Belfast Telegraph

Belfast tram trip back in time: Recovered footage from early 1900s depicts city streets bustling

BY LINDA STEWART AND PAUL CARSON

It's a rare glimpse into a Belfast of more than a 100 years ago.

This is the fascinating footage from 1901 showing the horse-drawn trams that once plied Royal Avenue.

The rare footage was uncovered by Aislinn Clarke, artistic director of Belfast's Wireless Mystery Theatre, while she was trawling through film archives.

"It is film footage of a tram ride down Royal Avenue on May 27, 1901," Aislinn said. "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."

The fascinating footage was shot by a camera and tripod mounted on the upper deck of one of the trams, which would have been operated by the Belfast Street Tramways Company.

The city's first trams operated in 1872 and were horse-drawn, but the company was purchased by the Belfast Corporation on January 1, 1905 and electrified using overhead wires in the same year.

The first tramway ran from Castle Place to Botanic Gardens. The use of rail rather than cobbled street meant a lot less friction so that two horses were capable of pulling large carriageways holding many more people, and prices were much lower.

After Andrew Nance was appointed as general manager in 1881 he ordered the development of many more lines spreading outwards from Castle Junction, to Newtownbreda in 1885, Malone Park in 1888, Sydenham and Tennant Street in 1889, and Ligoniel in 1892. The tram system proved popular with the number of passengers exploding from one million in 1881 to 28 million by 1904.

In the footage the tram carries along Royal Avenue, passing bustling shops with canopies overshadowing the street and cyclists winding in and out of the trams.

One fascinating feature is the line of men wheeling mobile advertising hoardings for the North American Animated Photo Company along the kerb so that tram passengers could find out about a film at the Ulster Hall.

During these early days the Cavehill and Whitewell Tramway company ran a steam tramway from Whitewell and Glengormley into Belfast, and Bellevue Gardens, later to become Belfast Zoo, was founded to encourage more people to use the service.

By 1931 one in four workers in Belfast was unemployed – about 50,000 men and women. Traditional industries like the shipyard and linen mills were feeling the effects of modernisation. Housing conditions were still appalling, with two or more families often sharing the same two-up, two-down homes. In deprived areas of north Belfast there could be 30 people between seven or eight rooms.

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