Homes for Heroes, Knockbreda
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).
These houses are being documented and their occupants researched by History Hub Researcher, Nigel Henderson, and progress can be followed in this Facebook group – https://www.facebook.com/groups/204334820682671/
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.