Belfast Telegraph

Wednesday 20 August 2014

Video: Rare footage of 1901 tram ride down Belfast's Royal Avenue

The footage was discovered by Aislinn Clarke, Artistic Director of Belfast's Wireless Mystery Theatre, while trawling through film archives, writes Paul Carson.

McDonnell Street Belfast

Scroll down to view video

"It is Film Footage of a tram ride down Royal Avenue  on 27th May 1901," said Aislinn.

"You can see the base of the Albert Clock at the end of the film, so it must have turned onto High Street by then. 

"You can also see lots of horse-drawn trams, heading to Ormeau Road, and contemporary advertisements for soap.  How graceful Belfast people look in that style of dress."

Life has probably changed more for most people in the past century than in any other.

One in four workers in Belfast was unemployed by 1931 - about 50,000 men and women. Traditional industries like the shipyard and linen mills were feeling the cold wind of modernisation. And although some of the workforce was absorbed by the developing engineering sector - Shorts, Mackies, Sirocco - the dark days of the depression took their toll.

Housing conditions were still appalling, with two or more families often sharing the same two- up, two-down. In deprived areas of north Belfast, there could be 30 people between seven or eight rooms.

Horrifyingly of all, the rates of life expectancy actually dropped, to an average of 57.1 years, and death rates for mums and babies was up to 60% higher than in Britain.

Many diseases were endemic. Tuberculosis, bronchitis, pneumonia and rickets were rife. People didn't know how to eat properly - and couldn't afford to, anyway.

Strangely, the war brought many Ulster people a better way of life than they had ever known before. Rationing meant that at least families had access to the right sorts of foods for good health and growth.

The war effort meant more jobs for men and women, while children brought up in the smog of an industrial city were evacuated to the clean air of the country.

After the Second World War, it was obvious that people would never again accept a life of grinding poverty and early death.

The Labour Government introduced a sweeping programme of health and education reforms and new housing experiments were only decades away.

Life was still very hard, particularly in Belfast and isolated rural areas of the province, where many reforms lagged behind the rest of the United Kingdom.

But the first steps on the road to a brighter future for the ordinary working person had been taken.

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