The Belfast Banking Company opened their branch in Warrenpoint in 1914. In 1970 the branch was rebranded as Northern Bank (Belfast Bank Branch). Danske Bank trading as Northern Bank closed the branch in 2013. Following a few years of redevelopment, the building is soon to go on the market as retail space and 2 apartments upstairs. This article presents the history of the building through historical maps, newspaper clippings, ledgers and photographs.
Gavin Bamford and Nigel Henderson, from History Hub Ulster, together with friend John McCormick recently visited Cregagh Methodist Church to view their Great War ‘War Memorial’. Rev. Ken Connor facilitated our visit.
As we were discussing and photographing the memorial, Rev. Ken Connor appeared with the nicely framed Castlereagh Road Methodist Church ‘Roll of Honour’ in his hands.
This Great War ‘Roll of Honour’ had been out of the public eye for many years. The dates on the hand-written parchment roll (pictured above) are from 1914 to 1917. The year 1917 is unusual but may simply mean that no more men from that congregation volunteered after 1917.
A quick reconciliation of the names on both plaque & parchment showed that many names were duplicated. Later research showed that a temporary Methodist Church was built in 1894 on ground at the junction of Castlereagh Road with Clara Street. In 1912 the congregation took the decision to move to another site. The war intervened with their plans. In 1923 an option on a site on the Castlereagh Road was agreed and a new church was opened in 1927.
Robert Allison Haldane was born on 10th May 1874 at Milton in Lanarkshire to Thomas Haldane and Margaret Haldane (nee Allison). He married Jessie Horn on 17th June 1898 at Blythswood Congregational Church in Glasgow. Their first two children were born in Scotland but they were living at Kingscourt Street in the Ormeau Ward when their third child was born in January 1903.
In 1911, Robert, Jessie and their six children were living at Glenvarnock Street off the Cregagh Road and Robert was employed as a moulder in an iron works. Robert Haldane enlisted with the 8th Battalion Royal Irish Rifles and his is the fifth name on the Roll of Honour for Castlereagh Road Methodist. Robert Allison Haldane, the last child of Robert and Jessie, was born at 162 Templemore Street on 8th April 1915, two months before his father left Ireland with the 36th (Ulster) Division.
Robert Allison Haldane was Killed in Action on 2nd July 1916, aged 42, and has no known grave and is commemorated on the Thiepval Memorial to the Missing in France. Jessie Haldane received a War Gratuity of £8 in November 1919 and a weekly pension of twenty-seven shillings from March 1917 for herself and five children under the age of 16. On 10th November 1929, Master Robert Allison Haldane laid a wreath on behalf of the Boys’ Brigade at the unveiling of the Cregagh War Memorial in the colony of house built for veterans of the Great War. He was wearing the three service medals awarded to his father.
On the war memorial tablet, there are several sets of brothers, including the Cesar brothers. Three sons of Robert Cesar, a lithographic printer, and Mary Callwell of Tildarg Street served in the Great War and the family was recorded as “Presbyterian” in the 1901 Census and the 1911 Census.
Norman Cesar was born on 30th May 1896 at Portallo Street and was a labourer when he enlisted in Belfast with 4th (Reserve) Battalion Royal Inniskilling Fusiliers on 7th August 1914. His religious denomination was recorded as “Presbyterian”. He joined the 1st Battalion on the Gallipoli Peninsula on 18th July 1915. The battalion was withdrawn from Gallipoli in January 1916 and transferred to the Western Front in March 1916. He sustained gunshot wounds to the side on 1st July 1916 and to the right leg on 27th January 1917. The latter necessitated evacuation to the UK and, when fully recovered, he was posted to the 7th Battalion in May 1917. He sustained gunshot wounds to the head on 11th August 1917 which necessitated evacuation to UK. He was subsequently posted to the 6th Battalion in November 1917. Norman Cesar was transferred to the Class Z Army Reserve on 12th March 1919.
John Ernest Cesar was born on 3rd July 1894 at McClure Street and was a labourer when he enlisted with 4th Battalion Royal Inniskilling Fusiliers in Belfast on 20th March 1911, his denomination being recorded as “Presbyterian”. He transferred to the Regular Army on 29th August 1912. He was stationed at Dover with 2nd Battalion at the outbreak of the war and was deployed to the Western Front on 23rd August 1914. He remained in the same battalion throughout the war and held the rank of Lance-Corporal when he was discharged due to wounds on 12th May 1919, with Silver War Badge Number B197457. Ernest Cesar received a 40% Disablement Pension in respect of gunshot wounds to the chest at the rate of sixteen shillings per week from April 1920.
Robert Cesar was born on 15th December 1889 at McClure Street in Cromac Ward. He was stationed in the Far East with the 1st Battalion Royal Inniskilling Fusiliers in 1911 and in India on the outbreak of the war. His battalion was recalled from India, arriving in England in January 1915 and being incorporated into the newly-formed 29th Division. The division departed England for the Eastern Mediterranean in Marc 1915 and Robert Cesar landed on the Gallipoli Peninsula with on 25th April 1915. He was killed in action on 22nd May 1915, aged 25, and is buried in the Twelve Tree Copse Cemetery on the Gallipoli Peninsula. Mary Cesar received a War Gratuity of £5 in July 1919.
Soldiers research undertaken by Nigel Henderson
Missing War Memorials in Ulster – Where are they?
History Hub Ulster researcher Nigel Henderson has identified the following war memorials as ‘missing or lost’ in Ulster.
History Hub Ulster has set up this Facebook page to maintain a record of these memorials.
On 2nd November 1919, Albert Street Presbyterian Church was formally re-opened after an extensive scheme of renovation. The re-opening service was also the occasion when a brass war memorial plaque, made by David Mairs of Great Victoria Street, was dedicated. A total of 208 men from the congregation enlisted for service in the Great War, of whom 34 died. The names of the fatalities were engraved on the plaque. In 1919, plans were already underway to install a new organ as part of the congregation’s war memorial. The war memorial organ was dedicated on 3rd April 1921. The Rev. Dr. Henry Montgomery of the Shankill Road Mission, and formerly Minister of the Albert Street Church, conducted the service and dedicated the memorial.
The local newspapers reported that “Rev. Montgomery said many of the men whose names were on the memorial plaque had been baptised by him. All of them had gallantly responded to the call of duty, and that was one of the noblest testimonies that could be offered to their patriotism as well as their Christianity. In that respect they were unlike the young men of England. Scotland, and Wales, who in the middle stages of the war were obliged to serve in His Majesty’s forces whether they liked to do so or not. The young men of that congregation, and of Ulster generally, answered the call from within when they knew the motherland was in peril, and indeed not they alone, but Ulstermen all over the world—in Canada, the United States of America, and Australia. The same blood flowed in all their hearts, and there was the same desire on the part of all to stand for their country and their Empire.” (Northern Whig, 3rd November 1919).
The Presbyterian congregation was first launched in Conway Street National School in 1852 to meet the spiritual need of people living on the lower portion of the Falls Road and the district between the Falls and Shankill roads. The original building was opened in 1854 but the rapid growth of the congregation necessitated the erection of larger premises thirty years later, on the same site on the corner with Raglan Street. The congregation later established the Shankill Road Mission.
In 1970, due to demographic changes (partially due to the “troubles”) resulting in a fall in the size of the congregation, and the redevelopment plans for the Lower Falls area, the decision was taken to merge with the nearby congregation at Argyll Place Presbyterian Church on the Shankill Road. The final services in the Albert Street church were held on Sunday 31st January 1971 and led by the Reverend Brian Moore. On 7th February 1971, the first services were held in the Shankill Road premises of the newly named West Kirk Presbyterian Church. When the congregation moved, the war memorial plaque was not transferred to West Kirk.
History Hub Ulster’s researcher, Nigel Henderson, takes up the story. “I have been researching Belfast Presbyterians in the Great War and had been advised that this memorial had been lost in a fire at the old premises in the 1970s”, he said, “however, on 28th July, a militaria collector called Mark Ramsey asked to meet me as he had “unearthed something”. I was intrigued but when he opened the boot of his car and showed me the brass memorial plaque, I was astounded.” Nigel continued, “Many memorials and rolls of honour for the Great War were lost during the German air raids of 1941. Others were lost in fires. However, there are numerous memorial plaques and parchment rolls of honour whose current locations are not known to me. Many of these were in church buildings whose congregations have folded or merged with other congregations. Some that spring to mind are the memorials for College Square Presbyterian Church, Balmoral Methodist Church and Donegall Square Methodist Church. There are also memorials that are “missing” for commercial concerns, for example Dunville the whiskey manufacturers and Gallaher’s of York Street. I would love to have the opportunity to photograph these memorials.”
Five sons of William Nugent and Sarah Nugent (nee McFerran) of Percy Street enlisted for military service in the Great War. Three were to survive but two lost their lives and are commemorated on this memorial plaque.
James Nugent was born on 19th May 1897 at Westmoreland Street and enlisted with the Royal Inniskilling Fusiliers. He was posted to the 2nd Battalion, which had been deployed to France in August 1914, and joined the battalion in the field on 19th December 1914. He was killed in action on 16th May 1915 during the Battle of Festubert in the Artois region in France. He died just three days before his 18th birthday and has no known grave. Private James Nugent is commemorated on the Le Touret Memorial in France.
Robert McFerran Nugent was born on 4th October 1892 at Westmoreland Street and enlisted with the Royal Inniskilling Fusiliers in 1909 and served in China. In 1911, he was stationed at Mandora Barracks in Aldershot in 1911. He was a shipyard worker at Queen’s Island when he was recalled from the army reserve. He was posted to the 1st Battalion, which had been stationed in India in August 1914, and participated in the landings at Y Beach on the Gallipoli Peninsula on 25th April 1915. His battalion was transferred to the Western Front with the 29th Division and was positioned on the Ulster Division’s left flank in the attack on 1st July 1916. Robert Nugent was wounded at the Somme in 1916 and was seriously wounded at Carnoy on 29th January 1917. Private Robert Nugent died of his wounds at No 9 General Hospital Rouen on 15th February 1917. He was 24 years old and is buried in the St. Sever Cemetery in Rouen and is commemorated on the Harland and Wolff memorial for the Queen’s Island shipyard. In his army will, Robert Nugent designated his mother as his next-of-kin.
Sarah Nugent received a dependant’s pension of ten shillings per week for the loss of two of her sons. In current terms that would equate to £25 per week. Sarah also received war gratuities totalling fifteen pounds and ten shillings in late 1919, the equivalent of approximately £1,000 in current terms. By a quirk of fate, a son-in-law of William and Sarah Nugent died at Percy Street during the German air raids of 1941. Samuel Stewart McComb Elliott (21) married Sarah Nugent (23) on 23rd October 1929 at St Johns Church of Ireland, Laganbank. He was 32 years old when he died and was buried in a marked coffin in the Reserved Ground at Belfast City Cemetery on 21st April 1941.
In 2015, Michael James Nugent, a great nephew of James and Robert Nugent and an Associate Member of History Hub Ulster, published a book about the Battle of Festubert entitled, “It was an awful Sunday”. In expressing his thoughts about the discovery of the memorial plaque, Michael said, “This means a lot to me. I hope the plaque regains a prominent position so that the sacrifice of my Great Uncles is always remembered.” Nigel Henderson stated that he hopes that the memorial plaque for the Albert Street Presbyterian congregation can find a new home in West Kirk Presbyterian Church.
Gavin Bamford, Chair of History Hub Ulster, commented, “The Ulster War Memorials book that History Hub Ulster published in 2018 included a chapter on lost or missing war memorials. As a research-based group, we are interested in locating these memorials and photographing them for posterity. Some of them might be in museum storage areas and some, like the Albert Street Presbyterian Church plaque, might be lying in a loft or tucked away in a cupboard on church premises.”
A list of memorials and rolls of honour that we know existed but whose whereabouts are not known can be found here. This is not an exhaustive list and will be amended as further information comes to light. If anyone knows of a war memorial plaque or a parchment Roll of Honour that is not in the public domain, we would be interested in knowing the details. Please contact us via email or on facebook.
Guest author Patrick Duffy has provided us an academic paper Sam Gray’s Reign of Terror: Politics, religion and violence in Ballybay, Co. Monaghan 1824-1828 which he presented at the Irish History Students’ Association’s Annual Conference in Dublin last February (2020).
Patrick is a native of Ballybay, County Monaghan who graduated from University College, Dublin with a BA in History and Modern Irish. Later this year, he will begin a one-year Master of Studies in Modern British History at Lincoln College, Oxford where he hopes to investigate the nineteenth century origins of Ulster unionist identity.
Guest author Jim has sent us in an article The Ordeal of the Bray Head about the sinking of the SS Bray Head in 1917.
Guest author Ruth Allister has provided us an extensive history of the imposing McLean monument in the Priory Graveyard, Holywood.
It traces the family tree of the McLean family in Holywood from 1821 to 1985. Although barely remembered today, all made a significant contribution to society in Northern Ireland – particularly in the legal and military spheres.
After mediocre success with books about ‘Belfast City Cemetery’ and then ‘Dundonald Cemetery’, and with books called ‘2020’ (20 graves in each of 20 selected local cemeteries) and ‘A Hundred Houses of East Belfast’ in the pipeline, I decided to spend a fair chunk of lockdown writing another book about a Cemetery! The Cemetery this time is Roselawn. Until fairly recently, I had only a passing interest in Roselawn (with the exception of the grave of my much-missed maternal grandparents) due to the relative ‘newness’ of the Cemetery, only opening in 1954.
However, whilst researching my ‘A Hundred Houses of East Belfast’ book, I discovered that, amongst the thousands of graves there, not forgetting the thousands of memorial trees in Roselawn too, there are many fascinating headstones with, I think, associated fascinating stories.
So my daily lockdown exercise when Roselawn was open (obviously, although it wouldn’t be the first time I’ve climbed over a fence to get in / out of a cemetery!) consisted of walking round EVERY! headstone in the cemetery, photographing headstones of interest and then looking in to the story behind each for the purposes of a book.
So, after wearing down the soles of my shoes, I’ve come up with ‘Roselawn 2021’, consisting of 20 themed trails, each calling at 21 headstones. Below, for the purpose of this blog, I’ve selected one grave from each of the 20 trails. If you’d be interested in sponsoring a trail, or being kept in the loop prior to publication, my contact details and JustGiving page are at the end of this article.
Here goes (everything in quotes is wording from the respective headstones):
Trail 1 is the Quirky Trail, and the headstone I’ve selected for this is William Johnston, ‘a musician, an Elvis impressionist (Billy Fonda). Bill grew up on Donegall Road, The Village, Belfast. Laid to rest 17th December 2004’, with the Quirky trail also featuring Elmekki Berrabah ‘“Kebab Man” Returned To Allah On 12th April 2015’, and he is buried in the small Muslim section of the Cemetery.
Trail 2 is a World Tour and the selected grave is the McConnell grave with this headstone commemorating ‘Rev Patrick McConnell 10.6.1935 – 6.11.2005’ as well as his ‘beloved son Patrick ‘Ti Paddy’ 10.6.1962 – 5.4.1971 both interred in Haiti’. Interred in this grave is ‘Olga McConnell nee Trouillot devoted wife, mother and grandmere 19.5.1931 – 24.2.2017’. Reading between the lines, it seems that Olga was born in Haiti where she married Rev McConnell and gave birth to a son Patrick before moving to Northern Ireland following their respective deaths, and she appears to be the only interment in this grave.
Trail 3 is entitled Not From This Parish looking at the graves of people seemingly not originally from this neck of the woods. The featured grave in this trail is Dragana Mahaffy with this headstone erected ‘in loving memory of my devoted wife Dragana 18th August 1972 – 25th December 2018. Почивај у миру љубави моја’ which translates from Serbian as ‘Rest in peace my love’. I was talking to Gordon, Dragana’s husband from East Belfast, near her headstone recently and he informed me that his wife was an investigative journalist and author in Serbia, specializing in the Serbian Mafia, before moving to Northern Ireland, to quote Gordon, “from Belgrade to Belfast”. Tragically Dragana developed cancer shortly after moving to Belfast, dying unexpectedly from a blood clot on Christmas Day 2018 aged 46.
During this ongoing midlife crisis spent in cemeteries, people sometimes ask me where members of the local Chinese community are buried, so I now know the answer – usually Roselawn! Trail 4 features folks who I think are of Chinese origin. Ho Yuk Fong Chung is buried at plot W-3082 with her headstone, also featuring Chinese writing, commemorating ‘a dear sister, devoted friend and a loving mother Born on 26th November 1956 Died on Easter Sunday, 5th April 2015. Generous of heart, constant in faith, her deeds pure, her words kind, she gave willingly, never took’.
Trail 5 is Women Only which includes one of the most fantastic woman ever, my Granny Craig, as well as Selina Blanchflower, Danny & Jackie Blanchflower’s footballing mother, but the woman I’m featuring here is Helen Lewis, MBE. Born in 1916 into a German-speaking Jewish family in Trutnov in the Kingdom of Bohemia, Helen survived two ‘selections’ by Dr Josef Mengele, and was later sent to Stutthof concentration camp in northern Poland. When the war ended, she returned to Prague where she learnt of her husband’s death during a forced march, whilst her mother Elsa Katz, who had been deported in 1942, had died at Sobibór extermination camp and is commemorated on this headstone as 10.08.1893 – 1942 (?) A victim of the Holocaust with no known resting place’. After her marriage to Harry Lewis in Prague in 1947, the couple moved to Belfast where Helen began to work as a choreographer, also teaching modern dance. Her book ‘A Time to Speak’ was published in 1992 and was translated into several languages, and then adapted for the theatre by the late, great Sam McCready. In the 2001 Birthday Honours, Helen Lewis was awarded an MBE for her services to contemporary dance.
In the interests of equality, Trail 6 is Men Only! which includes Ian Ogle, beaten and stabbed eleven times by up to five men near his home at Cluan Place in early 2019, but the grave I’ve chosen to feature in this Trail is Patrick (Paddy) Joseph Devlin, not a man I expected to find in Roselawn! Devlin was a founding member of the Social Democratic and Labour Party (SDLP), a former Stormont MP, and a member of the 1974 Power Sharing Executive. Described as a ‘relentless campaigner against sectarianism’, Devlin had once been a member of the IRA but later renounced physical force republicanism to work at transcending sectarian differences.
Trail 7 is the Sports trail, which features George Best (and Bob Bishop, the man credited with discovering George: “I think I’ve found you a genius”) and Mervyn Cotter, a former Mr Universe who worked for Harland & Wolff, but the grave that this Ards fan living in Glentoran territory has chosen to feature is Sammy Pavis. Born in Ballymacarrett, after signing for Glentoran in the early 1960s where he won an Irish League medal, Pavis was snapped up by Linfield, scoring 237 goals in 260 games for the Blues in five seasons. Pavis was also the Northern Ireland snooker champion for a time after he retired from football, with his headstone containing the Linfield FC logo with the word ‘Legend’ below, as well as a snooker table with the words ‘N.I & All Ireland Champion’.
Trail 8 features 21 headstones that feature the logos of Football Clubs. In the absence of any Ards or Norwich logos!, I’ve chosen to feature Grzegorz Lozynski’s headstone which includes the logos of both Górnik Zabrze and Real Madrid. Górnik Zabrze is one of the most successful Polish football clubs in history, with this headstone stating ‘Zawsze bedziemy cie kochac’, i.e. ‘we will always love you’.
Trail 9 features those who served in the World Wars, and the chosen grave here is Edgar Lean, with a plaque on this simple wooden cross reading ‘Born-Belfast 20.01.1896 Died-Belfast 17.11.1971. WW1-age 19 Rifleman-Royal Irish Rifles The Somme-Ypres 11.11.1915 – 03.03.1919. WW2-age 43 Gunner-Royal Artillery North Africa (Tobruk-El Alamein) 21.09.1939 – 10.9.1945’.
Trail 10 features those who served in the Military including Sergeant Conor Binnie killed in Afghanistan in May 2009, but the featured grave is John Holmberg ‘Sergeant Major US Army Korea Vietnam Jun 7 1931 Nov 19 1992 Bronze Star Medal’, showing that people from this neck of the woods have served in all areas of the world.
The start of the second half of the book looks at the legacy of ‘The Troubles’ with Trail 11 featuring members of the Royal Ulster Constabulary including Victor Arbuckle, the first member of the Force to die during the Troubles, but the headstones I’m featuring on this occasion are Sergeant James William Blakely and Inspector William Henry Murtagh. Both are recorded on their respective headstones as ‘killed in the execution of his duty’ on 6 February 1976 – shot dead from behind by terrorist gunmen while on foot patrol on the Cliftonville Road – and they are buried in neighbouring graves.
Trail 12 features those Troubles Victims Shot during the Troubles, with 1972 being an especially brutal year. The featured grave for this Trail is the Warnock grave which includes Robert James Warnock ‘died 13th September 1972 aged 18’ after he was shot dead by an off-duty Royal Ulster Constabulary member during an attempted armed robbery at the Hillfoot Bar, Glen Road, Castlereagh. Also buried in this grave is his brother ‘William (Billy) died 16th October 1972 aged 15’, knocked down by an Army Armoured Personnel Carrier, while at a barricade during street disturbances on the Newtownards Road, Belfast. Also commemorated on this headstone is ‘their broken-hearted mother Mary (May) died 25th August 1977’, and ‘Stephen murdered 13th September 2002 aged 35’. Warnock, a member of the Loyalist Volunteer Force (LVF) was shot dead by the Red Hand Commando (RHC) as he sat in a car in Circular Road, Newtownards.
Trail 13 features those Troubles Victims as a result of Bombings. On 21 July 1972, also known as Bloody Friday, the IRA detonated at least twenty bombs in the space of eighty minutes, most within a half hour period, in Belfast killing nine people and injuring 130. Killed in the explosion at Oxford Street bus station were 15-year-old William (Billy) Crothers, and William (Billy) Irvine aged 18, with both buried in Roselawn and featured in Trail 13.
Trail 14 is also Troubles-related, and features those involved in Paramilitary organisations, with the featured grave in this Trail being Tommy Herron. A leading member of the Ulster Defence Association (UDA), Herron was kidnapped in September 1973, and died by one gunshot to the head, with his body found in a ditch near Drumbo. Herron received a paramilitary funeral, presided over by Reverend Ian Paisley, attended by an estimated 25,000 mourners.
Numerous headstones in Roselawn commemorate loved ones killed as the result of an accident, so Trail 15 is entitled Accidents, with the featured grave that of Lorraine Gibson who, along with her daughters Angela (9) and Julie (7) died in the Maysfield Leisure Centre fire on 14 January 1984. Three other people died in the fire, with the blaze breaking out in a storeroom, with the victims overcome by toxic fumes released by smoldering gymnastic mats. Horrific.
Trail 16 is entitled Celtic Cousins and features 21 headstones that mention either Ireland or Scotland. The featured grave is James Cook commemorated on his headstone as the ‘Laird of Lochaber’. The titles ‘Laird, Lord or Lady of Glencoe and Lochaber’ are trademarked Highland titles available for purchase online.
Trail 17 looks at Groups, Organisations & Workplaces with the chosen grave belonging to Ernest Harris with the logo for the Maple Leaf Social & Rec Club featuring at the top of this headstone. Many readers will remember the Maple Leaf Club on Park Avenue, originally a meeting spot for emigrants heading to Canada on the first transatlantic flights from Belfast – hence the maple leaf in the name.
Trail 18 features 21 Ministers with the selected grave being Rev Dr Roy Magee, O.B.E. Minister of Dundonald Presbyterian church from 1975, Rev Magee became actively involved with a cross-community alliance of clergymen and community workers and, from 1990, worked in harness with Archbishop Robin Eames, the Church of Ireland primate, during protracted, private discussions with the Combined Loyalist Military Command which, ultimately, culminated in the 1994 cessation of violence.
Trail 19 is entitled Titles and features 21 graves of Sirs & MBEs including the legendary Tommy Patton, but the grave I’m featuring in this blog is William (Billy) McKnight, MBE recorded on his headstone as a ‘Teacher and musician [and] Beloved husband and father’. McKnight was awarded the MBE in 1968 when Principal of Strandtown Primary School, Belfast, and was living at 227 Kings Road, Belfast when he died in 1984.
Trail 20 is entitled And Finally …. and contains nice sentiments written on headstones (not that people are going to write bad sentiments!), with the featured grave being Susan Jayne Wilson. As well as the image of Wilson, who died in August 2007 aged 57, the headstone contains what seems to have been a letter to her family penned by her: ‘Goodbye my family, my life is past. I loved you to the very last. Weep not for me but courage take, Love each other for my sake. For those you love don’t go away. They walk beside you every day’. Powerful!
Thank you for reading this article, and I hope you managed to avoid nodding off! If you’d like to support this Roselawn 2021 book, you can do so via www.justgiving.com/crowdfunding/roselawn2021, e-mail me on firstname.lastname@example.org or call me on 07596 603 463.
Associate member, History Hub Ulster
50 Years On – Black Ties or Red Carnations – The Belfast Bank & Northern Bank Merger
50 years ago, on 1st July 1970, the Belfast Banking Company Limited and Northern Bank Limited merged into Northern Bank now known today as Danske Bank.
Belfast Banking Company Limited
To see why this merger took place, we have to go first back to 1827 when the Belfast Bank started business. On 25th May 1846 following redevelopment, the bank moved into the former Assembly Buildings situated at the ‘four corners’ of North Street, Bridge Street, Waring Street and Donegall Street. Within decades the bank was trading in branches throughout the northern half of Ireland. Moving forward into the 20th century, the London City & Midland Bank was following events after the 1916 Easter Rising. This bank wanted to move into Ireland and considered the Belfast Bank would to be the best bank should partition occur.
Following a failed agreement in March 1917, the shareholders of the Belfast Bank approved the amalgamation of their bank with the London City & Midland Bank on 9th July 1917. This merger was the first entry into the Irish market by an English bank. Merger negotiations had already started between the Ulster Bank and the London County & Westminster Bank. At the same time, London City & Midland Bank had decided to open a branch of their own at 17 Castle Place, Belfast. The decision was later taken to rebrand this branch as Belfast Bank.
Following partition, the Belfast Bank directors decided that they would only operate in what became Northern Ireland. In 1923, following secret negotiations, they transferred their business in the Republic of Ireland to the Royal Bank of Ireland Limited along with 20 branches and their staff.
Northern Bank Company Limited
Although the bank had links to a private bank (Montgomery & Company) dating back to 1809, Northern Banking Company, as a joint stock company, commenced trading in 1824. Northern Bank was based in Belfast with its Head Office at 16 Victoria Street (beside the Albert Clock and operated branches throughout all of Ireland. The two branch networks continued after partition.
On 1st April 1965 the news broke that the Midland Bank (as London City & Midland Bank was now known) were proposing to purchase all the share capital of Northern Bank. Belfast Bank branch managers were advised in a circular from the Directors’ that “It is not the intention to merge the Northern Bank with the Belfast Banking Company, but as opportunities occur in the future it will be possible to effect some rationalisation to the advantage of all concerned.” The Belfast Telegraph reported the news the next day under the headline “Northern Bank shares jump for take-over”. However, the public were more concerned with the ending of Saturday branch opening starting on Saturday, 3rd April 1965.
Further bank groupings, although not yet mergers, would soon take place on the island of Ireland with groups coming into being by 1967:
- Bank of Ireland, National Bank of Ireland and Hibernian Bank Limited
- Allied Irish Banks Group of Munster and Leinster Bank Limited, Provincial Bank of Ireland Limited and Royal Bank of Ireland Limited
- Belfast Banking Company Limited and Northern Bank Limited, both owned by Midland Bank
- Ulster Bank Limited owned by Westminster Bank Limited
Late 1967 saw the arrival into both banks of a team from Midland Bank with the aim of bringing their systems into line with each other. As Noel Simpson (Retired Head of Finance, Northern Bank) says in his book ‘The Belfast Bank 1827-1970’; ‘These men had a difficult and lengthy assignment, for the two Irish Banks had gone their separate ways for almost a century and a half’.
On 20th November 1968, the staff were informed of the creation of ‘United Northern Banks Limited’ to, at a later date, complete the integration of the 2 banks. The Belfast Telegraph reported the next day that ‘but so far it is not known if the names of both banks will disappear after the formation of the holding company, United Northern Banks Ltd.’ Press advertising started the following week.
On 29th November 1968 press advertisements were published to promote the name of ‘United Northern Banks Limited’ as ‘the big new name in Irish banking’. This holding company, registered in Northern Ireland was to promote a gradual harmonising of methods and services, thus fostering closer co-operation between the two banks. At that stage there were 287 offices of both the Belfast Banking Company Limited and Northern Bank Limited.
It would take until late 1969 for the banks directors to decide on the name of the future organisation. A process of legal changes involving Acts of Parliament on both sides of the border would be required and then there was the (bank) note-issuing rights that dated back to Victorian times. A separate 3rd company would not be able to retain the note-issuing powers currently held by both banks. A Private Bill was to be enacted in the Parliament of Northern Ireland that would allow the merger of the two banks on 1st July 1970 without the use of the 3rd company. The Belfast Bank Executor & Trustee Company would also be merged into the Northern Bank Executor & Trustee Company at the same time. The Bill when enacted would see the Belfast Bank branches be known as ‘NORTHERN BANK LIMITED, BELFAST BANK BRANCH’.
The Merger and Aftermath
Branch managers were advised on 25th June that the 1st July 1970 ‘will be a happy and memorable day for all of us’. All Managers, Sub-Managers, Pro-Managers and Cashiers are to wear red carnations as ‘something eventful is happening in our bank’. An anonymous slip of paper arrived in branches and departments with the circulars the next day announcing ‘that black ties should be worn’.
Northern Bank continued to trade in the whole of Ireland. Parts of Belfast and many of the towns and villages throughout Northern Ireland ended up with Northern Bank branches perhaps beside each other. Rationalisation of branches took place over many years in areas such as Antrim (16 & 42 High Street; Aughnacloy (93 & 134 Moore Street); Ballyclare (1 & 18 The Square); Shankill Road (15 & 93) and Holywood (74 & 98 High Street) to name a few. Branches would be merged into one site or even a brand-new site to create modern branch offices.
The Midland Bank during a financial crisis of its own eventually sold the Northern Bank to the National Australia Bank who later transferred ownership to Danske Bank. The (bank) note-issuing rights would again come into play. Once again, a Private Bill was considered to transfer the rights to Danske Bank but that was considered to be too expensive a plan. The decision was taken by the Directors’ to create a trading name of Danske Bank. Thus, the current bank is now known legally and, on their banknotes, as ‘Northern Bank Limited trading as Danske Bank’. Shortly after this, all the branches and offices were rebranded as Danske Bank.
Many of the former Belfast Bank buildings have been sold on to other businesses. However, the name of ‘Belfast Bank’ continues to adorn a few of these old buildings e.g. Portrush, Rathfriland & Warrenpoint. Some of their branches have been demolished and only photographs remain e.g. Lisburn & Duncairn Gardens. A brass nameplate saying ‘The Belfast Bank Bed (Centenary) 1827-1927’ is still on show in the ‘Victorian Corridor’ at the Royal Victoria Hospital.
Gavin Bamford is a retired Northern Bank Assistant Manager who worked for the bank from 1974 to 2013. He is Chair of History Hub Ulster and runs both Northern Bank War Memorials and Belfast Banking Company Architecture Facebook page.
History Hub Ulster welcomes guest writers who research and write on subjects from around the Province of Ulster. In a short series over the next few weeks, Ross Olphert writes on the ‘Constabulary on the North Coast’. Anyone wishing to submit an article should send in ‘word’ format to email@example.com
Article 3 – Irish Constabulary Pensioners in the Coleraine district: Incorporating the Irish Constabulary and the Royal Irish Constabulary by Ross Olphert
The members of the Constabulary of Ireland and later the Royal Irish Constabulary were men drawn from all strata of society whether as ordinary constables or officers. Their backgrounds and their experiences shaped their outlook on their work and later how they occupied their time after their service, should they be so fortunate to live that long.
For the first article in this series please read here.
For the second article in this series please read here.