrance was onto Royal Avenue, with the public rooms overlooking the main thoroughfare and Rosemary Street.

The hotel continued to thrive until the early 1970s, when, with the arrival of civil unrest in the city, the business suffered a dramatic reduction until the hotel was destroyed in an accidental fire in 1984 and subsequently demolished.

 

 

The Imperial Hotel
Donegall Place

The Imperial Hotel BelfastMarketing material of the time proudly proclaimed that “It is highly probable that no establishment in the City of Belfast is so well known in all quarters of the globe as the Imperial Hotel “
Opened on Donegall Place in 1868, it was the brainchild of William J Jury, a Whiskey magnate and proprietor of Grand Jury Irish Whiskey which was exported around the world from Chichester Street, Belfast.

An additional two floors of bedrooms were added in 1868, at a cost of £2000!  Jury went on to open hotels (under his own name) on Dame Street in Dublin and in Cork City. These continued to expand as the Jury’s Hotel group and the business still trades today AS Jury’s Inns across the UK and Ireland. The Imperial remained one of Belfast’s oldest and busiest hotels until it closed in 1948, being replaced by a modern retail building in 1950.

Grand Hotels of Belfast Researched and written by:

Richard Graham
Member
History Hub Ulster

Captain J.S. Davidson Memorial Tablet Unveiled 9th Feb 1918

History Hub Ulster friend John McCormick writes for us today on Captain J.S. Davidson, Director and General Manager of Davidson & Co. Ltd.

John is page admin of the Facebook page 36th (Ulster) Division For God and Ulster. He describes his page as “A page for anyone with a historical interest in the original: Ulster Unionist 1912; Ulster Volunteer Force 1913; 36th (Ulster) Division; Great War 1914 to 1919 and the Orange Order & the Great War.

FELL ON ANCRE SLOPES

___________________

LATE CAPT. DAVIDSON
___________________
KEEPING HIS MEMORY GREEN,
___________________
MEMORIAL TABLET UNVEILED.
___________________

 

Captain Davidson, James Samuel, 13th Btn, C Coy Royal Irish Rifles, attached to Machine-Gun SectionAn interesting function of a private nature took place on Tuesday at the Sirocco Engineering. Works, when a tablet in memory of the late Captain J. S. Davidson, director and general manager of Davidson & Co. Ltd., was unveiled in the presence of the workers. Captain ‘Davidson was the only surviving son of Mr. S.C. Davidson, founder, and managing director of the company. When the Ulster Division was formed in September, 1914, Captain Davidson, who had been an active and energetic member of the 1st Battalion North Down Regiment, U.V.F., was amongst the first to offer his services, and was given a commission in the 13th Batt. Royal Irish Rifles (1st County Down Volunteers.) His knowledge of practical engineering was speedily discovered, and he was transferred to the Machine-Gun Section, subsequently being appointed to the position of Brigade Machine-Gun Officer, in which capacity he was serving in charge of the Machine-Gun Company at the time of his heroic death on the terrible 1st of July. 1916, when on the shell-torn slopes of Thiepval he passed to his eternal reward, at the early age of thirty-eight.

Mr. A. Agar, as chairman of the Memorial Fund, in opening the proceedings, said:—The Captain J. S. Davidson Memorial Fund was conceived as the result of a general desire on the part of the employees and business associates of the firm to put in a permanent form their deep appreciation of his high qualities, together with the heroic conditions under which he met his death. In honouring him, they honoured themselves in the fact he was one of them. As an employer and associate who was straight, just, and generous, and as soldier he met his death as only a brave man can. He had left behind him a noble example and the tablet which was to be unveiled that day would be a reminder to all who passed in and out of those gates, that while he him-self was dead his example still lives. (Applause.)
Mr. H. T. Coulter (treasurer of the fund) said the spontaneity and sympathetic enthusiasm which applied to the Captain Davidson Memorial Fund was evidenced by the fact that it was voluntarily participated in, not only by the general body of employees at the works, but also by their different branches and agencies at home and abroad, as well as by some of the business associates of the concern throughout the world. Their Australian and American friends sent very generous contributions, and the total amount of the fund, including bank interest, represented in round figures some £550. (Applause.) Each section of the subscribers was represented on the committee, and the final allocation of the fund was as follows:-

A donation of £200 to the Ulster Women and Children’s Hospital, Templemore Avenue, to name two cots the Captain J. S. Davidson Cots. A donation of £100 to the U.V.F. Hospital for the equipment of a gymnasium in connection with the orthopaedic branch, Captain Davidson’s name being identified therewith.

THE MEMORIAL EXHIBITION

The founding of an engineering scholarship at the Belfast Technical institute, to be known as the “Captain J. S. Davidson Memorial Exhibition,” under which a gold medal will be awarded annually, together with a cash prize, the total value of the exhibition each year being £10, and applying in particular to the third year course in mechanical engineering. The gifts to the two hospitals had already been made, and commemorative tablets have in each case been installed by the hospital authorities, while, as regards the Engineering Scholarship, an investment was being arranged in the names of trustees in £200 War Loan stock, the income from which will furnish the necessary funds for the exhibition. The three trustees would be the chairman of the Technical Instruction Committee of the Belfast Corporation, the Principal of the Technical Institute, and a director of Davidson & Co., Ltd. The Institute authorities had already issued a prospectus giving details of the exhibition, which would be open for competition as from that year. The balance of the fund had been utilised for providing the memorial tablet, which was to be unveiled that day. It was felt by all of them that, in addition to the philanthropic and educational purposes to which the fund had been devoted, it was desirable to have some permanent memento of Captain Davidson associated with the works there seeing that his entire business career was spent in the concern, and no more appropriate site could have been chosen for the tablet than that on which it was now erected, as not only was this Captain Davidson’s own office in the years of his young manhood, but in his boyhood’s days he (Mr. Coulter) remembered that he and other members of his family received technical education from a private tutor in a small classroom of a building that stood on the same spot. The crest of the Davidson family (which is embodied in the tablet) shows the head of a phoenix, and a free translation of the family motto is “Virtue rises from ashes.” May the virtues of him who has fallen on the field of honour ever inspire us He is not dead who lives in the hearts of those he leaves behind. (Applause.)

The Chairman then called upon Mr. T. Bailie, who has been in the employment of the firm for 37 years, to address the meeting. Mr. Bailie said—In the awful crisis through which our nation is now passing one cannot help realising that, next to the protection of Providence, the barrier interposed between us and disaster is the bodies of brave men. Without them our Navy would be useless, our artillery silent, our machine-guns only so much scrap iron, and so we honour our brave defenders, and truly they are worthy of all the honour we can give them, for since the world began there hath not been done such deeds of bravery as our gallant soldiers and sailors have done and are doing by land and sea.

DAY OF SORROW AND GLORY

But of all these heroic deeds, the one which most appeals to the mind and heart of the people of Ulster was on that memorable Morn at Thiepval, 1st July, 1916, when our brave boys covered themselves with glory. But, alas, at what a cost! All over the hills and valleys of our fair province there was sorrow and sighing for the loved ones who were not. With all these we deeply sympathise, and the names and records of their fallen sons will never be forgotten. But we are met here to-day to pay tribute to the memory of Captain, J. S. Davidson, who was one of that immortal band who counted not their lives dear unto them, if so be they might help to carry the old flag to victory. Quiet, unassuming, and courteous in his manner and disposition, he won not only the respect but the deep affection of all with whom he came into contact. He had the highest principle and a strict sense of duty, and it was certain that no danger would daunt him, and no difficulties deter him from doing what he believed was right. This did not only apply to his more mature years, for I knew him from childhood; his whole life was consistent, his character clear as crystal and his honour true as steel. Such was the man, his life, and his death, and now that he has gone, it is most fitting that you and we, among whom he went in and out daily, should have decided to keep him in remembrance, not only by the beneficent schemes of which you have already been told, but also by the tablet, which is now made public and dedicated as a memorial to him. May it be a daily reminder to us and to those who come after us to follow those high ideals to which he was so devoted, and for the defence of which he gave so much, “for greater love than this hath no man that he lay down his life for his friends.” (Applause.)

Davidson Memorial Tablet

The chairman then called upon Captain G. W. Matthew, a director of the firm, who was with Captain J. S. Davidson on the 1st July, 1916, at Thiepval, to unveil the tablet. This having been done, amid cheers, Mr. S. C. Davidson, managing director of the company, in accepting the tablet, said Mr. Chairman and fellow-workers, on behalf of this firm, and also on behalf of all the members of my family, I most gratefully accept this beautiful bronze tablet in memory of my only son, who patriotically gave his life in defence of the constitutional freedom and liberties not only of our own country, but also of the greater part of the whole world, against the degrading tyranny of German military autocracy. I esteem this memorial tablet, and the endowments to which the treasurer of your ‘committee has referred, as a far higher tribute to my son’s memory than any posthumous honour which the Government might have awarded him, because such honours are usually in recognition of only some single act of bravery, or merit, whereas the memorial which you have so generously contributed is based upon your appreciation of his personality and character, since he was, as a boy, serving his apprenticeship here amongst you. Your committee kindly left to myself the selection of the position in which the tablet is placed, and my reasons for choosing for it the central pier between the windows of what was my son’s office are that, after the war is ended, it is my intention to put up a roll of honour tablet on each of the adjoining piers, one of which will give the name of every man who joined the colours from these works, and also from our home and foreign branches, as well as from my own home (in all about 170 men), and the other tablet the names of those who have fallen or been wounded in the holy cause for which we and our Allies are fighting in this terrible war, the end of which, unfortunately, does not yet seem to be in sight.

Davidson Memorial Tablet locationMr. G. Crawford proposed a vote of thanks to the committee of the fund for the manner in which they carried out their duties. They had not only made it a financial success, but had administered the fund to the entire approval of the subscribers. An endowment to two hospitals, an engineering scholarship, and finally this tablet would each in its own way keep green the memory of Captain J.S. Davidson, when those who knew him personally and cherished his memory were no longer here.

Mr. J. McDonald, in seconding the motion, said no permanent or other form of memorial could adequately commemorate the courage, gallantry, and resourcefulness displayed by Captain J. S. Davidson on that memorable day for the Ulster Division at ThiepvaI on 1st July, 1916, a day indelible in the memory of us all. 

The motion was passed by acclamation. Mr. A. Brown hamming acknowledged the vote of thanks on behalf of the committee, the proceedings terminated.

Princess Victoria Tragedy – 65th Anniversary

Princess VictoriaHistory Hub Ulster associate member Peter McCabe is a local historian who enjoys visiting local graveyards and discovering long lost stories. In this short article, Peter discusses a different aspect of the Princess Victoria shipping disaster on the 65th anniversary of its sinking.

Until recently I only had a passing interest in the sinking of the Princess Victoria, aware of the memorials in both Larne and Stranraer, and of my parents mentioning the disaster on occasions (they were both aged 8 at the time). Reading Stephen Cameron’s excellent ‘Death in the North Channel’ book heightened my interest, as did the passing of the last survivor of the Princess Victoria disaster at the end of last year, pantry boy at the time William McAllister.

So, on this, the exact 65th anniversary of the disaster of 31st January 1953 – when 135 passengers and crew perished in the North Channel, with not one woman or child amongst the 44 survivors – rather than revisit what happened to the Princess Victoria and its impact on the local community (imagine the shock if one of the ferries regularly plying the route from Belfast to Cairnryan was to flounder), I thought I would look at any ‘footprint’ left by the disaster all these years later.

As well as the sensitive memorial mentioned above in Larne, the main remaining ‘footprint’ is on the headstones of the fatalities – and one survivor – so, rather than starting by looking at the town of Larne first where the majority of the passengers are commemorated, I thought I would start with Belfast City Cemetery finishing with a selection of fatalities buried in Larne, with those photos kindly provided by Ricky Cole and History Hub Ulster member Nigel Henderson acknowledged as appropriate.

Belfast City Cemetery

During my regular cemetery wanders around this massive Cemetery, and from Tom Hartley’s fine book on the subject, I have identified 4 burials that were a result of the sinking:

Walter Dorling Smiles

Walter Dorling Smiles

Walter Dorling Smiles – By far the most prominent fatality laid to rest in Belfast City Cemetery is Sir Walter, an MP for the constituency of North Down at the time of his death aged 70. Walter had received 2 Distinguished Service Orders during the Great War and was recommended for a Victoria Cross on one occasion. It is said that, if the weather had been better, Walter would have been able to see his home at Orlock from the ship as she sank off the Copeland Islands.

Bloomfield Bakery

Bloomfield Bakery

Walter was the first Managing Director of the Belfast Ropeworks at Connswater. In one of the few commemorations of the sinking outside of local cemeteries, on the wall of the former Inglis building on the other side of East Bread Street from the Ropeworks, a plaque has been erected in memory of the Piggot brothers – both employees of Inglis, and both of whom perished in the disaster. Interestingly, the plaque also claims that their father Tom – the first Manager of the bakery – also died on the Princess Victoria, but this was not the case.

Robert Kelly – Robert was a 46-year-old married man and a fitter by trade living at Wallasley Park in Belfast. His headstone is difficult to read but, with the help of the online burial records, it is possible to establish that Robert’s wife Margaret is also buried in this plot, dying aged 84 in 1994 41 years after her husband.

Princess Victoria James Curry

James Curry

James Curry – at first glance the Curry headstone seems to indicate that the entire family perished in the disaster but, thankfully, that wasn’t the case, with ‘only’ James dying. Married with 3 children and living at Roden Street in Belfast, James was an employee of Short Brothers and Harland at their Wig Bay factory.

Victor Mitchell – Aged just 30 when he perished, like his cousin James Curry mentioned immediately above, Victor was employed by Short Brothers and Harland at the Wig Bay factory, working as an electrician, and living at Espie Way (off the Upper Knockbreda Road) with his wife and young children when back in Belfast. Whilst burial records show that Victor is buried in Grave X-227 in the Glenalina section, sadly, there is no evidence of his grave 65 years after he was interred there.

Dundonald Cemetery

Princess Victoria Edmund Freel

Edmund Freel

Edmund Freel – Edmund was a Fourth Engineer Officer who lived at 3 Ashbrook Crescent, and was aged 29 and married with a young son and daughter. Edmund had initially worked for Harland & Wolff, before joining the Merchant Navy after World War Two and travelling widely. Edmund had decided to leave British Rail (who owned the ship) to return to work in the Belfast shipyard and, heartbreakingly for his wife and young family, was only working an additional weekend shift to get extra money to buy tools before his return to ‘the Yard’. There was further heartbreak for his family when his body was recovered from a lifeboat that was washed up at Kearney Point, meaning that he had perhaps survived the initial sinking but perished afterwards.

Princess Victoria George Clarke

George Clarke

George Clarke – lived in Derby, travelling to visit his mother Winifred who lived at Hillsborough Parade, and was planning to take her over to Derby to live there too. Winifred is buried in the plot too dying 14 years later in 1967 whilst still living at the same address. Interestingly, at the base of George’s headstone, the following words are featured: ‘The Winds and the Waves Obey Thy Will’- not an easy sentiment to express in the months after George’s untimely death I’m sure.

 

 

St Elizabeth’s Church of Ireland graveyard, Dundonald

Princess Victoria Douglas & Ruby Bilney

Douglas & Ruby Bilney

 

Lieutenant Commander Douglas & Ruby Bilney – the Bilneys were travelling to take up a posting at the Royal Naval base at Eglinton. Commander Bilney’s body was washed up at Castletown on the Isle of Man several days later, whilst Ruby’s remains were recovered from the sea and brought to Belfast by SS Ballygowan. Ruby’s parents lived in Dundonald, so this is why the Bilneys now lie in this scenic graveyard in the shadow of the ancient moat.

Princess Victoria Frank Jewhurst

Frank Jewhurst

Frank Jewhurst – even more in the shadow of the moat is the final resting place of Frank Jewhurst. Frank was a captain and adjutant of the 53rd AA Workshop Company REME (Royal Electrical and Mechanical Engineers), living at Cherryhill Drive in the village, and was aged 60 at the time of his death. The name Jewhurst is the sole wording on this simple headstone. The only reason I know that this is Frank’s final resting place is because a relation of his happened to mention this to me when I was talking about Sir Walter Smiles during a guided tour of Belfast City Cemetery.

Drumbeg Parish Church graveyard

Princess Victoria Maynard Sinclair

Maynard Sinclair

57-year-old Maynard Sinclair was the Deputy Prime Minister and Minister of Finance in the Northern Ireland government. He reputedly helped women and children up to the boat deck, an ultimately fruitless task as, as mentioned in the introduction, all women and children perished as, sadly, did Major Sinclair. On hearing of his loss, his mother-in-law died – presumably of a heart attack – adding further trauma to the family.

The Maynard Sinclair pavilion at Stormont is a tangible reminder of the esteem Major Sinclair was held in, whilst a children’s ward at the Ulster Hospital in Dundonald is named in his honour and the Major J.M Sinclair Memorial Pipe Band is further evidence of this esteem.

Princess Victoria William Nassau Parker

William Nassau Parker ©Ricky Cole

 

 

 

Knockbreda

William Nassau Parker – ‘Willie’ was a fitter, like so many of the male fatalities, employed at Wig Bay aircraft factory. Married and living at Ava Gardens, his headstone at this scenic graveyard also commemorates his mother and father who had both predeceased him in 1935 and 1947 respectively. 

Carnmoney

Princess Victoria Adam McCann Reid

Adam McCann Reid ©Ricky Cole

Adam McCann Reid – Married with a teenage daughter and living at Armitage Street in Belfast, Adam was another employee (a labourer) at the Shorts Brothers and Harland factory at Wig Bay. His body was recovered by MV Fredor in the early days of February 1953 and was brought ashore at Londonderry.

Greenland Cemetery, Larne

Princess Victoria Roseann Baxter

Roseann Baxter ©Nigel Henderson

 

Roseann Baxter – a 39-year-old stewardess from Larne, Roseann had been a Wren during World War Two, before working on the cross-channel service, initially with the Princess Margaret. Roseann was last seen on the ship’s deck, holding a baby in her arms.

Princess Victoria Adam Heggarty

Adam Heggarty ©Nigel Henderson

Adam Heggarty – a steward on the Princess Margaret, he died along with his Scottish fiancé Phillomena McDowall. The couple, aged 23 and 19 respectively, planned to marry 2 months later. Adam’s headstone commemorates further premature loss with his brother also drowning in Gourock in 1962 aged only 13.

Princess Victoria William Hooper

William Hooper ©Ricky Cole

William Hooper – a 17-year-old pantry boy on the ship, William had always dreamt of going to sea, and 2 of his brothers had previously also served on the Princess Victoria. William was a second cousin of the other pantry boy on the ship William McAllister who, as mentioned in the introduction to this article, was the last survivor of the disaster to die.

Princess Victoria John Peoples

John Peoples ©Ricky Cole

John Peoples – the ship’s mess room steward, ‘Jack’ was aged just 16 years and 10 months and was the youngest member of the crew when he perished. A keen cyclist Jack had recently purchased a new bike and would regularly take his new bike on to the ship with him.

Princess Victoria William Dummigan

William Dummigan ©Ricky Cole

William Dummigan – A married 65-year-old greaser on the Princess Margaret, William was travelling on the Princess Victoria to commence his retirement.

Princess Victoria Horace Locke

Horace Locke ©Ricky Cole

Horace Locke – a native of Scotland, Horace was not due to sail on the Princess Victoria’s fateful voyage, but had covered for a crewmate who was attending a wedding. His wife Agnes was expecting their third child in Larne at the time of the disaster, dying more than 40 years after her husband.

Princess Victoria William McGarel

William McGarel ©Ricky Cole

William McGarel – the 55-year-old quartermaster on the ship, William had fought at the Battle of the Somme, and lived in Larne with his wife and their 5 children.

Princess Victoria Alex Craig

Alex Craig ©Ricky Cole

Alex Craig – Alex is recorded as a ‘survivor of the Princess Victoria disaster’ only passing away in 2008. When the sea breached the rear stern doors, able seaman Alex heroically had a rope tied around him and tried to close the door, but with no success. Alex was later thrown in to the water as the ship capsized, swimming to the safety of a nearby lifeboat (Number 6).

From reading up about the disaster I can’t decide if anyone in particular was to blame for the sinking of the Princess Victoria, but I do know that there is so much heartache and heartbreak evident on these sad memorials, and in Stephen Cameron’s excellent book, perhaps reminding us of how precious and transient life is.

Henry Pierson Harland 1876-1945

Henry Pierson Harland 1876-1945

© Richard Graham

HP Harland HarefieldH P Harland Henry Pierson Harland was born on 1 September 1876 at Harefield, Middlesex, England.

Henry was a son of the vicarage: his father, Rev Albert Augustus Harland M.A being Vicar of Harefield and a Fellow of the Society of Antiquaries (F.S.A.) To be elected, one had to be ‘excelling in the knowledge of the antiquities and history of this and other nations’.

During Henry’s childhood, Harefield would have been a small idyllic village, its origins going back to Saxon times and having been mentioned in the Domesday Book.

HP Harland Church

One of the most beautiful parish churches in England, the history of St Mary the Virgin goes back centuries possibly as far as 1086AD. The vicarage where Henry was born had been built in 1852, by the voluntary subscription of the parishioners, and was surrounded by 8½ acres of land so he would have enjoyed a carefree lifestyle as a child

Henry’s grandfather Dr William Harland (1787-1866) had been Mayor of Scarborough on three occasions as well as being a successful physician, with his own medicinal baths at the bottom of Vernon Place. He and his wife Anne (Pierson) had 11 children so the house must always have been a hive of activity.

His uncle Edward James Harland (1831-1895) – pictured below – one of the 11 children, went on to establish (in partnership with Gustav Wolff) the Belfast shipbuilding firm of Harland & Wolff in 1861, having moved to Belfast from Yorkshire in 1854.

HP Harland EJ Harland

Henry was educated at Rugby School, one of England’s finest public schools, where he would have been a boarder as it was many miles from his home in Harefield

No doubt influenced by his uncle’s success in Belfast, Henry joined the firm of Harland & Wolff in 1893 at the age of 17 as a premium or gentleman’s apprentice. By that time Sir Edward Harland had retired from taking  an active part in the business (since 1889 when he became MP for North Belfast), leaving the day to day control to Walter H Wilson and William Pirrie (pictured below). These two men had also entered “the Yard” as premium apprentices in 1857, as had Thomas Andrews the son of another prominent Ulster family four years earlier in 1889

 

HP Harland Wilson and Pirrie

 

In his early years at Queens Island, and during the rapid expansion of the yard under Pirrie and Wilson, Henry Harland did not receive any preferential treatment because of his family name. Although Thomas Andrews, upon completing his apprenticeship in 1894, was appointed an outside Manager, Harland’s rise appears not to have been as meteoric. Andrews’ mother was William Pirrie’s sister Eliza, so this may have played a part in his career advancement

In 1910, Pirrie had expressed concerns that as the Home Rule Bill for Ireland made its way through parliament, it may be necessary to close the shipyard in Belfast, should civil war break out in the city. As a result by 1912, he had put in place plans to take over the Govan Yard on the Clyde in Scotland should things deteriorate in Ulster.

HP Harland The Yard

By this time, it would appear that Pirrie considered Henry to be ready for his first major career challenge and he was sent to Govan in 1912 to supervise the construction of sub-contracted vessels through Pirrie’s arrangement to take over the yard at Govan in a deal made with Mackie and Thomson the original owners. Pirrie prudently put plans in place to rebuild the Govan yard and Henry Harland, as yard manager was pivotal in this development (see above for an aerial view of the reconstructed yard)

Under Henry Harland’s management the yard was completely rebuilt during the period 1913 – 1917, an important period for the supply of ships to the government. As a result H&W’s Govan shipyard became one of the largest, most modern and efficient on the Clyde

In March 1917, William Pirrie was invited by the British Prime Minister to accept the newly created post of Controller General of Merchant Shipbuilding, an immensely important position he would hold in addition to his chairmanship of H&W and the Royal Mail Group. Because of this enormous workload, Pirrie was forced to delegate some of his responsibilities at Belfast. George Cumming was appointed Deputy Chairman and Henry P Harland was transferred from Govan where he had been sent in 1912, to the London office of H&W as the chairman’s personal assistant. The importance of this appointment should not be underestimated. Pirrie was an extremely secretive and autocratic man and kept the private ledger for the Belfast firm in the office at London, where even Cumming could not get access to the essential financial information required for the overall management of the business. This would confirm that Pirrie held Henry Harland in a position of great trust that few of his other manager’s would enjoy.

HP Harland Downshire HouseThe London office had been opened in March 1907 and was situated at 1A Cockspur Street, a magnificent building just off Trafalgar Square, also housing the offices with the Oceanic Steam Navigation Company. Prior to this Pirrie had used Downshire House (right) his London home as his office, guarding the all important private ledgers and balance sheets relating to the business in Belfast. Henry Harland would have been a regular visitor to Downshire House to discuss strategy for the company following his move to London.

 

HP Harland NellieIt was also in 1917, and following his appointment to the London Office of Harland & Wolff, that Henry Pierson Harland married Helen (Nellie) Reilly Andrews (1881-1966), the widow of his former management colleague at Harland & Wolff, Thomas Andrews (1873-1912).  

Andrews had been Managing Director of the company in Belfast but had lost his life aboard RMS Titanic, of which he was chief designer, when the ship sank in the North Atlantic on 15 April 1912.

Henry Harland had been a suitor for Helen’s hand at the same time that Thomas Andrews showed an interest in wooing her some 10 years before. Helen was the daughter of John Doherty Barbour (1824-1901), a leading industrialist, politician, and chairman of the Linen Thread Company, one of the largest textile producing conglomerates in the world, which included the family firm of William Barbour & Sons, based at Hilden. As such she would have been considered a suitable and desirable wife to any young man of appropriate position in Edwardian Ireland.

Because of her indecision, Helen’s mother is reputed to have locked her in her room at Conway, the family home, and threatened not to let her out again until she decided whether she should marry Thomas or Henry. She chose Thomas and they were married on 24 June 1908 at Lambeg Parish Church.

Thomas and Nellie had one daughter, Elba, born on 27 November 1910 at the family home Dunallan, on Windsor Avenue in Belfast. Elba must have been the centre of attention of both the influential Andrews and Barbour families following the tragic death of her father aboard Titanic.  Helen had barely spent four years of her married life together with Thomas when she was left a widow at the age of 31

Following her re-marriage to Henry, Helen left Belfast to start a new life with her husband near London. Helen had been born at Warwick, (although she grew up in Belfast) near to where her father had business interests in Leamington Spa, where he was elected to serve as Mayor later in his life. Her mother died there at the Regent Hotel in 1934.

The newlyweds wasted no time in starting a family and their first child, a son Albert, was born on 20 November 1917.  Henry and Helen had 3 more children: daughters Evelyn (b 1918), Louisa (b 1920) and Vera (b 1924).

HP Harland Otterspool HouseThe family later moved to Otterspool House, a large house on the banks of the River Colne near Aldenham, Watford. The house was owned by John Pierpoint Morgan (1867-1943), son of the owner of the White Star Line, and leased to Henry under a tenancy agreement. The original house dated back to 1798, and had a succession of owners until the Harlands took up residency in the 1930s.

By 1921, Henry Pierson Harland had secured a position of financial security and prestige as a shareholder in Harland and Wolff with 10 shares valued at £1,000 each, as had his brother’s Albert and William. With 507 shares, Pirrie was not as many people thought the major shareholder: this was John Brown & Co with 560.

During the summer of 1921, IMM (International Mercantile Marine) entrusted H&W with the work of completing work on two massive half-completed German liners that had become the property of the Ministry of Shipping as war reparations. Pirrie put Edward Wilding and Henry Harland in charge of this project: Wilding being based in Belfast while Harland, based in London, would chair the Hamburg Committee, overseeing the work in Danzig.

HP Harland MajesticOne of the liners, previously named the Bismark and started in 1914, was re-named RMS Majestic  and launched in May 1921. The project had not been easy for Henry Harland, as there were difficulties involved in communication between Belfast, London and Germany, but Pirrie, not an easy man to please, was impressed by the way in which Wilding and Harland conquered these obstacles. Henry headed the Majestic’s guarantee group from Harland & Wolff for the maiden voyage from Southampton to New York on 10 May 1922, as had Thomas Andrews with the Titanic in April 1912. On arrival, at Ellis Island in New York, Henry described himself as a ‘shipbuilder,’ rather than being any more specific.

The Majestic remained the largest liner afloat at 57,000 tons until the launch of the Normandie by France in 1935

HP Harland Harland and RebbickIn 1929, Henry Harland was made a director of Harland & Wolff, and subsequently was elected onto the boards of other associated companies. He represented the interests of the subsidiary ship finishing company of Heaton Tabb & Co based in  London (of which he was chairman) and later became a director of Short & Harland, following the move of Short Brothers to Belfast in 1937. This new company was 50% owned by Harland & Wolff, the idea being instigated by the then chairman Frederick Rebbeck (photographed with Henry Harland – cigar in hand – aboard the liner Capetown Castle 1938)

 On Friday 22 October 1937, Henry Harland represented H&W at the funeral of J Bruce Ismay at St Paul’s Church, Knightsbridge. Following the Titanic disaster, Ismay became somewhat of a controversial character and retired in disgrace to Co Galway. He died at Mayfair, London.

Henry was entitled to use an impressive list of qualifications to his name, these included:

Membership of the Institute of Naval Architects (M.I.N.A.)

Membership of the Institute of Marine Engineers (M.I.M.E)

Member of the Court of the Worshipful Company of Shipwrights

Member of the General Committee of Lloyds Register

Member of the Consultative Committee of Shipbuilders and Engineers conferring with Marine Department of the Board of Trade

In his later years, Henry P Harland became increasingly interested in politics. As manager of the London Office of Harland & Wolff, he would have had enormous experience as an ambassador for the company in obtaining new business and looking after existing customers of the yard, so political life and the requirements of politics would have become second nature to him

He had long been associated with the Aldenham and Watford Conservative Associations near his home at Otterspool House becoming President of the former and Vice Chairman of the latter. The Conservative Party was closely aligned with the Unionist Party in Northern Ireland at that time, so the ideals of the two parties would have sat comfortably for him.

HP Harland GV Wolff

In a by-election caused by the elevation of Captain Herbert Dixon to the peerage in 1940, Henry Harland stood as Member of Parliament for the vacant seat of East Belfast and was returned unopposed as the Unionist representative on 8 February 1840. In becoming a Member of Parliament he was not only following in the footsteps of his uncle, Sir Edward Harland, but also in those of Gustav Wilhem Wolff, his uncle’s partner in the business who represented the same constituency of East Belfast unopposed for 18 years from 1892.

Following his election as an MP at the age of 64, he became less involved in the active management of the company, and his duties were shared with J S Baillie, the Company Secretary, at the London office. The London Office had an important function in the organization as it served as the main point of contact with owners and potential customers, and was also the centre for the administration of the repair branches.

In 1944, Henry and Helen moved home to what appears to have been a more manageable house called Oakwood, The Warren, Radlett, Hertfordhire, just a few miles away from Otterspool House in Aldenham. He was the sitting MP for East Belfast a position he would hold until he retired in June 1945, and still held the position of manager at the London office of Harland  & Wolff.

The death of Henry Pierson Harland on 10 August 1945 at the age of 68, ended the Harland connection with the company after almost 80 years. His death created a vacancy on the Board and in the London Office.

On the recommendation of Sir John Craig, Denis Rebbeck was appointed to succeed Harland on the Board. Denis, son of Sir Frederick, had joined the company in 1935, the first of a number of graduates appointed to the Board. J S Baillie took over at the London office.

HP Harland Barbour, Elba and Phoenix

Following her husband’s death, Helen, aged 64, returned to Dunmurry to be near her brother Sir Milne Barbour, who lived at the family home and estate at Conway. His wife had died in childbirth in 1910, and he didn’t remarry. Her new home became Phoenix Lodge which she shared with the daughter from her first marriage, Elba, who had previously lived for some time in Kenya, and her daughter by her marriage to Henry, Vera.

Helen died in a private nursing home at Adelaide Park in Belfast on 22 August 1966, having suffered from dementia for some time. Her daughter Elba, continued to live at Phoenix Lodge until the mid 1960s when she moved to a cottage at Milltown. Phoenix Lodge was shortly thereafter demolished to make way for a distribution centre for Castol Oil. It was later taken over by RFD who in turn sold the site to a property developer in 2014. The beautiful  Weeping Willow tree that survived in the grounds for almost a century was felled overnight and the site developed for apartments.

Elba was killed in a road traffic collision whilst driving her amphibious vehicle on the main Dublin to Belfast Road on 1 November 1973.

 

Addendum:  Additional information on Henry Harland

Henry’s brother was killed at the battlefield of Ploegsteert, near Flanders in Belguim in the early stages of the First World War. (Capt) Reginald Wickham Harland was a member of the Hampshire Regiment and was killed in action on 14 October 1914.

Other siblings included:

Albert Harland (1869-1957) Snuff Manufacturer of Sheffield, Member Sheffield City Council 1902-1911, MP for Sheffield 1923-1929

William Harland (1866-1964) Left £12,000 in the will of Gustav W Wolff           

Ethel May Harland (d.1962) Married Alan F Fremantle of the Indian Civil Service

© Richard Graham

Reina del Pacifico explosion 1947

History Hub Ulster associate member Peter McCabe is a historian who enjoys visiting local graveyards and discovering long lost stories.  In this short article, Peter discusses the Harland and Wolff ship, ‘Reina del Pacifico’.

I first became aware of ‘Reina del Pacifico’ on one of my many wanderings around Dundonald Cemetery, noticing on John Redmond’s headstone that he was ‘accidently killed on Reina Del Pacifico’.  Thinking initially that it was a place-name, with the help of a friend and then Google, I then realised that, rather than an exotic island in the Pacific Ocean, ‘Reina del Pacifico’ was, in fact, a ship.

A couple of weeks later, nearby I noticed the grave of Samuel Richmond who died as a ‘result of an explosion on the ‘Reina Del Pacifico’.  I still thought that both individuals were sailors who had perished at sea.  Months later when reading Tom Thompson’s ‘Auld Hands’ book (essentially detailing his experiences of working in Harland & Wolff in the 1950’s), I noticed that the book ended with short chapters on a number of vessels including, as expected, the Titanic and the Canberra, but also the Reina del Pacifico.

So, from that chapter and further trawls of Dundonald Cemetery looking specifically for victims of the Reina del Pacifico disaster – another September 11th disaster – here are brief details of my discoveries (interestingly of 8 headstones in Dundonald Cemetery, the first two that I stumbled across are the only two that mention the name of the ship, the others just referring in varying forms, to an accident):

Built by Harland & Wolff for the Pacific Steam Navigation Company and launched on 23rd September 1930, Reina del Pacifico was the largest and fastest motor liner of her time. 

Reina de Pacifico

She became famous in 1937 after the former British Labour Prime Minister, Ramsay MacDonald died aboard whilst on a cruise at the age of 71, just two years after leaving government.

 In 1947, after service during the Second World War, she was ‘taken in hand’ at Queen’s Island.  When the refit had been carried out, the liner crossed to the Clyde for speed trials which were completed satisfactorily over more than 33 hours on 10th and 11th September. 

Tragically however during the return voyage to Belfast, while speed was being increased, seven miles off the Copeland Islands, all four engines exploded without warning.   In an instant the engine room was a shambles, the lighting extinguished, ladders and access platforms destroyed and the atmosphere thick with smoke.   

Reina de Pacifico

 

When rescuers entered the engine room they found fires breaking out and bodies everywhere.  

 

The appalling result was that 28 people died, either instantly or from their injuries, and a further 23 were hurt, including William Thompson who suffered burns to 90% of his body. Unbelievably those injured in the explosion were docked a half-day’s pay…

From the Belfast City Council Burial Records website, I have been able to identify nine victims of the disaster, all buried in Dundonald Cemetery (unless stated, each of these individuals died on 11th September and were buried on 15th September.  They were:

James BarnesJames Barnes, fitter, aged 61

Lived at 11 Botanic Bungalows (between Botanic Gardens and Stranmillis Embankment).  All that remains on the grave is a homemade sign ‘in loving memory of Barnes Ellen died November 1906’ with, sadly, no reference at all to James.

 

 

James S. Collins, fitter, aged 27

28 Baltic Street (near the Waterworks). ‘Beloved husband of Elizabeth Collins killed as the result of an accident’.

Robert Ellis, fitter, aged 46

Lived at ‘Hillmount Ballybeen Dundonald’ (Ballybeen townland, rather than estate).

Ferran Glenfield, draughtsman, aged 19

Home address was 16 Keatley Street (a street that doesn’t exist anymore, off Templemore Avenue), and died at the Royal Victoria Hospital on 13th September. Grave also contains Susan Reid who lived at 21 Cyprus Avenue and who died on 13th September 1989 (exactly 52 years later) aged 91.

John Davidson McBlainJohn Davidson McBlain, fitter, aged 26

Lived at 30 Dunraven Parade. ‘Jack dear husband of Betty McBlain accidently killed 11th September 1947′.

 

 

Robert Cairns McClureRobert Cairns McClure, fitter, aged 25

Lived at 63 Beechfield Street, Short Strand. ‘Beloved husband of Rachel McClure accidently killed 11th September 1947′ and buried on 16th September.

 

 

Wesley Patterson, fitter, aged 21

Lived at 54 Enid Parade, Ballyhackamore. ‘In loving memory of our dear son killed as the result of an accident’.

 

John RedmondJohn Redmond, fitter, aged 42

Lived at 36 Raleigh Street (off Crumlin Road). ‘In loving memory of my dear son accidently killed on Reina Del Pacifico’. Wife Elizabeth died 49 years later, still whilst living at Raleigh Street.

 

 

Samuel RichmondSamuel Richmond, aged 33

Lived at 33 Parkgate Gardens dying at the Mater Hospital on 13th September as the ‘result of an explosion on the Reina Del Pacifico’.  Tragically his wife Elizabeth had died aged only 27 earlier in 1947 on 23rd February.

 

 

The inquest on 10th October 1947 found that ‘the accident seemed – and it is no exaggeration of language – just impossible, but it happened’, said the Belfast Coroner Herbert P Lowe who himself is buried in Dundonald Cemetery dying on 28th October 1970, my first birthday.

Peter McCabe

Associate Member History Hub Ulster

Tragic Second World War Accidents in Northern Ireland

Tragic Second World War Accidents in Northern Ireland By Nigel Henderson

Whilst the vast proportion of the civilian deaths attributable to the Second World War in Northern Ireland occurred during the German Air Raids on Belfast, Newtownards and Londonderry in April/May 1941, there are other deaths recorded on the Civilian War Dead section of the Commonwealth War Graves Commission (CWGC) database, which lists 906 civilian fatalities.

Accidents Insert Moulds - Home Guard killed imageThe first fatality on the CWGC list is Special Constable William Mould (Local Defence Volunteer, forerunner of the Ulster Home Guard) of Dunmurry who died at 4:30am on 8th September 1940 when he was struck by a vehicle with no lights when walking home whilst on duty. The car was driven by Lieutenant Ernest John Bloom, Corps of Royal Signals and reports on the inquest were carried by the Lisburn Standard and Lisburn Herald (on 13th and 14th September respectively). William Moulds had served with the Canadian Infantry during the Great War and is commemorated on the War Memorial in Derriaghy Church of Ireland. To date I have been unable to locate the burial location.

Several people, mainly teenaged boys, died when they picked up explosive devices but there were also tragedies involving the sea and gas leaks … and a few deaths involving British and American military personnel.

Accidents Larne Times

Thomas Barr Murray of Magheramorne in County Antrim was out playing with some friends in a disused quarry on his eleventh birthday on 17th April 1946. The quarry had been used by a rifle range during the war and Tommy picked up an object, which turned out to be a No 68 Anti-Tank Grenade, and he was hitting in with a stone when it exploded, killing him instantly and badly wounding his best friend, John McBroom. The Larne Times (25th March 1946) reported on the inquest and Tommy was laid to rest in St John’s Church of Ireland Graveyard in Glynn.

Tragedy struck Cookstown on Sunday 14th February 1943. Whilst playing in Killymoon Demesne, some local lads discovered an anti-tank grenade which they took to two soldiers, who declared that it was safe. Daniel Donnelly (13) grabbed the grenade from John Woods and ran off with his friend, John Creggan (11), and the grenade exploded a short while later. The two boys were transported to the County Hospital in Omagh, but Daniel died en-route at Mountfield and John died of his injuries in hospital. On Tuesday 16th February, a Solemn Requiem was said by the local parish priest Father Teggart CC and the boys were buried in the Derryloran Chapel Hill Roman Catholic Graveyard in Cookstown. Whilst Daniel’s name is recorded on the CWGC Civilian War Dead list, John’s name is not … one of several anomalies that I have detected. The inquest was reported in the Mid Ulster Mail on 20th February 1943.

The inquest into the circumstances of the death on 14th November 1945 of Thomas Molloy (16) of Terla, Tassagh, at the military range on Corran Mountain took place on 23rd November and was reported in the Armagh Guardian on 30th November 1945. According to Mrs Jane Cassells of Corran, the lad was driving a herd of cattle towards the Clady. Mr Murphy, the owner of the field, expressed the view that the cattle might have detonated an explosive device. The story of a distressing tragedy was unfurled at an Inquest in Limavady under Dr John Acheson, Deputy Coroner. Albert Rodden (28), a driver with the Northern Ireland Road Transport Board was killed by a short burst of machine gun fire on the evening of 17th April 1942 on the Dungiven-Limavady Road. 

Rodden, accompanied by Frederick McMichael, was returning the bus to the depot in Ballyclare. In giving evidence, Frederick McMichael said that Albert had allowed several vehicles to pass the bus in Main Street, Dungiven before pulling out behind them – there was a further, but different car, behind the bus and the driver of the car sounded the horn and tried to overtake. At Farloe Lane, there was a wide place and Albert pulled in to let the car pass and, as the other car came along at a fast rate, McMichael heard a shot and the bus crashed into a wall. Driver De Felice said that when he tried to pass the bus, the car struck the kerb and his passenger, Sergeant Clipsham swayed with the sudden jerk and appeared to be dumbfounded as if he did not know what had happened. In giving evidence, Sergeant Clipsham reported that he was standing in the car and fell against the machine gun, which started to fire. The funeral at Ballykelly Presbyterian Church was a major affair, including representatives from the “B” Constabulary and the Ulster Home Guard, which would imply that he was providing part-time war service, yet his name is not recorded in the Books of Remembrance for civilian fatalities in the Second World War. The inquest was reported in the Derry Standard and the Derry Journal on 20th April 1942 and in the Londonderry Sentinel on 21st April 1942.

 

Joseph Herbert Withers (11) died at the Armagh County Infirmary on 22nd October 1941 following an explosion on Aughnagurgan Mountain – an elderly man, Nathaniel Weir was injured and taken to hospital. William Russell, farmer of Aughnagurgan, said he saw Weir working in a corn field and there was a child carrying corn when he saw a plume of smoke and heard an explosion. Joseph Withers, who was still conscious, said that he got the bomb on the mountain and it exploded when he threw it down. Archibald Withers, the lad’s father was working in a nearby field and heard the explosion. The inquest was reported in the Ulster Gazette & Armagh Standard on 31st October 1941.

Robert John Dodds, a 40-year-old farmer from Dysert and a member of the “B” Specials Constabulary since 1921, found a bomb or grenade whilst ploughing a field on Tuesday 26th January 1943 and showed it to his brother, Aaron Dodds. At 8:20 on Wednesday evening, Robert John Dodd left the family home to walk to the “B” Specials Drill Hall – he had the bomb in his coat pocket as he would have to take it to Mr Noble, the Instructor. When he was 50 yards from the house, the bomb exploded and Robert John Dodd was taked to Daisy Hill Hospital in Newry, where he later died. The inquest was reported in the Newry Reporter on 30th January 1943.

Frederick Strutt (31), a civilian worker from Dublin was working on the runway lighting at Ballyhalbert Airfield on 4th November 1942 and died when a Beaufort aircraft piloted by Sergeant G.B. Swift of 153 Squadron Royal Air Force ran off the runway and struck him – Frederick Strutt is buried in Deansgrange Cemetery at Drumcondra in Dublin. Seven days later, Sergeant Swift (Aus 406552) and his Crewman Sgt D.J. Blanchard were transferred to 29 Squadron. (Additional information from Andy Greenfield, www.ww2ni.com). The inquest was reported in the Newtownards Chronicle on 14th November 1942.

At the outbreak of war, the pilot launch Miss Betty was requisitioned by the Admiralty from Jim Davidson of Donaghadee and was crewed by civilians under naval direction. On Saturday 8 May 1943, Miss Betty left Bangor in moderate weather conditions at 8.55 am to respond to a call from a ship entering Belfast Lough. At 11.40 am, Miss Betty was returning to Bangor harbour, contending with a strong north-easterly gale and heavy breaking seas, when disaster struck 60 to 70 yards from the safety. The boat had successfully negotiated several strong waves before being overwhelmed by a broadside hit on the port side. Miss Betty capsized, turned over in the water and remained upside down. Four North Down men drowned in the incident. Harry Aiken (21), William George Nelson (28, and a crew member of the Donaghadee Lifeboat) and William White (29) from Donaghadee are commemorated on the Donaghadee War Memorial and buried in the Donaghadee Church of Ireland graveyard. The body of William Sloan Anderson (28) from Bangor was washed ashore at Portpatrick in Scotland 38 days after the disaster and he is buried in the Bangor Cemetery and is commemorated on the Bangor War Memorial and on the War Memorial in the Wesley Centenary Methodist Church in Bangor. Although these men lost their lives whilst working under the direction of the Admiralty, they are not recorded as civilian war fatalities on the CWGC database. (additional material provided by Barry Niblock)

Messrs Redmond, Sons & Company, a manufacturer of packing cases, employed a night-watchman and fire-watchers at its premises on the corner of Connaught Street and Milner Street in the Village district of South Belfast. When William Elliott arrived at the works at 7:30am on the morning of 2nd December 1942, he found the night-watchman, Alexander Watson of Coolderry Street, lying on the floor in front of a gas fire and later found the four fire-watchers in their beds – two men, William Dowling of Donegall Avenue and James Campbell of Norfolk Drive, were already dead and the other two men were taken to the near-by Royal Victoria Hospital. George Leslie of Olympic Drive died in hospital but Henry Kavanagh (18) of Ross Street survived. The gas fire and the radiator in the sleeping quarters had been installed only ten days previously and, whilst William Elliott reported that he had noticed a strong smell of gas, a Corporation expert examined the radiator and reported that it was in perfect order and that there was no sign of an escape of gas. James Campbell (18) was buried in Milltown Roman Catholic Cemetery, William John Dowling (49) was buried in Dundonald Cemetery, George Leslie (37) was buried in Belfast City Cemetery and Alexander Watson (63) was buried in Lurgan Cemetery.