Belfast Telegraph

The Industrial Revolution transformed Belfast, making it Ireland’s biggest city – and it all began with the port.

Aerial of Belfast Harbour, Thompson Wharf. 12/8/1937
Aerial of Belfast Harbour, Thompson Wharf. 12/8/1937
Princess Elizabeth launches the Aircraft carrier HMS Eagle at Harland & Wolff. 19/3/1946 BELFAST TELEGRAPH ARCHIVE/PRONI
Belfast Harbour, The Quay's at the turn of the twentieth century.
Belfast Custom House, Custom House Square, Belfast. 14/4/1928
Belfast Custom House, Custom House Square, Belfast. 28/1/1930
Belfast Harbour, the old Harbour office photographed from the Clarendon Dock around 1890. BELFAST TELEGRAPH ARCHIVE
The Old Harbour Office, Belfast. BELFAST TELEGRAPH ARCHIVE
The Myrina glides down the slipway at Harland & Wolff, after her launch. 6/9/1967
An aerial view of the launch of the tanker Myrina. 7/9/1967
Caledon Dock and Harbour Office. 1859 Picture from the Belfast Harbour Office. 11/6/1940 BELFAST TELEGRAPH ARCHIVE
Belfast Harbour, The Quay's a sea of masts. BELFAST TELEGRAPH ARCHIVE
Linen/ Warping, York Street Factory.
Linen/ winding weft yarn. York St. Factory.
Linen Industry:Plain Weaving Shop, Brookfield Factory. 3/3/1939
Linen Industry:View of Weaving Room, York Street Factory.
Linen Industry:Wet Spinning, York Street Mill.
Linen, Damask weaving shot. Brookfield factory. York St factory.
Belfast : High Street, looking down at the Albert Clock. 1932
Belfast : High Street, looking down at the Albert Clock. 13/1/1932
Royal Avenue, Belfast, from Castle Place looking towards North Street (from first floor level.) 16/3/1948
Donegall Square East, Showing a row of parked cars. Belfast 10/9/1928 BELFAST TELEGRAPH COLLECTION/NMNI
Shipyard workers watching the launch of the "Canberra". 11/3/1960 BELFAST TELEGRAPH COLLECTION/NMNI
Shankill Road at Canmore St.looking citywards, Belfast. 17/11/1943 BELFAST TELEGRAPH COLLECTION/NMNI
Victoria Square, Belfast, from Victoria Street. Davis & Co. automobile engineers, Cantrell & Cochrane factory. 24/8/1939 BELFAST TELEGRAPH COLLECTION/NMNI
Victoria Square, Belfast, with Cantrell & Cochrane delivery lorry. 3/5/1946 BELFAST TELEGRAPH COLLECTION/NMNI
Wilson's Court, Belfast. A narrow alley between High Street and Ann Street. Sign for "Lavery's". Gas bracket lamp. 16/5/1941 BELFAST TELEGRAPH COLLECTION/NMNI
Corner of North Street and Waring Street, Belfast. The Belfast Bank head office (formerly The Northern Bank). 22/9/1942 BELFAST TELEGRAPH COLLECTION/NMNI
Old clothes market, Smithfield, Belfast. 5/1/1937 BELFAST TELEGRAPH COLLECTION/NMNI
Cattle pens at The Great Northern Railway Station, Belfast, from the Albert Bridge. 2/9/1943 BELFAST TELEGRAPH COLLECTION/NMNI
The Mater Hospital, Crumlin Road, Belfast. 15/9/1942 BELFAST TELEGRAPH COLLECTION/NMNI
The Royal Victoria Hospital, Belfast, from the Grosvenor Road. 21/9/1925BELFAST TELEGRAPH COLLECTION/NMNI
Chichester St. looking towards Donegall Square North. Belfast. 3/1/1941 BELFAST TELEGRAPH COLLECTION/NMNI
Chichester St. from Victoria St. junction. Belfast. 3/5/1946 BELFAST TELEGRAPH COLLECTION/NMNI
Donegall Square East, with air raid shelters, from the roof of the Robinson & Cleaver building, Belfast. Top of photo cut of by the censor. 22/9/1943 BELFAST TELEGRAPH COLLECTION/NMNI
Belfast city centre, looking towards the City Hall and the hills beyond. 25/4/1939 BELFAST TELEGRAPH COLLECTION/NMNI
Belfast City Hall, composite photographs showing approaches. 26/6/1948 Belfast Telegraph Collection/NMNI
City Hall, south side, Belfast 3/11/1942 BELFAST TELEGRAPH ARCHIVE/NMNI
Statue of Queen Victoria in the grounds of the City Hall, Belfast. 5/1/1943 Belfast Telegraph Collection/NMNI
Belfast Castle. February 1937 Belfast Telegraph Collection/NMNI
St. Anne's Cathedral, with Miss Praeger working on the figure of Solomon on the Pillar of Wisdom. 18/6/1928 Belfast Telegraph Collection/NMNI
Outside St. Anne's Cathedral Mr. W.D. Hoskins, ARICS. and Mr. T.J. Rushton FRIBA a partner of Sir Charles Nicholson, cathedral architect with the Dean of Belfast, Very Reverend R.C.H.Elliot. 18/9/1947 BELFAST TELEGRAPH COLLECTION/NMNI
Presbyterian Assembly Buildings and Church House, Gt. Victoria St. Belfast 24/9/1942 BELFAST TELEGRAPH COLLECTION/NMNI
Carlisle Memorial Methodist Church, Clifton St. Belfast. 13/5/1949 Belfast Telegraph Collection/NMNI
New' Petty Sessions Court, Victoria St. Belfast. 27/4/1943 Belfast Telegraph Collection/NMNI
Belfast City Hall. Donegall Square. Under construction in 1903. The Earl of Glasgow unveiling the statue of Sir Edward J Harland in the grounds of the new City Hall.
Donegall Square North and East. Belfast. 26/7/1948 BELFAST TELEGRAPH COLLECTION/NMNI
Looking along the Ormeau Road to the gasworks from Short & Harlands recreation club. 19/3/1948
Royal Avenue, Belfast, from Castle Place looking towards North Street (from first floor level.) 19/5/1936
Crowds in Donegall Place for Student's Day, from the top of the City Hall. Belfast. 3/5/1935
Antrim Road, Belfast. January 1934
A block of derelict houses in Divis Street, Belfast, ready for demolishing. 28/12/1934
Queens Square, Belfast. 27/10/1933
Victoria Hall, Victoria Street, Belfast. 20/6/1932
Workmen replace the old Donegall Road bridge spanning the Great Northern Railway main line. 17/3/1954
Belfast. Streets. City Centre. Donegall Square. Belfast City Hall. 1932
Albert Bridge Road looking from Templemore Avenue citywards. 2/9/1943 Belfast Telegraph Collection/NMNI
Building a roundabout at the junction of Ravenhill Road, Albert Bridge Road and Madrid St. 10/9/1948 Belfast Telegraph Collection/NMNI
Anne St. and Arthur Square, Belfast. 11/10/1946 BELFAST TELEGRAPH COLLECTION/NMNI
Donegall Square South and West. Belfast 3/11/1942 BELFAST TELEGRAPH COLLECTION/NMNI
High Street, Belfast, looking towards the Albert Clock. 24/2/1939 BELFAST TELEGRAPH COLLECTION/NMNI
Lisburn Road, at Malone Avenue, Belfast. 3/5/1946 BELFAST TELEGRAPH COLLECTION/NMNI
Sandy Row, from Donegall Road looking towards Lisburn Road. Belfast. 10/5/1946 BELFAST TELEGRAPH COLLECTION/NMNI
Shaftesbury Square looking towards Gt. Victoria St. and Dublin Road, Belfast. 12/11/1942 BELFAST TELEGRAPH COLLECTION/NMNI
Belmont St. Woodstock Road, Belfast. 3/2/1939 BELFAST TELEGRAPH COLLECTION/NMNI
Bloomfield Road, Belfast, looking towards the Beersbridge Road. 1/12/1947 BELFAST TELEGRAPH COLLECTION/NMNI
High St. from Castle Place. Belfast 20/2/1939 BELFAST TELEGRAPH COLLECTION/NMNI
The Palm House in Botanic Gardens, Belfast. 7/5/1946 BELFAST TELEGRAPH COLLECTION/NMNI
Grand Opera House, The Hippodrome (Odeon), and The Ritz (ABC). In the foreground is a motorcycle and sidecar and a jeep. 5/10/1942 BELFAST TELEGRAPH COLLECTION/NMNI
Exterior of King's Hall, Balmoral. 21/4/1949 BELFAST TELEGRAPH COLLECTION/NMNI
G.N.R. railway terminus at Belfast 16/12/1937 BELFAST TELEGRAPH COLLECTION/NMNI
Looking along the Albert Bridge to The East Bridge Street Power Station. 2/9/1943 BELFAST TELEGRAPH COLLECTION/NMNI
Painting of Andrew Mulholland, founder of York Street Flax Spinning Company 4/4/1945 BELFAST TELEGRAPH COLLECTION/NMNI
Building of the Sydenham by-pass, a workman using a frog hammer. 25/10/1939 BELFAST TELEGRAPH COLLECTION/NMN
Donegall Square North from the roof of the City Hall. Air raid shelters in City Hall grounds. Belfast 15/9/1942 BELFAST TELEGRAPH COLLECTION/NMNI
Donegall Square North. Belfast 23/1/1946 BELFAST TELEGRAPH COLLECTION/NMNI
Arthur St. looking towards Arthur Sq. and Cornmarket. 27/4/1943 BELFAST TELEGRAPH COLLECTION/NMNI
Belfast, City Hall and surrounding area. Aerial Photograph. 17/8/1929 BELFAST TELEGRAPH ARCHIVE/NMNI
Stormont.Belfast. 24/10/1947 BELFAST TELEGRAPH ARCHIVE/NMNI
Stormont, painted black with pitch to camouflage it.Trolley bus no. 26. Belfast. 26/3/1942 BELFAST TELEGRAPH ARCHIVE/NMNI
Smithfield market, Belfast.Young boy in a shop selling household furniture lamps and bric a brac. 26/11/1941
The stitching room of the Belfast Collar Company
Albion limited Group. Machine Department Albion Ltd Belfast 1919
Yardmen busy themselves bottling gas. 30/6/1934
On a tour of the gasworks our photographer is shown the Interior Gaosmeter. 27/4/1934
Albion limited Group. The visit of H.R.H. the Duke Of Gloucester to Albion Ltd Clothing maufacturers Belfast,29th May 1934
Manhattan Beauty Salon, Corn Market. Female customers having their hair styled. 7/5/1940
On a visit to the Gasworks an employee demonstrates the Coal Gripper (The feed system of a coal getting combine, which works with a face conveyor, comprises: a traction device located on the combine and having a cylinder-shaped sprocket on the side surface of which a circular spherical-shaped recess is provided, slots being made on both inner sides of the spherical recess, said slots having an involute-spherical surface) 20/1/1938
Saw repair shop, McMasters, Church Lane. 19/11/1945
Weaving and winding training school at Ewart's factory. Pupils at work in the classroom. 29/1/1948
The Countess Granville, wife of the Ulster Governor and sister of Queen Elizabeth, the Queen Mother, cutting ribbon to open childrens play centre at Bessbrook. 15/9/1945
Field Marshal Bernard Montgomery, visit to Northern Ireland 1945. Arriving in Belfast, being recieved by Lord Londonderry at Assembly Hall for degree ceremony at Queens. 14.9.1945
James Magennis:Ulsterman awarded The Victoria Cross (VC). Belfastman decorated for his heroic actions onboard the X.E.11 Midget Submarine returning from the attack on a japanese cruiser. James Magennis with Lord Mayor Sir Crawford McCullagh at a civic reception in Belfast in 1945.
Field Marshal Bernard Montgomery, visit to Northern Ireland 1945. Arriving in Belfast and being greeted at the City Hall by Sir Crawford McCullagh. 14/9/1945.
BBC's Radio entertainer, Mr Gillie Potter, pictured here in Belfast. 17/2/1948
Hon. Edward Carson, son of late Lord Carson of Duncairn, and his wife arriving for the Unionist Council meeting. 19/2/1948
Lady Carson, widow of Lord Carson of Duncairn, and Lady Brooke, at Stormont House. 17/2/1948
Sir Malcolm Sargent, Conductor of the Liverpool Philharmonic Orchestra, with his hosts, the P.M., Lord Brookeborough, and Lady Brooke, at Stormont. 24/6/1947
Sir Arnold McNair, Judge of the Court of International Justice at the Hague, with Lady McNair and Professor J. L. Montrose. 22/10/1947
The stitching room of the Belfast Collar Company
Rabbi Jacob Shachter, Rabbi Belfast, Rabbi Dr I. Herzog, Chief Rabbi elect of the Holy Land, and Mr J Hurwitz at Belfast railway station. 15/3/1937
Craftsmen finish work on the Royal Courts of Justice, Oxford Street, Belfast, under the watchful of Lord Craigavon. 14/4/1933
The opening of the Royal Courts of Justice, Oxford Street, Belfast. 31/5/1933
Stonemasons finish work on the outside of the Royal Courts of Justice, Oxford Street, Belfast. April 1933
The construction of the Albert Memorial, dating back yo 1867.
The interior of Belfast City Hall.
The interior of Belfast City Hall. The vault and storeroom at City Hall. 5/1/1934
The collapse of the central arches of the Albert Bridge. 15/9/1886
The Albert Bridge. 15/1/1932
Spectators gather to view the Albert Bridge after the collapse of the central arches in 1886
Belfast City Hall. Donegall Square. As it looked in 1930 BELFAST TELEGRAPH ARCHIVE
Belfast City Hall. Donegall Square. In 1912
Belfast City Hall. Donegall Square. Under construction in 1906
The interior of Belfast City Hall.
The interior of Belfast City Hall. 18/8/1939
The interior of Belfast City Hall.
The interior of Belfast City Hall.
The interior of Belfast City Hall.
Belfast City Hall. Donegall Square. Under construction in 1906. The statue of Queen Victoria already in place. BELFAST TELEGRAPH ARCHIVE
The interior of Belfast City Hall. 1951
City Hall from Wellington Place, Belfast. 5/10/1942 BELFAST TELEGRAPH ARCHIVE/NMNI

When King James I granted a Charter of Incorporation to Belfast on April 27 1613, he elevated the town to the status of a corporate borough. There was a clause in this Charter which also gave permission for the establishment of a new quay through which “all and singular merchants, as well inhabitants as foreigners, and all other our liege subjects whatsoever” should be allowed to import and export “all kinds of merchandise or other things.”

The king, however, was not being merely a philanthrophist. He was seeking more political power through the establishment of a new parliament in Ireland to maintain Protestant control, and he was creating around 40 new boroughs, each of which would provide two members for the new institution.

James I was also after more money, and this was made clear to those who wanted to establish a port. They would be required to pay to the Crown ‘all and singular our customs as well great as small, subsidies of poundage and other impositions due and payable in our said Port of Carrickfergus, and in the bays and creeks of the same.”This sounded the death knell to Carrick which up to that time had been the major port in Ulster, but it took a long time to establish a good harbour in Belfast. The problem was the mud which silted up the channel and forced larger vessels to put down anchor some distance up the Lough at the Pool of Garmoyle.

Goods then had to be transferred to small vessels, or lighters which transported them to the dockside. This meant a considerable loss through pilferage and tax evasion, and the merchants of Belfast out of self-interest redoubled their efforts to create a first-class harbour.

The first major breakthrough seemed to be the establishment of the Ballast Board in 1785, but they had difficulty raising the funds to develop a harbour, and they received little help from the ruling Donegall family — one of whom was an addictive gambler who did not pay his debts. He was known locally as ‘Lord Done ’em all’.

It was not until the early 19th century that the real breakthrough took place, and the harbour authorities commissioned William Dargan, an Irish contractor, to cut through the tortuous bends in the River Lagan, and create a proper outlet to the sea.

This was named Victoria Channel in honour of the young Queen Victoria, who visited Belfast in 1849, just two years after the establishment of the Belfast Harbour Commissioners who from thenceforth ran the port. The interaction between the town and the port was crucial, and this symbiotic relationship helped to turn Belfast into one of the most prosperous cities in the British Isles during, and for some time after, the Industrial Revolution.

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The Harbour Board profited so much from the export of linen that even today the symbol of the flax flower is entwined in the ornamentation of their beautiful building in Corporation Square.

Meanwhile, iron shipbuilding was developing rapidly at the Queen’s Island, once known as Dargan’s Island when it was a popular ‘Pleasure Park’ for the ordinary people. Under the dynamic direction of Edward Harland, Gustav Wolff and

William Pirrie, among others, Belfast became renowned worldwide as a centre of shipbuilding and of general engineering excellence. This resulted in the development of outstanding ships and seagoing vessels of all kinds.

In 1896, the Belfast Harbour Commissioners opened their splendid new extension which, like the completion of the City Hall in 1906, illustrated the exuberance and opulence of the ruling class. Belfast by that time had 350,000 inhabitants and it was the 12th largest city in the British Isles. It was also bigger and more important economically than Dublin, much to the latter’s irritation.

From the early 1900s, however, it was all downhill. The shipping industry still maintained its world-class output with liners like the Olympic and the ill-fated Titanic, but the tragic sinking of that iconic vessel was a major blow to the morale of the entire city and province.

The slaughter at the Battle of the Somme and the partition of Ireland were also major setbacks which helped to erode the pre-eminence which Belfast enjoyed in the early 19th century.

Nevertheless, Belfast Port continued to play an important economic role, and the Harbour Commissioners always had the foresight to plan far ahead. Despite the downturn in shipping, they continued to dredge important new water channels, and their creation of new land with the residue helped to establish a new airport at Sydenham, now the George Best Belfast City Airport.

Meanwhile, shipbuilding continued at Harland and Wolff but with diminishing returns. The magnificent Canberra was completed for delivery on May 19, 1961, but Harlands lost £1.2m on the contract. This was to be the last historic launch of its kind, and the subsequent attempts of Harland and Wolff and the British government to keep shipbuilding alive ended in failure. There were other major challenges to face, and Belfast Harbour survived the Troubles and kept the economic lifelines to the Province open.

Happily, in recent years there has been a remarkable resurgence of activity in the harbour estate. This includes the diversification of Harland and Wolff, the development of the Titanic Quarter, the success of Titanic Belfast, the establishment of a new marina and other facilities to keep the harbour estate vibrant and relevant to the changing 21st century.

This is all a long way from 1613, but the developments of the past 400 years have entwined the Belfast port and the city in one of the most significant partnerships imaginable, and to the mutual benefit of each. The reign of King James I paved the way for some crucial developments in the history of the north of Ireland, including the Royal Schools, and the licence which helped to set up Old Bushmills distillery.

However the development of the harbour from humble beginnings, and the influence of the port on the city and vice versa, must rank as one of the most important developments of all in the dramatic and colourful history of Belfast and the province as a whole.

* Alf McCreary is a journalist and author of Titanic Port (Booklink)

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