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.
Cregagh Great War ‘War Memorial’
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.
Castlereagh Road Church ‘Roll of Honour’
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
Laying of the Foundation Stone of Cregagh Methodist Church
Master Robert Haldane at the Unveiling of the War Memorial, 19th November 1929
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 WomenOnly 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!
Many people will be aware of the cottages that were built across Northern Ireland under the terms of the Irish (Provision for Sailors and Soldiers) Land Act of 1919 for ex-servicemen from the Great War. However, these were not the only houses built for war veterans. In 1929/30, the British Legion constructed twelve semi-detached houses – four in Dunmurry, four in Whitehouse and four in Dungannon. The focus of this article is on the ten Homes for Heroes – bungalows built at Knockbreda specifically for disabled ex-servicemen by the Belfast Branch of the Auctioneers and Estate Agents’ Institute.
In 1915, the Council of the Auctioneers’ and Estate Agents’ Institute in London purchased the Star and Garter Hotel in Richmond for the purposes of providing a permanent home for soldiers and sailors totally disabled in the war. The Belfast Branch committed to raise £360 (£39,600 in current terms) and organised auctions of items donated by individuals and commercial concerns. A comprehensive list of the financial donations and donated items was published in the Belfast News-Letter on Tuesday 12th October 1915 in advance of the auctions on 27th and 28th October. In reading down the list, Samuel McCausland (Wholesale Tea, Sugar, and Seed Merchant of Victoria Street) donated ten pounds of tea and S D Bell (Tea Merchant and Grocer of Upper Newtownards Road) donated five pounds of tea. The hotel was purchased for £21,500 (£2,365,000 in current terms) and was run by the British Red Cross Society.
On 22nd November 1915, the Northern Whig reported that the scheme had received very generous backing in Belfast and the North of Ireland with the Belfast Branch of the Institute being able to guarantee 1,000 guineas or £1,050, which equates to £115,500 in current terms. As there was a substantial surplus, the Belfast Branch of the Institute decided to create a fund to provide a similar home for our permanently disabled soldiers in the North of Ireland. The first event to raise funds was a grand subscription dance in the Carlton Restaurant, 25-27 Donegall Place, the Managing Director, Mr Fred William Henry, having granted the rooms free-of-charge. Mr Henry was also the owner of the Ye Olde Castle Restaurant on Castle Place.
In the 14th July 1916 edition of the Belfast News-Letter, the Belfast Branch of the Institute advertised that it was desirous of obtaining a site of one or more acres of land suitable for erection of semi-detached cottages for disabled soldiers and sailors. A 1.25 acre plot of land was subsequently acquired from Lord Deramore at the junction of the Newtownbreda Road and the Saintfield Road, close to the Ormeau tram terminus. In March 1917, builders were invited to tender for a contract to erect the cottages and eight semi-detached cottages had been completed by April 1919, with plans for a further six detached cottages.
On 3rd April 1919, several of the cottages were officially opened by Mrs Ainsworth Barr and the Northern Whig reported the speech made by Mr Thomas Edward McConnell JP, Chairman of the Belfast Branch of the Institute, in which he said, The work had now finished. They had eight cottages, two of which were already occupied – one by a noble fellow who on 1st July, 1916, was shot through the spine and who would never be on his feet again and the other by a man with two artificial legs and an artificial arm. It was men such as these that deserved their consideration and help. This would have been a poignant event for Thomas McConnell as one of his sons, Reginald Brian McConnell, was Killed in Action on 22nd January 1917, aged 18, whilst serving as a Second Lieutenant with 6th Battalion King’s Own Scottish Borderers.
It is not known whether the proposed six detached homes were constructed but a further two cottages had been erected by the Golfers’ Union of Ireland (Ulster Branch) and handed over to the Belfast Branch of the Institute in July 1922. Two Ulster golfers, Mr Briggs and Mr Walsh, formed a scheme to raise money from the golfing community for the Prisoners of War Fund and, in February 1919, the Northern Whig reported that £600 (£32,400 in current terms) to, Build and permanently Endow for cost of upkeep a Cottage to be known as the “Golfers’ Cottage” for a permanently disabled married soldier.
These cottages were provided free of rent and taxes (unlike the cottages administered by the Irish Sailors and Soldiers Land Trust) and contained three rooms, scullery, bathroom (with hot and cold water) and a lavatory. In this image, from the Belfast Telegraph (4th July 1922), a plaque of some description adorns the front wall between the two cottages and possibly bore the inscription, “Golfers’ Cottages”.
As the cottages do not exist any longer, it has been difficult to identify their exact location. The 1919 newspaper article referred to above said that the cottages were built at the junction of the Newtownbreda and Saintfield Roads, within a few yards of the Ormeau tram terminus. However, this description is misleading. In the early 1920s, the Newtownbreda Road ran from the Ormeau Road junction with Church Road before veering right at the start of the Saintfield Road. This section of roadway later became part of the Saintfield Road. The Ormeau Tram Terminus was located near the junction of the Ormeau Road, Hampton Park and Galwally Park. The 1951 Belfast Street Directory for Church Road records that the cottages were the first houses listed on the same side as Knockbreda Parish Church and the Graveyard. The OSNI Historical Fourth Edition map shows eight semi-detached dwellings in the corner bounded by Church Road and Newtownbreda Road (now Saintfield Road). This map shows a space in which the 1924 cottages would be built. It is, I think, safe to assume that this was the location of the cottages built for disabled ex-servicemen.
In the Belfast Street Directories, eight cottages were recorded as “Soldiers’ Cottages” and two as “Golfers’ Cottages” but each of the ten cottages bore the name of a battle from the Great War – Bailleul, Thiepval, Cambrai, Messines, Beaumont Hamel, St Quentin, Jutland, Courtrai, Mons and Ypres.
Part Two of this article will deal with the stories of some of the men who lived in these houses in the 1920s (as recorded in the 1926 Belfast Street Directory).
If readers have any old photographs of the cottages covered by this article or have any information about the men who lived in any of the cottages built for veterans of the Great War, History Hub Ulster and Nigel Henderson would like to hear from you.
Read about the occupants of these houses in Part 2 by clicking here.
The first outbreak of
influenza in the province of Ulster visited the towns of Belfast, Lurgan,
Portadown and Londonderry during June 1918, causing havoc as businesses had to
close or function on reduced staff.
Services were disrupted throughout these towns. In other Ulster towns such as Larne,
Clones, Cookstown, Newry and the county of Donegal, their main influenza
outbreaks occurred during the second and third waves in the autumn of 1918 and
spring of 1919.
In Ulster, as elsewhere in Ireland and Great
Britain, it was the local authorities and their Medical Officers of Health that
responsibility for public health in their respective towns and cities. They
were tasked with the management of the disease at a local level. It was the Poor Law medical system of the Union infirmary
and dispensary districts – administered by the Board of guardians – that bore
the brunt of medical care. However
Local Government Board for Ireland (LGBI) controlled the activities of the
boards of guardians in relation to the administration of the dispensary medical
system, union infirmaries and fever hospitals it also controlled the
administration of the Public Health Acts by the rural, urban and County
Councils. So how
did these combined forces in Ulster respond to the public health crisis of
During the first wave the Medical Superintendent Officer of Health
for Belfast Corporation, Dr Hugh W. Bailie ordered school closures and
recommended the thorough disinfection of cinemas once or twice a day. He also
proposed sending out his public health department inspectors around their
districts to advise people on what measures they should take if they contracted
influenza. In Londonderry the main recommendation by the
corporation was school closures. This is surprising as influenza was rampant
in the city with burials at the City Cemetery reaching a record number of 50 during
the week ending 6 July 1918 and nearly 20 burials alone on Monday 8 July 1918. There was no evidence that any specific
steps were taken to prevent the spread of influenza in either Lurgan or
Portadown during the first wave. Again this is noteworthy as there were 31
influenza deaths were recorded in the town area from the middle of June until
the end of July 1918. The lacklustre response from
these local authorities during the first wave may be due to the consensus that
this outbreak of the disease was a seasonal flu and therefore unworthy of any
During the second wave, there was a more proactive
response by local authorities in Ulster towns as many of the councils took
preventative measures. A common
recommendation was the closure of day, Sunday and technical schools. It was not
a compulsory measure but in general, school managers adhered to it. However, Methodist College in Belfast
remained open during this virulent wave with tragic results. Influenza hit the
school at the end of October 1918. Student boarders contracted the flu and only
the Medical Officer, matron and headmaster of the school avoided contracting
the disease. Sadly during November, two
members of staff, George Manning and the Rev P. P O’Sullivan, as well as one of the boarders,
Oliver Crawford, aged 15 died from pneumonia following on from influenza. The Friends school in Lisburn may also have
regretted its decision to remain open.
Influenza was rife and by 31 October 1918 only 17 boarders and two
members of staff had not contracted the disease. Helen Clarke, a day pupil died on 31 October
1918. When pupils Anna Magowan and Sadie
Walsh died on 3 November and 8 November 1918 respectively, it was then decided
to close the school and send the remaining
16 pupils home. The larger dormitories
in the school acted as wards where the remaining students who were ill were
nursed. The housekeeper, Miss McCullough
and headmaster’s daughter, Frances Ridges, a student from Queen’s University,
Belfast, worked as nurses but unfortunately they both lost their lives to
influenza. The school eventually opened
again in early January 1919.
In Ulster, as with the rest of United Kingdom,
several councils singled out places of entertainment for closure and
ventilation under the pretext that people gathered there and could therefore
spread the disease. In Newry both local
cinemas closed for one week at the Medical Officer of Health’s request,
however, one of them, the Imperial, re-opened without consulting the Public
Health Authority, while the other, the Frontier, remained closed. The
Public Health authorities in Belfast, Portadown and Newtownards requested
permission from the LGBI to close cinemas in their towns. However, the LGBI advised that they
had no powers to close the cinemas, as this action was not approved in any part
of the United Kingdom.
Mass gathering of people in the cinemas,
theatres and trams were not the only cause for concern and the Irish News feared that the congregation
of huge masses of people on the streets during the armistice celebrations would
further spread the disease. It has been suggested
that an ironic impact of the war was the extra infections and deaths that
occurred as a result of the armistice celebration, where the celebrations
became the foci of new or recurring outbreaks of influenza. In Belfast the armistice
celebration occurred during the peak of the second influenza wave in the
city. Interestingly, deaths from
pneumonia – a common complication of influenza – peaked in Belfast on 23
November 1918 not long after these celebrations took place. Whether the celebrations aided this peak is
a matter for debate.
Larne and Cookstown, public notices of preventative measures were displayed in public places,
published in the local newspapers and printed on handbills for distribution. These notices recommended avoiding crowded
gatherings, good ventilation and cleanliness in homes and discouraged
spitting on the streets. Influenza
sufferers should go to bed early and remain there until completely recovered.
The Irish tradition of waking the dead came in for much criticism as it was feared that the custom would aid in the spread of infectious disease. Both Newry and Ballyclare councils produced public notices which recommended the prompt burial of influenza victims without a wake being held for the deceased. However, again there was no official central government support given to forbid the holding and attendance at wakes. Again it was not a compulsory measure but only a strong recommendation as the local Public Health Authorities had no powers to stop wakes. These were not the only towns to criticise the tradition of holding wakes In Dublin during the second wave, an Irish Times editorial complained that attending wakes of people who had died from influenza was an objectionable practice that was believed to be a fruitful cause of the spread of infection and that this custom more than anything else frustrated the efforts of the public health authorities to eradicate influenza.
There were valid objections to ‘waking the
dead’. Contemporary opinion was that infection was thought to remain in the
corpse and therefore could be spread to the living. However, there is no evidence that this was
the case with respect to the influenza virus. Waking the body in an open coffin may not
have spread the disease through the corpse.
However, anyone attending the wake who had the ‘flu could bring the
infection to a small house where many people congregated in confined
spaces. Once there it could be spread
quickly within a community.
main medical response in towns was by the Poor Law Union under the auspices of
union infirmaries and the dispensary system.
However, these institutions were unprepared for the number of influenza
patients needing treatment. During the first wave in Belfast the number of
influenza patients admitted to the union infirmary was so large that it greatly
increased the workload in the hospital and the Visiting Medial Officer, Dr Gardner
‘Never in my recollection has
the strain on the staff been so great as during the past few weeks.’ The whole staff
has worked most enthusiastically and the generous recognition of our efforts by
the Board is most appreciated by all.
Lurgan union infirmary was also under pressure and there were reports that it had
not been so full in over thirty years due to an influx of influenza sufferers. The workhouse infirmaries throughout Ireland were extremely busy. During 1918 the number of deaths in Irish
workhouses increased by 3,329 on the previous year with influenza and pneumonia
deaths rising by 2,551.
There was also a
scarcity of medical professionals as many doctors were serving at the western
front. Temporary doctors were difficult
to source for both the union infirmaries and the dispensary districts. Doctors
that were available could, in many cases, demand whatever salary they wanted
much to the annoyance of the guardians.
However these doctors were justified in requesting a higher weekly
salary as they were under severe pressure.
During 1918 the Medical officers of health worked long hours to
treat their patients, paying 100,000 more home visits during this period than
in the previous year, indicating not
only the virulence of the disease throughout Ireland but also the work pressure
that dispensary doctors were under during this pandemic.
Unsurprisingly, as the
real cause of influenza was unknown at the time and as there is still no known
cure for the disease, there
consensus among the Irish medical profession on the best treatment for, or,
prevention against the disease, which resulted in many cures and treatments
being suggested. According to Ida Milne,
some Irish doctors recommended gargling with a tincture of creosote or a
solution of permanganate of potash; calomel (as a purgative); oxygen;
stimulants (such as strychnine); some preparation of opium for sleeplessness.An article in the Armagh Guardian advised that if
attacked by influenza, the sufferer should at once take a dose of opening
medicine such as castor oil, and if possible take a hot bath and go to bed and
send for the doctor. It advised that to
work or walk off an attack is dangerous. A popular treatment choice was quinine and the
Belfast MOH, Dr Bailie recommended taking quinine tablets of between 2 and 5
grains twice daily as a tonic and preventative.
Some doctors widely endorsed the use of
alcohol in influenza cases to relieve pain and bolster strength. This treatment was so popular that in February
1919, the Dublin Public Health Committee requested the War Cabinet to call for
the immediate release of supplies of whiskey in the interests of public health. The
lack of a cure for influenza meant that people resorted to over-the-counter
cures to help treat the disease. An
immense assortment of products claimed curative or preventative powers against
influenza. Disinfection was
considered a good preventative as influenza was believed to be a bacterial
infection. Lifebuoy soap claimed to be a ‘reputable germicide and sure
nationally established disinfectant proclaimed ‘Guard against Influenza by the
daily use of Jeyes’ Fluid.’ Disinfection with Jeyes’ Fluid was one of the
recommendations of the Dublin Medical Officer of Health, Dr Charles Cameron in
dealing with influenza. Oxo and Bovril were
popular beef teas of the day and were thought to strengthen the body against
the onslaught of disease. So popular were these products that during
December 1918, a series of advertisements apologised for the shortage of Bovril
during the influenza outbreak. Bovril was considered a very important form
of nourishment during the epidemic. So much so that during November 1918 the
Belfast Guardians increased the nurses’ Bovril rations by one quarter of an
ounce per day to boost their diet to help them cope with their increased
In reality there was no cure for
influenza and traditional
nursing care provided the best and only effective treatment for the disease. However, nurses like doctors were in
short supply as many professional nurses had also volunteered for both army and
naval medical corps during the war. This situation was further exacerbated when
remaining nurses started to contract influenza themselves. In Ulster where
there were numerous reports of professional nurses being infected with
influenza during the course of their duties.
Workhouse infirmaries reported the absence of their nursing staff due to
influenza. Many nurses in the Belfast
Infirmary contracted influenza during the first and second waves and six died from
Similarly, during the second wave several nurses in the Londonderry Union
contracted influenza with two fatalities. Also during the second wave, eight nurses in
the Lurgan Union infirmary contracted influenza and two later died from the complication
The medical response during the second and third waves was similar
to that of the first. Influenza
sufferers availed of treatment and medicines through the dispensary system and
the workhouse infirmaries. The demands of war impacted on the workhouse infirmaries because in many
cases wards or entire workhouse hospitals were requisitioned for military
patients. The workhouse infirmaries were filled to capacity and
suffered from overcrowding.In
Strabane, the military acquired the workhouse for treatment of troops
just prior to the outbreak of influenza in October 1918 and most of the inmates
were sent to the Londonderry workhouse. The chairman of Strabane
council was very concerned about the lack of treatment and hospital
accommodation for the sick poor in the town.
The council eventually convinced the guardians to provide hospital
accommodation for those suffering from influenza but not before a young boy, who
was forced to lay ‘on a bed of straw and bags’, had died from influenza.
authority response to influenza in towns
like Belfast, Londonderry Lurgan and Portadown was poor but
the United Kingdom as a whole did not respond effectively to the crisis. Central government was pre-occupied by the
war and left it up to individual local authorities to deal with influenza at a
local level. In Manchester, the public
health committee—aware of the gravity of the influenza pandemic — were more
proactive. They supplied additional help to nurse and provide domestic
assistance to influenza sufferers where it was needed in the city. They also supplied food and coal for those
unable to provide the same for themselves. It has been suggested that in
Manchester public aid with food, fuel and nursing during the pandemic was of
much more value than treatment by local physicians in the city.
There is no evidence that the bigger industrial
towns such as Belfast, Londonderry and Lurgan took similar measures as
Manchester to help their citizens. Nevertheless, some Ulster towns took more concrete measures to help the
sick poor. Influenza
was rife in Newry with many people dying of the complication pneumonia. Newry council
was aware that the poor needed more substantial charitable help especially with
nutrition. The provision of nourishing food was deemed important. The council arranged for two Newry creameries to supply
sufficient quantities of free milk for distribution due to the influenza
staff of the domestic department of the Newry Technical School provided
nourishing foodstuff for the sick such as beef tea and mutton broth during their
closure. This work was discontinued on
25 November 1918 when the school re-opened.
Despite this aid, the situation in Newry was very
serious. A Relief of Distress
Fund Committee was formed to ‘consider the best means of meeting the
exceptional expenditure that has been and is being incurred by the various
charitable organisations in the relief of distress arising out of the influenza
circular was sent out inviting subscriptions to the fund and it was hoped that
a sum of at least £1,000 would be raised. The fund was
closed on to 31 December 1918 and a total £734 4s. 2d. was raised and was
allocated as follows: three-quarters (£550 13s. 2d.), to the Catholic Charitable Organisations
such as the St Vincent de Paul Society, and one quarter (£183 11s.), to the local Protestant clergymen for distribution. The fund reimbursed the St
Vincent de Paul Society for the expenditure it had already incurred in Newry,
where it had spent several hundred pounds on clothing, coal, groceries,
butter, milk and other necessities for the poor during the pandemic. This indicated that charities in the town rose to the challenges imposed by the pandemic
in a timely manner.
In Cookstown, although both the council and the
guardians made efforts to combat the pandemic, it was the middle class
population of Cookstown who made the biggest contribution in dealing with the
effects of influenza in the town. As in
Newry, a subscription list was opened and a committee was formed to look after
the sick poor in the town and dispensary district. Many local trained ladies volunteered to act
as nurses in the district offering their services for no payment. The Sick Nursing Society used the Technical
School kitchen to provide nourishing food, not only for the sick poor in the
town, but, also for those families that could afford to feed themselves but were
too sick to provide food and nurture for other family members. This was a popular service with up to 170
families in the town and district receiving this aid.
In Clones the workhouse hospital was full and doctors were working to full capacity. The Clones Relief Committee was formed to assist families incapacitated by influenza with both nourishment and nursing. The committee established a kitchen in the Town Hall and prepared and distributed soup, beef tea and porridge to those patients requiring them. The St Vincent de Paul society placed their funds at the disposal of the relief committee. The committee did not raise a public subscription in the town but instead they took action first and sought reimbursement later from the guardians for any expenses incurred.
In conclusion the
response from most local authorities in Ulster consisted of applying
preventative measures such as closing schools, producing public notices,
encouraging disinfection of factories, cinemas and public buildings. However they lacked the authority from the
central body of the LGBI to enforce recommendations such as closure of cinemas
or prevention of wakes. The boards of
guardians actively tried to obtain sufficient medical personnel to help during
the pandemic and in general adhered to the requests of their Medical Officers
of Health with respect to treatment of the disease. However public aid with food, fuel
and nursing during the pandemic could be of much more value than treatment by
local doctors. So although local guardians in Ulster actively tried
to obtain sufficient medical personnel to help during the pandemic, maybe if
they and the local councils in towns such as Belfast, Londonderry and Lurgan
looked towards the physical nourishment and welfare of the poor, then the
influenza death toll may have not been so high.
Dr. Marsh will be giving a talk entitled “The Spanish Influenza Pandemic in Antrim and Down 1918-1919” at Bangor Library on Thursday 21st February 2019 at 7.30pm, and Lisburn Road Library on Wednesday 27th February 2019 at 6.30pm 6.30 to 7.30 p.m.
Report of the
Irish Public Health Council on the public health and medical services in
Ireland [Cmd 761], H. C. 1920, xvii
2, 1075, p. 4.
 Marsh, ‘The effect of the 1918-19 influenza pandemic
on Belfast’, pp. 66-7.
Irish News, 25 June 1918;
Derry Journal, 26 June 1918;
Dungannon Democrat, 26 June 1918.
Journal, 10 July 1918; Irish News, 9 July 1918.
 Lurgan Medical Officer of
Health Report, 5 Aug. 1918 (P.R.O.N.I., Lurgan Medical Officer of Health
Report, LA/51/9D/6); Lurgan Mail, 10 Aug.
 John Watson Henderson, Methodist
College, Belfast, 1868-1938: A survey and retrospect Vol. 1 (Belfast,
1939), p. 271.
Newhouse, A History of the Friends School,
1974), pp. 90-1.
 Fred, R Van Hartesveldt, ‘Manchester’, in Fred van
Hartesveldt (ed.) The 1918-1919 Pandemic of Influenza: The Urban
Impact in the Western World (Lewiston, Queenstown, Lampeter: The Edward Mellon Press, 1992), p. 103.
Urban District Council meeting, 4 Nov. 1918 (P.R.O.N.I., Newry Urban District
Council minutes, LA58/2CA/6).
 Patricia Marsh, “‘An enormous amount of distress
among the poor’: Aid for the Poor in Ulster during the Influenza Pandemic of
1918-1919’ in Poverty and Welfare in
Ireland 1838-1948, Eds. Crossman, Virginia and Gray Peter, (IAP, 2011), pp,
Irish News, 18 Nov 1918,
Belfast News-Letter, 18 Nov 1918, Mid
Ulster Mail. 17 Nov 1918, 30 Nov. 1918 and 7 Dec. 1918.
Dr. Marsh will be giving a talk entitled “The Spanish Influenza Pandemic in Antrim and Down 1918-1919” at Bangor Library on Thursday 21st February 2019 at 7.30pm, and Lisburn Road Library on Wednesday 27th February 2019 at 6.30pm 6.30 to 7.30 p.m.
Towards the end of the First World War in June 1918, a fatal influenza epidemic not only hit troops in the western front but also the civilians throughout the world. Although the exact mortality figures are unknown, it was responsible for the deaths of more people than the First World War and in 2002 the global death toll of the pandemic was estimated to be approximately 50 million. Although called the ‘Flanders’ grippe ‘by English soldiers’; ‘Blitzkatarrh’ by the Germans; ‘the disease of the wind’ in Persia; the name it became commonly known as was the ‘Spanish Influenza.’ So why Spanish influenza? The neutrality of Spain during the First World War meant that there was no newspaper censorship in that country and consequently reports about the disease were published not only in Spanish newspapers and also in the worldwide press. The Times reported 100,000 victims in Madrid of an unknown disease responsible for 700 deaths in 10 days, which had caused disruption to public services, offices and factories. King Alfonso XIII of Spain and other leading politicians were among those afflicted. It was these reports that gave rise to the erroneous impression that influenza had originated in Spain, leading to the misnomer Spanish influenza. However, the Spanish themselves called it the soldier of Naples.
disease, however, did not originate in Spain.
One theory is that the pandemic originated as early as the winter of
1916, on the Western Front at the British Army camp at Étaples. The outbreaks
at Étaples were diagnosed at the time as purulent bronchitis but in retrospect they
showed the same symptoms as the Spanish ‘flu.
Dr Herbert French, author of the 1920 Ministry of Health Report was strongly
of the opinion that the fatal cases from purulent bronchitis were likely to be
the same as those of the pandemic. It has also been suggested that the pandemic could have originated in China and that
the movement of a very large number of workers from China to France during the
First World War might have played a part in the pandemic’s development. However
the most popular theory was that influenza started in America. The earliest
recorded outbreak of the disease was on 5 March 1918 among army recruits at
Camp Funston, Fort Riley, Kansas. By the end of March it had spread to military
training installations in several US mid-western and south eastern states and
from here it travelled with the troops on the ships to the Western Front.
Flu in Ireland
Spanish influenza struck in three concurrent waves throughout the world and Ireland was no exception with three distinct waves of influenza, which occurred in June 1918, October 1918 and February 1919. Speaking in 1920, the Registrar-General for Ireland, Sir William Thompson was of the opinion that influenza in Ireland was the worst disease of an epidemic nature since the period of the Great Famine. The death toll in Ireland was approximately 23,000, however this is a conservative estimate as not all influenza deaths in the country were registered and also some were registered incorrectly. The morbidity from the disease is more difficult to ascertain as no accurate records of incidences of influenza were kept during this period. However, Ida Milne suggests that as many as 800,000 people could have been infected in Ireland. As many as 300,000 people could have been infected in the province of Ulster, where 7,582 people were recorded as dying from influenza. However, the death toll could have been much higher.
The first recorded outbreak of Influenza in Ireland was on the United States Ship Dixie docked in Queenstown (now Cobh), however this outbreak was confined to the ship as there were no reports of ‘flu in the town. The first wave proper was reported to be principally in Belfast and other districts of the north of Ireland. First mention of influenza in the province appeared on 11 and 12 June 1918 in Belfast newspapers when a notice appeared regarding the re-opening, after influenza, of a department in James Mackie & Sons munitions factory situated in the Springfield Road. Influenza spread from Belfast across the north of Ireland probably via the rail network. Elsewhere in Ireland there were also sporadic outbreaks at towns such as Ballinasloe, Tipperary town and Athlone. It is notable that these towns were situated near army bases as the general consensus was that ‘flu was brought to Ireland with troops returned home on leave or to convalesce from wounds and then spread via the rail network.
The second wave originated in Leinster. Howth on the east coast appeared to be the entry point and was reported to be there as early as 1 October 1918. From Howth it spread to Dublin and then throughout Ireland. In Ulster influenza was first reported in the naval port of Larne on 9 October 1918. The disease did not reach Belfast until the end of October 1918. Influenza spread to most Ulster towns during this wave and this was the most virulent wave in the province. County Donegal was badly affected during this outbreak, especially the Inishowen Union District, which had the highest death rate per thousand of population in Ulster.
The third wave which started in February 1919, again originated in Leinster. It was first reported on 5 February 1919 in the Celbridge district in Co Kildare. Initial reports of influenza in Ulster during this wave were in Holywood on 6 February 1919 and it was in Belfast by 18 February 1919. Influenza visited most Ulster towns but in many such as Belfast, Lurgan, Larne, Newry and Dungannon this was a milder wave than those in 1918 and this may be because immunity was gained from previous waves. However, Dublin county and borough suffered severely during all three waves of the disease. County Donegal was again severely affected with a higher mortality during the third wave in 1919 than in both waves during 1918. This was also the case with other counties in the west of the country such as Mayo, Sligo and Galway.
There was an unusual age
distribution for this pandemic as it targeted young adults in particular. Normally influenza kills the very young and
the very old but Spanish influenza showed an unusual age distribution of
deaths. Although there
was still high mortality for the very young and very old there was also a very
high mortality for the age group between 15 and 44. In England and Wales
mortality was concentrated among those aged
20 to 40 and especially those 25 to 35. It has been suggested that this peculiarity
helped to produce Britain’s ‘lost generation’ caused by not only from the high
mortality among young men killed due to the war but also from influenza on the
In Ireland 55.5% of all influenza deaths in 1918 were of those aged between 15 and 45. In 1919 more than 58% of the total influenza mortality was between the ages of 20 and 65. Figure 1 is a graphical representation of the age-specific influenza death rates for Ireland comparing 1918 and 1919. It shows that the age-specific death rates for Ireland followed the global trend of targeting young adults and that during 1918 it was those aged 25 to 35 who suffered the highest mortality of any age group. The Irish figures also show that infants under one year were also at particular risk during the pandemic. This was hardly surprising as, even without epidemic disease, the urban areas of Ireland such as Dublin and Belfast suffered from one of the highest infant mortality rates in the United Kingdom due to infection and poor diet.
was the pandemic so detrimental to 25 to 35 age-group?
One theory was that elderly people had gained immunity to the 1918-19 pandemic due to previous exposure to the influenza epidemic of 1847-48 which may have been caused by a similar H1 virus. Another is that young adults were more likely to attempt to work through illness, thus maximizing their risk of succumbing to influenza. It has also been suggested that many of the age group 20-45 had been soldiers living in miserable conditions on the western front which would have lowered their immunity, but the same death rates were seen in young people in countries unaffected by the war. However, the answer may lie in a scientific study that took place in 2007, which suggested that the strong immune systems of young adults overreacted to the 1918 virus causing this particular age group to be at the most risk during the pandemic.
Public Health Committee meeting, 6 Feb 1919 (P.R.O.N.I.,
Holywood Urban District Council minutes, LA/38/9AA/3)
Belfast Board of Guardians meeting, 18 Feb. 1919
(P.R.O.N.I., Belfast Union minutes, BG/7/A/101).
Andrew Noymer and Michel Garenne,
‘The 1918 influenza epidemic’s effects on sex differentials in mortality in the
United States’, in Population and Development Review, 26:3 (2000), pp.
 Herbert French, ‘The clinical features of the influenza
epidemic 1918-19,’ pp. 90-1.
 Niall Johnson, Britain
and the 1918-19 influenza pandemic: A dark epilogue, (London/New York,
2006), p. 84.
 Thompson, ‘Mortality from influenza in Ireland’, p.
detailed annual report of the Registrar-General (Ireland), p. xvi.
 Mortality figures
calculated from Fifty-fifth detailed
annual report of the Registrar-General (Ireland), p xvi and Fifty-sixth detailed annual report of the Registrar-General (Ireland),
 Ruth Barrington, Health,
medicine and politics in Ireland 1900-1970 (Dublin, 1987), p. 75.
 Christopher Langford, ‘The age
pattern of mortality in the 1918-19 influenza pandemic: An
attempted explanation based on data for England and Wales’, in Medical History, 46 (2002), p. 15. Ann H.
Reid, Jeffery K. Taubenberger, Thomas G. Fanning, ‘The 1918 Spanish influenza:
Integrating history and biology’, in Microbes and Infection,3 (2001), p. 83.
 Johnson, Britain
and the 1918-19 influenza Pandemic, p. 88.
and Fanning, ‘The 1918 Spanish influenza’, p. 83.
 Kerri Smith, ‘Concern as revived
1918 flu virus kills monkeys’, in Nature,
445 (18 Jan. 2007), p. 23.
Grand Hotels of Belfast at the outbreak of the Great War 1914
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
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.
The 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 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.
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 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
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.
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.
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
Marketing 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:
A Family History
Researched and Compiled by Richard Graham
COPYRIGHT RICHARD GRAHAM
The Cleaver family originated in Scotland where one of the earliest recorded marriages took place between William Cleaver and Elizabeth Dunstone on 2nd February 1770. William served in the army, and the couple’s children were born and raised in the parish of Kilmallie, near Fort William in the Scottish Highlands. Upon his death in 1787, the family moved to Bishopstone, a small village close to the south coast of England in East Sussex.
From there, the family dispersed to the West Indies, Victoria and Tasmania in Australia, New Zealand, Argentina, but for the purposes of this paper, I will focus on that branch of the family that relocated to Ireland in the mid-1800s.
John Cleaver was born in Bishopstone on 23rd September 1841, the great grandson of William Cleaver of Fort William. He served his apprenticeship in retail in London, and in a bid to further his career, he crossed the Irish Sea in 1865 to manage one of the departments in the established firm of James Lindsay & Co; general drapers, silk mercers and linen merchants at the Ulster Arcade on Donegall Place. The Lindsay family had themselves made their way to Ireland from Scotland in 1678, where they played an active role in the Relief of Derry in 1689, before moving to Belfast to establish a “woollen, linen and haberdashery warehouse” at 15 Bridge Street, the then centre of commerce in the town, in 1822.
It was during his time at Lindsay Brothers, that John Cleaver met Edward Robinson, a young man from Ballymena, who had earlier secured for himself an apprenticeship with the same company. His father Alexander, was a woollen draper in the County Antrim town. Both men soon realised the enormous potential for the development of the sale of Irish linen products, and with financial assistance from their families, set up a business partnership in premises on Castle Place in 1870, styled as Robinson & Cleaver.
The success of their business was based on the fact that until that time, it had been almost impossible to obtain locally produced goods at reasonable prices. They were quick to identify this gap in the market and within a short space of time, the business had expanded and the partnership moved to larger premises on High Street (left) in 1879. The potential for growth of such a business in Belfast at that time was phenomenal.
On 12th August 1869, John Cleaver married Mary Anne Spence at Rich Hill Wesleyan Congregational Church in Co Armagh. They had met in Belfast, where Mary Anne had also come to seek work and soon they set up home at Ashley Villa, on Ashley Avenue, a middle class residential area just off the Lisburn Road, close to his business partner who resided on nearby Eglantine Avenue.
All of John and Mary’s children (3 sons and 5 daughters) were born at Ashley Villa:
-Arthur Spencer Cleaver (b 1870)
-John Martin Cleaver (b 1871)
-Kathleen Mary Cleaver (b 1872 – died, aged 9, 1882)
The children were christened at nearby University Road Methodist Church (1865) – an institution that would prove to be pivotal in the life of the Cleaver family in Ireland.
In addition to raising a large family, the business at High Street continued to expand. Belfast was fast becoming one of the leading manufacturing cities of the British Empire, with markets for products produced in North East Ireland opening up across the civilised world. The partners were not slow to capitalise on this phenomenal growth and soon they were supplying high quality items of Irish linen to households across the United Kingdom. Soon the company outgrew their premises on High Street and by the mid-1880s the partners began to look for larger premises. They purchased one of the last residential houses on Donegall Place (see right) which had a large garden onto Donegall Square North, and quickly commissioned one of the leading architects of the day, Young & McKenzie, to design a building that would be fitting for the business they had grown over the past 15 years. The vast majority of parcels despatched from Belfast came from the house of Robinson & Cleaver and the company pioneered overseas sales via their brochures to homes and businesses across the empire.
The ‘Royal Irish Linen Warehouse’ of Robinson & Cleaver opened for business on September 1888, the same year that Belfast received its charter as a city. With success came great wealth for the founding partners and by this time, they would have been the equivalent of millionaires in today’s money. This precipitated a move to a larger house on the Malone Road for the Cleaver family – a large Victorian terrace opposite Fisherwick Presbyterian Church.
In 1892, such was the success of Robinson & Cleaver, that John Cleaver moved residence again, this time to the estate of ‘Dunraven’ on the Malone Road. Dunraven, a large Italianate Villa, had been built for the timber magnate and shipowner, James Porter Corry in 1870. It extended over several acres with its own lake and extensive parkland. It was in this house that John and Mary would spend the rest of their lives.
With success came prosperity, and John Cleaver was in the position to educate his children at the same time elevating himself to a position of importance in Ulster Society.
By 1900, his eldest son, (aged 29) Arthur Spencer Cleaver, in addition to becoming a director of Robinson & Cleaver, had embarked on a military career and became a second Lieutenant in the Southern Division of the Mid Ulster (Royal Field) Artillery (left) – a regiment within the British Army. He removed to London, primarily to look after the Regent Street store at the same time becoming an Honorary Lieutenant Colonel with the Royal Garrison Artillery, 1st Reserve Battery.
It was however his wife, Adelaide, who achieved notoriety as an adventurer and women pioneer in aviation in the 1920s and 30s. She was an avid mountain climber, expert driver and skilled motor mechanic. Adelaide Franklin Pollock was born in Newtownards in 1896, the eldest daughter of the Rt Hon Hugh MacDowell Pollock, first Minister of Finance in the Government of Northern Ireland created in 1921. Having developed an important flour importing business, Pollock was independently wealthy, and as Chairman of the Belfast Harbour Commissioners had one of the docks named in his honour. Coming from such a privileged position within Ulster Society this was the type of union John Cleaver would have nurtured and encouraged for his offspring.
Adelaide was one of the few women to be granted a pilot’s licence in the UK in the inter war era. She flew from London to India and back in 1929, and in the following year, boarded a steamer from London to New York, with her ‘Moth’ on board, with the intention of becoming the first British woman to fly across the United States. After many thrills and spills, she eventually achieved this goal, being welcomed in Hollywood, California as somewhat of a major celebrity. She subsequently visited China, Japan and Egypt in her travels across the globe.
See thread on Rootschat here: http://www.rootschat.com/forum/index.php?topic=686031.9
Arthur and Adelaide had two sons, both of which followed their father into the armed forces. Cecil Alwyn Spencer Cleaver was born in 2 Southwick Crescent, Hyde Park, the family home in London in 1907, and embarked on a military career. As a gentleman cadet, he attended the Royal Military College, Sandhurst, before joining the Grenadier Guards becoming a 2nd Lieutenant with the Foot Guards in 1926. On 3rd October 1930, he arrived in New York having travelled out of Southampton aboard RMS Berengaria, flagship of the Cunard Line. Cecil was killed in action whilst serving with the British forces in Tanganykia Territory, East Africa in 1935, at the age of 28 without issue. His death occurred at Tabora Hospital. This part of Africa was a colony of the British Empire and under British Administration having formerly been under German control before the First World War
Gordon Neil Spencer ‘Mouse’ Cleaver was born in Stanmore, Middlesex, in 1910, and educated at Harrow. As an accomplished skier, he was the inaugural winner of the ‘Hahnenkammrennen Combined’ in Austria in 1931. The ‘Cleaver Cup’ was subsequently named after his success on the slopes. He joined 601 Fighter Squadron (The Millionaire’s Squadron) Auxiliary Air Force in 1937, being promoted to the position of Flying Officer in October 1938. Upon the outbreak of the Second World War he was mobilised in November 1939, travelling to France with his Squadron to Merville in Northern France. He claimed 7 confirmed “kills” during the Battle of Britain before his hurricane was shot down during combat over Winchester. Although he baled out, the fragments from the Perspex canopy on his plane, shattered into his eyes and face blinding him in the right eye. For his valour, he was awarded the Distinguished Flying Cross (DFC). Despite his injuries he remained in the RAF throughout the war, being released on medical grounds in November 1943, retaining the rank of Squadron Leader. Following on from the injuries he received, Cleaver underwent 18 operations on his eyes under the accomplished eye surgeon Harold Ridley. It was during work carried out during these procedures that Ridley developed the intraocular lens, a major development in repairing damage to the human eye.
John Cleaver’s first born daughter, Kathleen, died at the age of 9 years, in 1882, at the family home on Ashley Avenue, before the move to Dunraven, most likely from TB which claimed the lives of thousands of people in the town of Belfast at that time
His second son, (John) Martin Cleaver, born in 1871, was educated in England and Germany, gaining a BA from the Royal University of Ireland (precursor to QUB) and graduating from TCD with a law degree in 1893. He set up his own practice as a solicitor later that year at premises on Wellington Place. In 1897, he took into partnership William Fulton, whose father John Fulton, was a linen manufacturer at the firm of John Fulton & Co on Ormeau Avenue. The partnership was style as Cleaver & Fulton. Both the Cleavers and Fultons were Methodists, with John Fulton being greatly interested in Foreign Missions, in addition to being solicitor to the Board of Governors at Methodist College. Soon after the partnership was established, Martin Cleaver, influenced by Fulton’s vision, retired from the law, devoting his whole time to the Egypt General Mission of which he was one of the founders. He arrived in Alexandria, Egypt on 31st January 1898, one of a group of 7 missionaries where he met Aileen Mary White, who had also carried out missionary work in Egypt. After their marriage, they both returned to Alexandria, but after four years of travelling in North Africa, his health broke down, and he took up residence in London as Secretary to the Mission.He later went on to co-found the ‘Fellowship of Faith for the Muslims’ (1915) an international fellowship of Christians who have a concern for the Muslim world, publishing such pamphlets as “Why do the Muslims need the Gospel?”Having been at Keswick in 1915, he returned to visit his father at Dunraven in Belfast, but became ill and died during that visit in August of that year. Both J Martin Cleaver and his wife Aileen are buried at Belfast City Cemetery. The company he established in 1893, Cleaver Fulton Rankin, remains one of Northern Ireland’s leading law firms.
John Cleaver’s third son, (James) Frederick was born at Ashley Villa on 8th June 1875, and after being educated in Belfast and Germany, he travelled the world, visiting Australia and New Zealand, before following his father into the family business at Robinson & Cleaver, in 1895. The firm had developed branches throughout the UK including Regent Street, London; and Church Street, Liverpool. The importance of the company to the economy of Belfast cannot be underestimated. Robinson & Cleaver sent more parcels containing linen products of Irish manufacture out of the city of Belfast than any other business. Their store on London’s Regent Street was one of the most opulent and exclusive in the capital (right). He soon became Managing Director of the firm at its headquarters on Donegall Place (1906) and resided at a house called ‘Bishopstone’ on Deramore Park, recalling the origins of his father’s home in Essex. He married, in 1901, Sarah Hammond Fulton, eldest daughter of John Fulton and sister of the partner of his brother’s law firm, Cleaver and Fulton (see J Martin Cleaver).
Fred Cleaver was a staunch Unionist and Ulsterman. He was an active member of the Belfast Chamber of Commerce; the Royal Ulster Agricultural Society; the Belfast Harbour Board; The Belfast Chamber of Trade, and was Chairman of the Ulster Tourist Development Association. As a member of the Ulster Unionist Council, he took an active part in the Anti Home Rule campaign and he took a leading part in the organising and equipping of the Ulster Division in the run-up to the Great War of 1914-18. During the war, he led an expedition to retrieve the US crew of the SS Otranto which sank in 1918 whilst in use as an armed merchant cruiser. For his services, he was Knighted in 1927. Upon his father’s death in 1926, Sir Frederick became Chairman of Robinson & Cleaver, but such was the international reputation of the company that several approached were made to acquire the capital from the family controlled concern. The ordinary shares of the company were transferred to Edward de Stein, a merchant banker, in 1935, with Sir Frederick and his brother Arthur being retained in an advisory capacity.
Sir Frederick Cleaver died suddenly on the evening of Saturday 31st March 1936, following his decision to take a walk from his home, Marlborough Park House, to which he had moved in 1927 (left). He had reached Stranmillis Road, when he collapsed and died. He was survived by his wife Lady Sarah Cleaver who died at Broomhill Park in December 1951. Like so many other members of the family, she also took an active interest in the work of the Methodist missions.
John Cleaver’s eldest surviving daughter, Mabel, was born in March 1877 and in what was not perhaps a surprising move, she married Edward (Ned) Robinson on 12th June 1901 at University Road Methodist Church. Ned Robinson was the eldest son of Edward Robinson, one of the founders of Robinson & Cleaver and was a joint managing director of the firm at Donegall Place. They began their married life at a house on Somerton Park, but following the death of his father in 1906, they moved to a magnificent estate at Shaw’s Bridge overlooking the Lagan named Terrace Hill. It was the sale of the company to Edward De Stein in 1936, that precipitated the couple to demolish the original house of 1856. Ned and Mabel who enjoyed a fantastic social life, built a sprawling new house in an American neo-Georgian style, the design being executed by Young & McKenzie, (who designed the original store on Donegall Place in 1888) and in which they could entertain the cream of Ulster Society. Mabel had two daughters, who were brought up in a very privileged environment. Terrace Hill extended to over 9,200 sq feet, and had beautifully manicured gardens overlooking Barnett’s Demesne to Malone House on the other side of the valley. The house had tennis courts and a swimming pool. The eldest, Gwendoline, married Peter Swann, an insurance broker of the Wirral and left Northern Ireland in 1951, whilst Inez married Thomas Agnew, a land agent in Belfast. They were the last occupants to live at Macedon House at Whiteabbey, before it was taken over by Barnardo’s as a children’s home in 1950, as was Terrace Hill, after the departure of the Clokey family in 1970. Inez died in 1978 without issue
Ned died at Terrace Hill on 7th December 1947, after which the house was sold to the Clokey family of King Street in Belfast. Mabel died two years later in 1949 at Musgrave Nursing home aged 72.
John and Mary Anne Cleaver lost another one of their children to an early death in 1890, when Norah Heathfield Cleaver died at the young age of 9 years old. She is buried with her parents in the family plot at Belfast City Cemetery.
Their two remaining daughters left Belfast and moved to England where they married and had families. In doing so they left few members of the family residing in Northern Ireland after Sir Frederick’s sudden death in 1936. Perhaps they felt an affinity with their origins in Bishopstone, where many of the Cleaver family originate from. Florence died in Poole in Dorset in 1946, aged 68, but is commemorated on the family memorial with her parents. She had married Norman MacNaughton in 1911, whilst Eileen married Charles Mitchell Clegg in 1914 and died in Harrowgate, Yorkshire in August 1973, aged 87
Today there are several reminders of the power and influence of the Cleaver family in Ireland, although there are no remaining family members now resident here. The site of the once magnificent family home and estate at Dunraven, is now covered in villa developments from the 1930s, when the house was sold, and is now known as Cleaver Park and Cleaver Avenue, off the Malone Road.
The magnificent department store buildings of Robinson & Cleaver still stand on the Corner of Donegall Place and Donegall Square North, as they do in London, although the family connection with the business was severed in 1936. The achievements of the company in obtaining several Royal Warrants and supplying Royal households across the world was none the less remarkable
The final resting place of the Irish branch of the family can be found at Belfast City Cemetery, where there are three separate memorials. The saddest of these is the main family memorial which has only recently been revealed having been badly damaged by vandals during the period of civil unrest in Northern Ireland in the 1970s.
Thanks to Peter McCabe and Ricky Cole the inscriptions of the memorial have been exposed to remind us of the power, wealth, privilege and good works that came about from the arrival of John Cleaver to Belfast in 1865.
Today marks the Centenary of the sinking of HMS Hampshire with Lord Kitchener on aboard.
On 5 June 1916, HMS Hampshire left the Royal Navy’s anchorage at Scapa Flow, Orkney, bound for Russia. The Secretary of State for War, Lord Kitchener, was on board as part of a diplomatic and military mission aimed at boosting Russia’s efforts on the Eastern Front.
At about quarter to nine in the evening, in stormy conditions and within two miles of Orkney’s northwest shore, she struck a mine laid by German submarine U-75.
There were at least 28 Irish sailors lost on HMS Hampshire.
One of them was the ship’s surgeon, Dr Hugh Francis McNally from Belfast, son of the principal of Raglan Street Boy’s School on the Falls Road. McNally, an ex St Malachy’s pupil had studied Medicine at Queen’s University and was a member of the Queen’s Officer Training Corps.
He joined the Irish National Volunteers at its formation and was immediately appointed company officer. On the retirement of Captain Berkeley he was appointed Commander of the Belfast Regiment of with the rank of Lieutenant Colonel.
At the start of the First World War, he joined the National Volunteers. He was a magnificent organiser, and was responsible for the 1915 parade in Dublin. Newspaper reports at the time note that he ‘his name will always be remembered by the Belfast National Volunteers with the kindliest feelings’. On receiving his degree from Queen’s University, he joined the Royal Navy, giving his service ‘in the cause of humanity’.
His obituary notes ‘By his death a bright future has been cut short, while his loss to the Volunteer movement will be widely regretted.’
The sinking of HMS Hampshire was a grievous blow to the Allied war effort. The British Empire lost Lord Kitchener, the Secretary of State for War, whose organisational ability ensured that Britain had an army, of sufficient size, to be able to stand alongside her Allies in a major European conflict. Kitchener was a personality who was instantly familiar to all British people, both young and old, whose death was mourned as if he had been a close relative.
In addition to the crew, who numbered around 650, was Kitchener’s delegation, consisting of military officers, politicians and their staffs, who also went down with the Hampshire.
Only 12 men, all from the Ship’s company, survived the disaster.
Lord Kitchener, left, is seen aboard the HMS Iron Duke on June 5, 1916, the day before his ill-fated voyage on the HMS Hampshire. (National Army Museum archives)
Over 200,000 Irishmen fought in the Great War, and it’s estimated that up to 25,000 – 30,000 Irish soldiers from the Irish Divisions and others in British based Divisions died between 1914 and 1918. The most iconic Battle involving Irish soldiers was the Battle of the Somme, which began on 1 July 1916.
Nigel Henderson and Philip Orr will deliver a presentation on some of those who lost their lives, focussing on the impact that this had on communities in Belfast. The presentation will also include poetry written in Ulster and in France during the period of the Battle of the Somme.
The presentation will be followed by a dramatised reading of the Halfway House, which looks at two women who met in 1966, the 50th anniversary of the Easter Rising and the Battle of the Somme, hearing of the experiences of their fathers who were on different sides in 1916.
A sea of lights to remember those from North Belfast who died in the First World War.
On Saturday 19th March, participants of North Belfast Remembers will set sail glass bottles with LED lights and details of individual men and women from North Belfast who served in the First World War.
Adults and children will partner to tell the stories of 100 men, will attend a memorial event and release their glass bottle into the water at HMS Caroline. At workshops in North Belfast, the adults involved will research a serviceman and write a letter to an unknown child about his life. Each child will receive a letter and design their glass bottle accordingly. The letters will be inserted into the bottles, and together each partnership will turn on the LED light in their bottle and push their bottle and letter into the water, a message in a bottle. The sea of LED lights will serve as a poignant reminder of those lost during the First World War.
Research skills workshops will be roughly 2 hours long and will include basic research skills using a number of sources on local library computers. Each participant will then write a letter to a child with all the information they have found. The child will use the letter to design their bottle in keeping with the man’s life. Each participant will then be required to attend an informal memorial event on the evening of 19th March at HMS Caroline, and throw their ‘message in a bottle’ into the Victoria Channel.
All members of the community will be invited to attend, bringing their own letters to place into bottles which will be provided on site and can be thrown into the channel. Details of this will be circulated at a later date on this site.