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Royal Avenue looking towards Central Library around 1890

Bringing Old Belfast To The New

Glenravel Local History Project

There is perhaps no more fruitful for of education than to arouse the interest of a people in their own surroundings These words were written by Richard Livingstone and appeared in a book by Alfred Moore called Old Belfast over fifty years ago. Looking back its hard to imagine that they are as true today as they were way back then. More and more people are becoming interested in the history of Belfast and it was out of this that the Glenravel Local History Project were born in May 1991. Many could be forgiven for assuming that this name derived from the famous Glens in Co. Antrim and they would be right but in a roundabout way. Glenravel Street was situated directly behind in the old Poorhouse on North Queen Street and contained quite a few beautiful and historic buildings. One of these buildings was situated at its junction with Clifton Street and although it was officially known as the Ulster Ear, Eye and Throat Hospital it was known to most people as the Benn Hospital. This was due to the fact that it was built by Edward Benn (brother of the famous Victorian Belfast historian George). Mr Benn lived in the Glens of Antrim where Glenravel is situated. Although Glenravel Street contained all this history the street itself was totally obliterated to clear the way for the modern Westlink motorway system leaving us to question schemes such as historical areas of importance as well as buildings. The Glenravel Project was established by local historians Joe Baker and Michael Liggett and has now went on to become the main local historical group in the whole of Belfast. Over three hundred publications have been published by the group as well and several web sites, DVDs and countless newspaper and magazine articles. The Project also conducts several walking tours ranging from the Belfast Blitz right through to a walking tour of the historic Cavehill area. One of these tours is also around the historic Clifton Street Burying Ground which is also situated behind the old Poorhouse and which was opened by them in the mid 1790s. Although our original aim was the historical promotion of this site we have now went on to cover the whole of Belfast as well as assist numerous local historical schemes far beyond our city’s boundaries. This magazine is now our main focus for the local and factual history of Belfast and we welcome all articles of interest relating to the history of our city. And our aim:-

To secure a future for our past

5 Churchill Street, Belfast. BT15 2BP

The old Troxy Cinema on the Shore Road which later became The Grove

The Alhambra in North Street

Clonard Cinema on the Falls Road

028 9035 1326 028 9020 2100 028 9074 2255



The Duncairn on Duncairn Gardens

The Mayfair

The Windsor

The Lyceum, Antrim Road


Two views of the junction of Royal Avenue and Castle Junction in the mid 1890’s



ROYAL AVENUE Royal Avenue dates back to the 1880’s but the original, much narrower, Hercules Lean or Harrison's Lean is shown on the 1665 map of Belfast. It was named after a Burgess of Belfast Sir Hercules Langford. The section from North Street to Donegall Street and York Street was originally known as John Street. To get an idea of how narrow the original Hercules Street was It extended from the corner of the Bank Buildings to the front of the present day Tesco Store (originally the Provincial Bank). When the plan for the new Royal Avenue 1880 was drawn up it meant the removal of many buildings and around

4000 people had to be re-housed, many of them butchers. Number 2; (1864-69) Architect W.J. Barre for the Provincial Bank, later the Allied Irish Bank now Tesco Metro store. This was

also the site of an extensive house, residence of the wealthy merchant Waddel Cunningham; a man who having made his fortune in New York had returned to Belfast. He was one of the merchants who in 1786 at the Exchange and Assembly The old Provincial Bank (now Tesco Metro)


Hercules Street being demolished in 1879 to clear the way for a new wider street that was to become Royal Avenue

Rooms in Waring Street, had attempted to set up a Belfast Slave-ship Company. The plan was abandoned due to the efforts of the United Irishman Thomas McCabe. Number 4 - The Reform Club (1883) – Based on the Victorian Gentlemen’s Clubs to be found in


London. It still survives to this day as a meeting place for Belfast Businessmen. The ground floor is occupied by the Abbey Building Society.

Further along the street is Berry Street Presbyterian Church (1857) on the site of a 1782 church. It has associations with the fiery 19th. Century preacher Rev. Hugh Hanna.(No 6a was Number 6-10 - Queens Building the home of Hume & Gray, (1883) – This building was badly Auctioneers and Valuers in the damaged in a fire and has only early years of the last century) just recently re-opened with the clothing store H&M on the ground floor. The building extends around the corner into Berry Street (Berry Street should be called Barry Street as it was named after a trustee of the Donegall family Richard Barry). Berry Street (1757) then known as Factory Row housed the first fever hospital in Ireland which opened in the 1790’s by the Belfast Charitable Society.

Crown Buildings, Royal Avenue in the mid 1930’s


The Grand Central Hotel around 1895


Number 12-62 - Castlecourt Shopping Complex (1990) originates from the corner of Berry Street. This giant shopping complex is built on the

site of the Grand Central Hotel and the old General Post Office demolished in 1985. (Castlecourt cost ÂŁ65,000,000 to build.) It was the brain child of

Richard Needham the Minister of Development, at the time, and he is remembered as the "architect" of Belfast’s commercial revival in the 1980s.

The Grand Central Hotel and General Post Office around 1890. The site of these is now occupied by the Castlecourt Shopping Complex (above)


Number 12-26 - The Grand Central Hotel was a 200bedroom hotel opened in 1892 and closed in the late ‘60’s. It was used as a city centre army base during the "troubles" until the army moved out in 1980. The hotel had in it’s day many famous guests who stayed in the hotel including Winston Churchill, Clayton Moore best known as "The Lone Ranger", Count John McCormick and Al the opposite side of Garfield Street stood Garfield Chambers. Jolson to name just a few. In 1911 the Belfast Picture Number 30-32 - The magnificent House opened its doors to the General Post Office sided onto Belfast public. It changed its Garfield Street and backed onto name twice; once as "The Charlemont Street. It was Regency" (above) and finally opened in 1886. Belfast’s main from 1966 it was known as "The Post Office is now to be found Avenue". It survived a bomb attack in 1974, although badly in Bridge Street. damaged, it survived until it Number 34-44 - Here in 1882 on finally closed in 1982. Royal Avenue at the turn of the last century


Number 58-66 - The original building on this site dates from 1885 and was rebuilt in the same style in the 1990’s.It houses many different stores, large and small, e.g. J.D. Sports. (No’s 64 to 66 was the home to "The Ulster Gallery" in the early 20th. Century)

Number 68-70 - 1883 Jean Number 76-88 - Albert Millar Bridal Shop. Chambers (corner of Royal Avenue and North Street). Built in 1885. Now the Haymarket Number 72-74 - Gresham Street Arcade which runs through to Chambers – 1887. Originally Gresham Street. Here is North built for Gresham Life Street (site of North Gate when Assurance Company (hence the Belfast was surrounded by a wall name). in the 17th century)


Two views of Royal Avenue in 1895. This section (between North Street and Donegall Street) was once known as John Street


Number 92-100 - 1928-30 Old "Bank of Ireland" building, still lying empty in 2008. Built of Portland Stone It was built in the Art Deco style. The original building on this site was the "Palace Chambers" which included a public house. Number 102-122; The original buildings on this site date back to 1885. The present buildings on this site only date from the 1970’s – 1990’s. Construction work on the new Bank of Ireland building in the late 1920’s BELOW - The building today

Here is Kent Street (formerly Margaret Street). Belfast Public Library 1888 – W. Lynn Architect. The library stands on its own little island with Kent Street on one side and Library Street on the other. Lynn the Architect won this project as the result of a competition held in 1883. There is a street sign to the left of the main entrance of the library giving a brief history of this fine building. Number 124-136 - Belfast Telegraph building (1886), built for the Evening Telegraph. The paper had its origins in Arthur Street where the brothers William and George had produced Irelands first half penny newspaper in 1870. During the Troubles the company bought the former Watson Furniture Factory in Union Street.


It was to act as an alternative location for producing the newspaper if the Royal Avenue building was destroyed by a bomb attack. Ironically the Union Street building was

destroyed in a bomb attack and bomb had dropped in the middle the Royal Avenue is still of the road outside the building) producing newspapers today. Part 2 (There are also scars of a German of Royal Avenue in bombing raid in 1941 on the old Next Issue front entrance to the building a

Central Library

Belfast Telegraph


Belfast map of 1854 showing Hercules and John Streets which later went on to become Royal Avenue


The Day a Cyclone Hit Belfast cyclone hit Belfast one early evening in June 1924 and this was the first officially recorded cyclone to hit the city. The cyclone caused great alarm and a considerable amount of damage across the city. It was a miracle that no one was killed in the freak weather conditions and only a few were injured.


The cyclone wrecked graves in the City Cemetery

Like a bolt out of the blue the storm came from the direction of Divis Mountain, and swept across the city toward the City Hall and then towards Bangor and Donaghadee. The strength of the winds caused people to cling to lampposts to stop them being swept away and debris was flung into the air and came crashing to the ground some distance away. People were injured, houses wrecked, telecommunications and electric supplies were destroyed, slates were swept off roofs, trees uprooted and hundreds of commercial premises were damaged. The destruction seemed to be concentrated in the west of the city and in particular the Upper Falls. The whirlwind, accompanied by clouds of dust, trees and stones, gave people in the area the impression that an airplane was crashing. The noise of the cyclone resembled the sound of explosions and it was this sound that people heard first, before the wind came.


A Mr Robert Millar who was the caretaker of the Ulster Hall, who was in the city cemetery at the time, heard the loud noise and at first thought that it was an explosion. He said at the time; "The air was thick with dust, stones were licked up and the whirlwind was slicing off branches of trees‌it came right across Beechmount. Wreathes were whisked off graves, even large floral tributes with metal bases were taken away. I never saw anything like it in my life and have no wish to hear the uncanny noises again". Beechmount was a very wooded part of the city and it was here that many people witnessed a strange weather phenomena. A cloud, which was part of the cyclone, burst. "I was walking up the avenue and saw a flash of flame in the centre of the lawn", said a Mr Johnston, lodge keeper, "it was like a cloud bursting. There was a lot of dust and I could hear the wind whine. It swept off a branch of a tree a few yards from my head. The base of a wreath, which was swept from the City Cemetery, was dropped about a quarter of a mile away. A lot of people panic stricken, rushed into the grounds. Everyone thought an aeroplane had crashed. With the dust and the branches of trees and the noise it looked like that. Major Duffin calmed down the people and said there was no need of alarm".

Damage caused to buildings in Oxford Street (Markets)

After the cloud burst the cyclone travelled over Broadway and struck the house of Dan McAuley who was a draper. The roof of his house close to Beechmount was stripped of its slates. Inside the kitchen door was shattered and the sides of the door were wrenched from its fixings. The plate glass window in the front of the house was broken and all the upstairs windows were smashed. Mr McAuley senior who was sitting in the kitchen at the time was struck by flying splinters but was not seriously injured. The whole house shook for some time and it was if the whole house was being twisted by the wind. Slates from Mr McAuley's shop were discovered over 100 metres away and some crashed through a house is Islandbawn Street.

controlling their horses and the blankets they used were blown into the sky. One of the drivers, a Mr Rush of Frere Street said,

"It seemed to me that the three houses at the top of Glengall Street were on fire. The cloud however left the houses and came down the street towards us. It was very low and seemed to stop at the back of the Grosvenor Hall, where it was going round in a swirl. The next thing I saw was the cloud striking the wooden building used for sorting newspapers at the great Northern Railway, and lifting off the roof. It then passed over our heads and blew the rugs from our horses. People were running like reindeer to places of safety. It was so bad you would have thought there was dynamite in the Old women were seen kneeling and praying in air and that the whole place was going to be the streets, parasols were caught up in trees and blown up. It was wicked while it lasted. I as soon as the cyclone had passed, children came hurried into great Victoria Street and felt glad out and began to hunt for souvenirs. to get away with my horse to safety. Fragments of wreathes from the City cemetery were found as far away as Beechmount Avenue and Amcomri Street and they were returned to the cemetery as soon as possible. Tramcars across the city were stopped and many people reported to be lifted clean off their feet. Many choked in the dust clouds and the whole city was uneasy as they watched branches of trees being tossed about in the sky like pieces of paper. The old asylum at Broadway was badly damaged but it was due for demolition anyway and Turin Street lost over 20 chimney pots, which crashed to the ground with a terrific rattle. A donkey in the area was hit by a flying slate, which became embedded in its side, but the donkey lived to fight another day.

Roofs were wrecked in many parts including Turin Street

The cloud was reported to be about 15 metres wide and set off towards the east of the city where roofs were blown off in Erskine Street and Montrose Street. Children in the area were lifted several metres in the air but landed safely, unhurt. A Mrs Gemmel of Montrose Street had As the cyclone passed down the Grosvenor her house almost destroyed by the cyclone, Road the hackney car drivers had a tough time which had lifted an iron roof from nearby


Portion of a roof which landed on houses in Montrose Street

premises and it landed on her house. Walls were in a dangerous condition and windows smashed but not a single picture on the walls of her house were dislodged, such was the strange way the cyclone passed through people’s houses. Mr James Johnston, the doorkeeper of the Mountpottinger Picturedrome, had a good view of the whirlwind. He described his experience; "I was standing at the door of the picture house when I saw a yellow cloud in the sky. It came tearing along at a terrific rate, and seemed to pass just over the roof of the houses. Slates were flying off. As it approached it seemed to descend. In fact a cloud came down on the street and rolled along towards me. It was about the size of a large barrel. I thought it was time to clear, and dashed into the picture house until the thing passed away. A Bloomfield resident wrote to the papers at the time giving his account; "Pedestrians adjacent to the Holywood Arches had a terrifying experience for about three


minutes. The sky became very dark about 7.20 pm and there was every indication of a heavy thunderstorm. Heavy drops of rain fell for about 30 seconds, and then came the cyclone, typhoon or whirlwind. Mr P F Hall of Cyprus Park, who was travelling in his motorcycle combination, picked up a friend at Oakland Avenue. Heavy rain fell for a minute, the drops on the pavement being about the size of a shilling. Just as the motorcycle and its passenger were passing the Holywood Arches, the storm caught them and Mr Hall had a wonderful experience before he brought his car to a halt at the junction of the Albertbridge and Newtownards Road. In the short space from the Holywood Arches to the point stated, it was impossible to see two yards behind owing to the dense volume of dust. The experience recalled all that one had ever read of sand storms in desert lands. In front, the sun was shining again brilliantly – looking backward the Holywood Arches, less than two hundred yards away, was completely shut out…a pram was overturned on the Newtownards Road, hats and caps were flying in the air, and there was the rattle of falling slates everywhere. Mr Hall was almost blinded by the cloud of dust he

Roof ripped of a hayloft in Erskine Street

passed through but fortunately the road was comparatively clear of roadway traffic, and he was able to pull up his car and discovered that the baby in the pram was unhurt. Mr Hall then travelled to the Ormeau Road at precisely 7.30 pm and on reaching Ormeau Park a few minutes later, was informed that there had not been a drop of rain or a breath of wind the whole evening, and those on the bowling green laughed

when he told them of the cyclone to hit the east of the city and thought he had make it up to account for his lateness in arriving to play in the Bairds Bowling Cup competition." The cyclone then travelled on to Bangor and Donaghadee where similar damage was caused and people walking along the front by the sea were swept off their feet for a few seconds.

Roof torn of farm buildings at Turf Loney (todays Turf Lodge)


Images of Old Belfast

The Model School in Divis Street after it was destroyed in an arson attack during the troubles of the 1920’s

The People’s Palace on the Donegall Road around 1910


Looking down Skipper Street towards High Street in 1927

A remarkable photograph taken at the launch of the Union Castle liner Capetown Castle on the 23rd of September 1937 at the Belfast Shipyard


Tragic murder of a baby in Newington urder is a terrible crime carried out for a number of diverse reasons ranging from robbery through to ‘crimes of passion.’ It is a crime which sends us into shock but when the murder committed is carried out on children then that shock is increased tenfold. Many of us react with anger and call for these child killers to be strung up but sometimes circumstances are so bizarre that this anger can be directed to another person other than the person who committed the foul deed.


Throughout the country there are numerous cases of mothers concealing their pregnancies and then murdering the child when it was born. Some are carried out for truly selfish reasons but others are carried out as a final act of desperation. One such case of this occurring was in the Newington area of North Belfast in December 1888. John Millan was a commercial traveller who lived with his wife and children in Atlantic Avenue which connects the Limestone Road and Antrim Road and which, at this time, was a middle class area. John Millan’s wife had been extremely ill and confined to bed for quite a few months, a state of affairs which created a heavy burden for Mr Millan. Fortunately a domestic servant had previously been employed and during Mrs Millan’s illness she proved herself to be a tremendous help around the house. Her name was Jane McDowell. On old years night 1888 Mr. Millan was sitting in the bedroom with his ill wife when one of the children came up around 8.00pm and told him Miss Jane is not well. Mr. Millan went downstairs and saw Jane sitting on a chair in the kitchen in a very weak condition. He observed that there was blood on her apron and asked her if she had hurt


herself to which she replied Indeed sir, I have. He then asked one of the children to go and fetch the doctor and was told, Oh don’t fetch the doctor for me, I will be alright in the morning. Mr. Millan then stated that it was better for the doctor to come and check on her and sent for Dr. Johnston in Clifton Street. When Doctor Johnston arrived he examined the girl quickly in the kitchen and then asked her to go up to her bedroom for a full examination. It was after his examination that the doctor discovered that she had recently given birth. The doctor asked about this and was told that she had a miscarriage. He asked where the baby was and the servant replied that she had put it down the water closet in the rear yard. the doctor came downstairs and informed Mr. Millan what had happened and both men went out into the yard and searched the water closet but found nothing. The doctor then returned to the servant and informed her that there was nothing there. The girl then stated that the child was in the yard somewhere and that she would fetch it in the morning. The doctor told her that he could not leave the house until he had seen the child and once again the two men went into the yard and searched for the new born infant. Again they discovered nothing. At this stage the doctor was becoming infuriated with the girl and went up to her and demanded to know where the child was. The girl, seeing his anger, began to cry and informed him that it was down a manhole in the yard. The two men returned to the yard for a third time and Mr. Millan lifted up the cover of the manhole. There, lying in a sewer pipe, was the dead body of a fully developed male child. The doctor leaned down the hole to pick it up and when he got it out they discovered to their horror that

Atlantic Avenue today the child had a length of rope tied around its neck. To the two men it had become clear what had happened. The servant girl was, unknown to the family, pregnant. When the time had come to give birth the girl went out into the outside toilet. As soon as the child was born she placed a rope around its neck and murdered it, concealing the dead body in the man hole where she hoped it would have been washed away. The police were sent for immediately. When they arrived the girl was formally placed under arrest but due to her condition she was not removed to the barracks. A short time afterwards she was charged with the wilful murder of her child. On Wednesday 16th January 1889 Jane McDowell appeared in the Belfast Police Court on the charge of causing the death of her newly born child by strangulation. After a short hearing in which evidence was heard from Mr. Millan and Doctor Johnston Jane McDowell was remanded in custody to stand trial at the next Assizes.

Her trial took place in the Belfast Crown Court on Monday 25th March 1889. The judge was Mr. Justice Harrison. The court heard evidence from Mr. Millan and Dr. Johnston stating what had occurred that night, but the most interesting aspect of the trial was the defence. Jane McDowell was being defended by Mr. J.B. Killen. In addressing the jury he said The prisoner appeared before them under very disadvantagious circumstances. She was poor, and helpless, and she had not the aids and auxiliaries of fortune by which the terrors of the law could be very much mitigated. Murder such as that with which the prisoner stood charged was more serious than ordinary murder. I have no fault to find with the manner in which the learned friends had brought forward the case. I ask that, if the prisoner had a deliberate idea in her mind to take away the life of her child, would she have left the evidence of her guilt behind? The cases for the crown rested entirely on the circumstantial evidence, and I


contented that the facts which had been presented were entirely consistent with the innocence of the prisoner. Having dealt with the evidence which had been adduced, I leave the cases with confidence in the hands of the jury who, I am sure, would give it the impartial consideration which is demanded. The judge then reviewed the evidence, pointing out that, if the jury were not perfectly satisfied that the capital charge had been made out, they might convict the prisoner of concealing the birth of the child. The jury retired at 1.25pm and returned to court at 2.00pm. They found Jane McDowell guilty of the murder of her child. The foreman of the jury then added; My Lord, the jury wish to recommend the prisoner to mercy, and do so on the grounds principally that they consider if there had been some woman about the house at the time if Mrs. Millan or some other woman had been present in the house at the time this unfortunate occurrence would not have taken place. At this point the prisoner broke down and cried. The judge then addressed the prisoner. Jane McDowell, you have been convicted by the jury that have tried you in this case of murder of your infant child. The jury have assisted by the very able counsel who defended the case on your behalf, and have come to the verdict upon a fair, dispassionate, feeling that the evidence was too strong for them to come to any other conclusion than the one they have arrived at. This is a very, very painful case, and I don’t intend saying anything now to aggravate the feelings you must be labouring under at present. My duty is one I can’t flinch from, painful though it may be, and that is to award the sentence of law. My duty now is to pass upon you the sentence of the law, which is the only one that can be pronounced in the case of murder. The judge the assumed the black cap and passed the sentence of death, with the execution date being Thursday, the 25th April, 1889 in the Belfast Prison.


Jane McDowell’s solicitor immediately organised a memorial for a commutation of the death sentence and sent it to the Lord Lieutenant. He received the following letter a few weeks afterwards. Dublin Castle 30th April, 1889 Sir With reference to your letter of the 30th of March, forwarding a memorial on behalf of Jane McDowell, a prisoner in Belfast Prison under sentence of death, I am directed by the Lord Lieutenant to acquaint you, for the information of the memorial, that his Excellency, having had the case under his careful consideration, has been pleased to commute the sentence upon the prisoner to penal servitude for life. Jane McDowell had her death sentence lifted and was now beginning to serve the most of her life behind bars. There is no doubt that this was a very tragic case but one of the most mysterious points about the whole trail was the fact that the father of the child received no mention. At this time domestic servants were treated very poorly and were treated more as property than persons. Those who employed them often felt that they could treat them however they wished and on many cases were forced to have sex in order to ‘reward’ the person who employed them. I am not stating that this happened on this occasion as there is no proof but what is worth noting is the fact that the girl was employed ten months previous to having the child -is it possible that a ‘reward’ was sought a few weeks after she started?

For More True Irish Murder Stories Make Sure You Read Joe Baker’s Column Every Sunday in the Sunday Life

Advertisements from the 1878 Belfast Street Directory



THE BODYSNATCHERS n the late 1700s and early 1800s the medi cal profession was very much in its infancy, and the doctors of the time needed dead bodies on which to carry out experiments so that they could try to fully understand the workings of the human body. The legal supply of these bodies was useless to the doctors because only the bodies of those hanged were all they could obtain as subjects for anatomical dissection. Not only were the bodies of hanged criminals scarce,



but the anatomists were not free from the vengeance of the families and friends of the hanged criminals. So, where there were those engaged in medical research there was the need for dead bodies. It was this need that gave rise to a new crime - a crime that became known as ‘bodysnatching’. This was not the start of bodysnatching. In fact the first official notice of bodysnatching is recorded in the minutes of the Edinburgh College of Surgeons on May 20th, 1711. It reads as follows:

Of late there has been a visitation of sepulchers in the Greyfriars churchyard by some who, most unchristianly, have been, stealing, or at least attempting to carry away, the bodies of the dead out of their graves. It is unknown what the reason was behind that particular case of bodysnatching, but up to the demand of the early 1800s, incidents of such as this were few and far between. In the late 1700’s bodysnatching was carried out by gravediggers and anatomy students, but as



high prices began to be paid for corpses, others became involved. These people were variously known as ‘Resurrectionists’, ‘Crunchers’ and ‘Burkers’. The latter was a direct allusion to the infamous Ulstermen (today referred to as Ulster Scotch) Burke and Hare who , in 1827, extended their conception of the activity to murder. William Hare ran a tramps, lodging house in Tanner’s Close, Edinburgh. In Christmas 1827, an old man died in this house owing Hare the sum of £4 for rent. Everything was made ready for the funeral, and it was then that Hare had the idea to make up for his rent loss. He told his friend, William Burke, that there was no prospect of him ever getting his £4 from the old man’s relations, so he proposed to take the body out of the cof-


fin and sell it to one of the schools of anatomy in the city. The pair returned at once to Tanner ’s Close unscrewed the lid of the coffin, removed the body of the old man and replaced it with bark and stones. They refastened the lid of the coffin, and after concealing the corpse in a bed they then accompanied the bark and stones to the cemetery and saw it decently buried. Burke and Hare later took the body to a Dr. Knox and sold it for £7.10s; Hare receiving his £4, and Burke taking the balance. This was a ‘sell’ which went on to lead to quite a few horrific murders. Burke and Hare went on selling the bodies of those they had murdered in Hare’s lodging house, but unknown to them their last murder was to be a big

mistake for the pair, due to the fact that the victim was very well known in Edinburgh. ‘Daft’ Jamie was recognised by Dr. Knox’s door-keeper and also by several of his students. The police soon received a ‘tip off ’ and they raided 10 Surgeon’s Square which was Dr. Knox’s school. Inside they found the murdered body of a woman named Mary Docherty, and soon after Burke and Hare were arrested. At their trial in 1828 Hare turned King’s Evidence and Burke was sentenced to death, with the order that his body should be handed over for public anatomy. In Belfast the bodysnatchers stole from all the graveyards; Shankill, Friar’s Bush and Clifton Street. It is unknown just how many bodies were sto-


len, because of the way in which the work was carried out. The bodysnatchers would come into the graveyard in the middle of the night, look for a fresh grave and dig it up using a wooden shovel so as to make less noise. They then removed the body from the coffin and refilled the grave. The

One of the guns which was used by the guards at Clifton Street Cemetery to prevent the activities of the bodysnatchers. It is presently preserved in Clifton House which was the old Poor House


body was then placed in a barrel and later sold. Due to the fact that there was no real local demand for bodies, the bodysnatchers then had the added problem of shipping the bodies to where the demand was, either in Edinburgh, London or Dublin. Numerous corpses had been discovered in transit to the medical schools. They were shipped in brine as bacon, and most of those discovered coming from Belfast were from the Burying Ground at Clifton Street. For example, in 1828 the body of a man named John Fairclough was found in Warrington, England. It was proved that the body was originally stolen from Clifton Street graveyard. However, four years before this, the bodysnatchers dug up the wrong grave in

Clifton Street graveyard. The following appeared in the Belfast Newsletter on the 20th of January, 1824:A REWARD OF FIFTY POUNDS Is offered by the COMMITTEE of the BELFAST CHARITABLE SOCIETY, to any person who shall, within Six Weeks, give information to the STEWARD against, and prosecute to conviction, the Person or Persons guilty of the atrocious offence of entering the Burying ground behind the Poor-House, on Monday Night, 12th inst. and raising an Infants Coffin, several years interred. It remained unopened on the ground. Signed, by order, WM. ST. JOHN SMYTH, CHAIRMAN OF COMMITTEE. Poor-House Jan 17, 1824

Coffin guard which was uncovered in Clifton Street Cemetery at the turn of the last century. This was used to prevent the body being stolen and is presently in Clifton House

There are many incidents of bodysnatching recorded in the files of the Belfast Northern Whig. One such case was of particular interest, due to the manner in which the accused were arrested. The report told of the appearance in court of James Stewart, James Pemblico and Robert Wright who were all charged with the offence of attempting to steal away bodies from the New Burying Ground (Clifton Street) on the night of the 24th of November, 1827. The report continues:Between five o’clock and six o’clock on Monday morning, the watchman at the cemetery was accosted by one of the prisoners who

asked him did he ever ‘ rise a body ‘ as it was a proceeding which gave him such delight. The watchman surprised at the question, immediately entered the graveyard but found all right and on his return he was told that if he would consent to join in the work, money and drink should be given him in abundance. Determined to detect the persons who attempted to bribe him from his duty, he manifested an inclination to come to terms and subsequently made an appointment to meet his unknown friends at a public house in Park Lane at 10 o’clock. He met the three prisoners there, who treated him with ale, entered fully on the subject,

discussed the pleasures of bodysnatching, and promised to give him two sovereigns for allowing them to enter the churchyard in the night. This he agreed to and received a sovereign on account. He informed Mr Kilshaw, his employer, of the matter and in the course of the day five constables were placed to watch. Needless to say, the bodysnatchers were apprehended ‘red handed’ and the watchman commended for his action. Unfortunately, this prosecution did not discourage other bodysnatchers from invading the burying ground as many reports in the Belfast Northern Whig covering the years 1824 to 1832 show. The families of those buried in Clifton Street used many different devices to prevent raids on their loved one’s graves. A lot of the families kept watch on the graves at night until the bodies were in a state of decomposition. Other families hired watchmen to do this for them, and it was not uncommon for these watchmen to enter the burying ground armed. Until 1831 the Burying


Ground committee would not allow watchmen into the graveyard if they had guns, but after a meeting held in that year the committee decided to supply their own watchmen with firearms. However on the 27th of February, 1833, there was cause for an investigation: Poor-house 27th February, 1833 At a special meeting of the committee held for the purpose of enquiring into the circumstances connected with firing shots in the graveyard on the night of Monday last, one of which struck the barrack, and entered through one of the windows of the room in which the soldiers were sleeping. Two soldiers of the 80th regiment deposed that at about half past twelve on Monday night, the 25th

Bodysnatchers at work by Dicken’s illustrator, Phiz

inst., a shot was fired from the rear of the barracks, which entered through the centre pane of one of the windows, and that about two o’clock, four o’clock and six o’clock the shots

were repeated but they do not think that any of them struck the barracks. On the whole they are sure that about six shots were fired. After having heard the statement of the men who

NORTHERN WHIG MONDAY 6TH FEBURARY 1832 POOR-HOUSE BURYING GROUND - We have been requested to state, that, in consequence of those persons lately interred in the Poor-House Burying Ground, having been in the habit of firing guns, charged with slugs and bullets, which sometimes alarmed the neighbourhood and passengers, and also injured the tombs and head-stones in the grounds; the Poor-House Committee lately came to a resolution, that they would employ two responsible persons, for whose faithfulness they required considerable security, and for whose correct conduct they feel themselves accontable, to watch the graves of all persons buried in these grounds; and who will require but a trifling remuneration. They will be well armed; and will have watchdogs constantly with them. This arrangement, if faithfully adhered to, will give general satisfaction, and relieve the minds of many families.


were on watch on Monday night, the 25th inst. - viz, John McIlwain and James McFarlane fired several shots on Monday evening unnecessarily, thereby causing both alarm and danger, thereby acting contrary to their orders, and in consequence thereof the committee be summoned for Saturday to take into consideration the propriety of not allowing firearms to the watchmen in future. (Signed) A. C. Macartney. Chairman The two watchmen were ‘sacked’ for firing shots to pass the time. Before the new watchmen had started, a decision was taken that they should have only blank ammunition for their guns, and that a report was to be made each morning. Eventually, though, the Society became completely frustrated with the system of watchmen guarding the Burying Ground. This led to the withdrawal of watchmen for good. The watchmen, it seemed, could not be trusted to keep or protect the Burying Ground satisfactorily. So disgusted were one family with the entire situation that they

made their own ‘coffin guard’. This was an apparatus (used quite successfully) to prevent the removal of a dead body from its coffin, being a cage like framework in which the coffin was placed. Bars were then placed across the top, bolted, and the coffin was then buried. One of these was found in the graveyard in the early 1900’s, and is now on show in the Ulster Museum. (Pictured above) Other ways to prevent bodysnatching included the building of large vaults for burial, and the placing of stone slabs on top of graves all of which can be seen today in Clifton Street graveyard. Bodysnatching ended as suddenly as it had began. In the early part of the

1830s a bill was passed legalising and regulating the conduct of schools of anatomy and surgery. Almost at a stroke the operations of the bodysnatchers were over. It is easy to see that bodysnatching was an unnecessary evil and one that thrived on the anomalous nature of the law. One authority on the subject has written of the whole episode: There was little choice in the matter. It was either a violation of graveyards so that the profession of medicine might rest on the sure ground of a knowledge of human anatomy, or that ignorance should prevail and medicine fall to the level of quacks and charlatans.

For lots more material relating to Clifton Street Cemetery go to the Glenravel website. Here you will find everything from a full details history through to the listings in the registry books 31

Shooting Incident at Malone Golf Club T

he picturesquely situated Malone Golf Club was the scene of a tragic shooting incident on a quiet Sunday evening in 1913 As a result twelve-year-old Samuel Long of Cussack Street lay critically wounded by a revolver bullet in the Royal Victoria Hospital while surgeons frantically tried to prevent his life ebbing away.

The shooting happened as a group of youths approached a young courting couple in the Club grounds. Whether the group intended to disturb the couple it has not been possible to prove but nevertheless the gun slinging Romeo produced a revolver and began firing at the lads resulting in the boy being hit in the abdomen. It was reported that several other shots were let loose but fortunately they did not hit their mark. Long was carried into a house on the Starnmillis Road and from there was transferred immediately to the Royal Victoria Hospital The boy died on the morning of 21st April 1913 at 9.30am Willy Napier (15) from Donegal Road stated that on Sunday night past he was on the bank of the Lagan with another boy named John Morrison from Primitive Street, heading towards the city from 32

Shaw’s Bridge. It was then about 9.20pm. They met up with a group of lads, about nine or ten, from the Cussack Street area. They all headed off to the Golf Links. It appeared that Napier had a flash light and under questioning he admitted that he flashed the light on a couple who were lying against a bank. At this point the man shouted at the boys that if they did not go away he would fire at them. The girl allegedly pleaded with him. "Oh Davy, oh Davy don’t" Napier did indeed shine the torch on them. He said he saw the man put his hand in his hip pocket and pull out a revolver. Two shots were fired. At once the boys ran with the exception of John Morrison. Napier saw another boy run for about ten yards and then fall. That boy was Samuel Long. The courting couple also fled the scene in the opposite direction and then were seen to split up when they were about 100 yards away, the man towards

the Lagan and the girl in the direction of In the Belfast Custody Court on Thursday 15th May 1913, before Sir Andrew the Malone Road. Newton-Brady R.M., the young man It became apparent however that the David Robert Browne of Matilda Street, Crown were more interested in stamping who was arrested in connection with the out what appeared at the time to be a shooting fatality on the Malone Golf lucrative business in extortion and Links on Sunday evening, the 20th April, blackmail. The line of enquiry was was again brought up. The charge being pointed in finding out whether or not the that he did feloniously kill and slay one boys were told to go to the Golf Links at Samuel Long, aged ten years, of Cussack night and why were they there in the first Street, Belfast. place. There was no direct inference that Mr A.J.Lewis, who prosecuted said he the boys were engaged in this activity but had had an opportunity of considering the the habit of blackmailing was brought to case with Sergeant Hackett, who had the attention of the public through various charge of it, and while the evidence newspaper reports at the time. The against the accused amounted to very Coroner said he hoped: "some law would grave suspicion, he did not feel that he be brought in very soon which would would be justified on that suspicion alone prevent irresponsible people carrying in asking that the prisoner be detained revolvers about with them. Such a longer in custody. practice was far too frequent in Belfast. The accused was accordingly discharged No matter where one went where to be and left court accompanied by several friends. found people carrying revolvers."

Donegall Square North around 1910


Amazing Swim across Belfast Lough


n August 26th 1913 Miss Margaret Cody, a member of the Victoria Amateur Swimming Club in Belfast swam across Belfast Lough from Bangor to Whitehead. The conditions were good and this courageous and expert swimmer set out from the New Pier in Bangor at one minute past one. A large crowd cheered her off and as the Erin’s Isle boat was berthing from Belfast as she set off the passengers lined the decks to cheer her on. She was accompanied by a number of boats, many of the public remained on the pier and along the shore watching her progress across the Lough as she set out in the direction of Kilroot. She herself wrote an account of her journey shortly after her swim: Just seven months ago I saw Belfast Lough for the first time. It was early morning and the sun was beginning to brighten the grey sky of winter when the Duke of Cumberland, on which I was a passenger, steamed in between the shores of Antrim and Down to the quay side of the capital of Ulster. I scanned the coast line on either side, admiring the undulating wooded shores on the left, and the gaunt headlands on the right, trying to distinguish through the gradually lifting haze some of the features of the land which was to become my new home.


summer came on I occasionally went down to Bangor and indulged in long swims with the idea of getting into form, but without thought of serious training. The first week in August I spent at Portrush, and, although I had practically given up all hope of crossing the Lough owing to a sprained ankle, I took a few long swims, the last of them being from Portrush to the Skerries and back, a distance of about five miles. Encouraged by my success, I came back to Belfast with the fixed intention of swimming across the Lough on the first opportunity that presented itself. The news of Miss Margaret Cody Edwards’s fine swim from the It was then that the idea first Antrim coast had reached me, occurred to me of trying to swim and so I determined to make the across the Lough, and the attempt from Bangor. thought of crossing from one shore to another in this way Everything was arranged for the appealed to me irresistibly. I last Saturday morning, August have always had fancy for long 23, when unfortunately the distance swimming, although weather proved unsuitable, a my first attempt was only made strong westerly breeze and a last summer over a distance of heavy sea in the Lough making three miles. I had not been many all thought of the journey weeks in Belfast before I impossible. I was greatly mentioned this pet idea of mine, disappointed, and feared that the and was told that such a swim weather had broken up for good. had never yet been In spite of this, however, I accomplished. This, of course, arranged with Captain David increased my interest in it, and Lindsay, of Bangor, who was to the more I thought about it the act as my pilot, that I would more I liked it. make my attempt on the first favourable day. I had not long As I lived in the city, there were to wait. Tuesday morning was few opportunities for practice, ideal, with bright sunshine, no especially as "bath" swimming wind, and the sea beautifully never appealed to me, but as calm.

All arrangements were made as quickly as possible, and the start fixed from Bangor Pier, whence I was to cross, as I supposed, to what we now know as Whitehead, but which I afterwards learnt was not the destination fixed for me by my pilot. As a stranger to this part of Ireland it never occurred to me that there could possibly be any misunderstanding about such a thing as the name of a place. It appears however, that the Whitehead for which my pilot made his course was not the present seaside resort of that name, but the old Whitehead, which had taken its name from the limestone rocks of the headland, and which is marked on the map as Cloghan Point. I, therefore, swam from Bangor Pier to the destination which was mapped out for me by my pilot.

swimming with the trudgeon stroke and North of England kick which I have always found the least tiring of any stroke and at the same time the most rapid. I enjoyed the early stages of the swim, for the fine day and the blue sky and sea above and around were exhilarating. The experience, too, for this was my first really long swim, was a novelty, so we forged ahead, gradually leaving Bangor behind. After we got about three-quarters of a mile out, the boats began to leave us, only those containing friends and swimmers who had promised to accompany me on the way being left. The water still remained calm and we held to the straight course.

the passengers on the Erin’s Isle, which had just arrived at Bangor, but I was too excited to notice my audience, and only remember the unpleasant ordeal of posing on the steps for a Press photographer, and of having numbers of hand cameras pointed at me from the numerous small boats which had gathered round. The water felt delightfully warm as I set out from the pier following in the wake of the pilot boat. The other At about this time I had the craft from which the cameras had company of another swimmer for about half an hour. I had been pointed at me followed. never realised what a Altogether there was quite a monotonous thing long distance small flotilla, which included swimming was before, and the two motor boats, and two sailing difference it makes to have boats. I kept a straight line from company in the water can Bangor pier out to sea, scarcely be realised. For an hour

Punctually at 12.45 pilot Lindsay brought his boat over to the ladies’ bathing place, Skippingstone, Bangor, where I had got ready for my swim, and rowed me across to Bangor pier. They tell me that there was a large crowd on the pier head, and that I was given a grand sendoff by the people on shore and


and twenty eight minutes my pilot steered a straight course, and then were allowed the tide to carry us slightly in, and began to make the semi circular course which the chart showed the pilot. The most interesting moments of the swim, from my point of view and possibly from the spectators’ the most amusing also, were the refreshment intervals. We had brought with us a large thermos flask filled with hot Oxo, as, of course, liquid nourishment is for many reasons the safest to take when on a long swim. There had been a great deal of discussion as to how I was to drink the liquid, any holding on to the boat or oars being out of the question, until someone suggested a feeding bottle. The very thing I thought and as it turned out, no more satisfactory way could have been devised. To take a meal all I had to do was to take hold of the

bottle, which was held out to me on the end of a piece of string, take out the stopper and drink (the rubber had, of course been removed). It is difficult to describe the swim, there was no scenery to tell about, only the expanse of sea and sky, the hills in front, which never seemed to grow any nearer, and the mass of buildings, behind, which never seemed to grow more distant. On either side were the boats, the occupants of which seemed to be having a jolly time. To a swimmer there is nothing more tantalising that to see the people in the boats around laughing and joking, as though they were telling one another the funniest stories in the world, and all the time you can’t catch a word of it. It is one of the most annoying things I have ever experienced. Another unpleasant thing about

Ewarts Mill on the Crumlin Road around 1940


the people in boats who accompany swimmers is their awful greed. They bring flasks and cups and brown paper parcels, and stuff. You might thing they would have the decency to get out of sight either in front or behind, but not a bit of it. They just get by the side of you where you can’t help seeing them, unless you shut your eyes, and hold up substantial sandwiches and drink your health out of suspicious-looking flasks, unashamedly gloating over your discomfort, until you feel as if you would like to turn on your back and splash for all you’re worth. You can guess I was glad when the luncheon hour was over, especially as by that time, for they took a fairly long time over the business I was nearly half way across. A little later the shout from the pilot boat, "you have come halfway", was very welcome.

I looked back to find at last the grey terraces of Bangor Bay veiled in haze. Soon after this I had the most unpleasant experience of my swim. The sea, which up to the present had been so calm, became choppy, and the water splashed up into my eyes, making them smart painfully. I was swimming without goggles, as I could not accustom myself to the use of them in the water. At this point I had to substitute the underhand side stroke of the trudgeon, as the latter is apt to make a splash in rough water, and continued the former stroke for about a mile, till I was again in smooth water. Of the rest of the swim I don’t remember much except increasing boredom relieved at intervals by refreshment and the company of the swimmers who dived in and came along with me for a time. Gradually the

coastline became more distinct, and the different colouring of the fields on the slopes of the Antrim Coast more defined. What had appeared like a small grey cloud hovering over the sea at Cloghan Point grew nearer and nearer, till at last, when about a mile from the shore, my pilot shouted out the welcome message, "There is Whitehead; look at the white walls in front of you. There is not much further to go". Thus encouraged I plodded on, cheered up by the presence of three other swimmers in the water, until I touched bottom at the nearest landing place to old Whitehead, at a spot a little to the left of Cloghan Point, on the North Briggs. I was then helped into a motor boat, where everyone insisted on making me lie down, to my great annoyance,

and in this manner reached Whitehead proper, where I stayed for a bath, a large tea, and a short rest at the hospitable house of Mrs McAllery. A couple of hours later I crossed the Lough back again to Bangor, by a more modern, and in many ways preferable, manner – by motor boat M S Cody It seems incredible that this woman should undertake such an arduous journey without extensive training and support. It was an amazing feat of courage and determination, without any publicity or acclaim sought. In fact the people of Whitehead were only aware of her attempt to swim across the Lough when news was sent from Bangor and they were unable to organise a welcoming party for her at such short notice and so it was that Mrs McAllery provided refreshments for the party.

Junction of Ballygomartin Road and Woodvale Road around 1950


The Mysterious Death at Strandtown n March 1893 three east Belfast men went on trial for the murder of Glasgow man Thomas Cunningham. Cunningham had left his brothers in Glasgow in October 1892 and three days later he was found dead, his body lying in wasteland off the Holywood Road.

attempted to leave but he was persuaded to stay each time by McFall. No one could be sure if the men were trying to get Cunningham drunk in order to take his money or just to get free drink. In one bar Cunningham had dropped his purse and the contents had spilled out on to the floor. It was clear that he had a considerable amount of money with him but Cunningham travelled to Belfast on business and had not really enough to convince the police that there plenty of disposable cash with him for his subsistence. was a motive for murder. Two days after arriving in Belfast he found himself in a public house on the Newtownards Road and ordered a drink. There were only a few people in the However by 6.00pm Cunningham had defiantly had bar at the time and two of the men, William Hiles and enough drink and the men helped him into Hiles’ cart. Israel Scott struck up a conversation with the visitor. The men set off up the Newtownards Road in the He was an unusual looking man as he had only one direction of Holywood Arches. Cunningham was by arm and he wore very unusual clothes for Belfast. He now lying in the back of the car with a rug over him bought a few rounds of drink for his new friends and and many people who were on the road at this time then it was suggested to him that they continue their came to court to give evidence that they saw him. drinking in another establishment. Hiles was a well- They noticed the three drunken men, in good spirits, known carter in the area and he transported the men and one poor drunk fellow in the back wearing odd to various other bars in the locality, the men having a clothes and with only one arm. drink in each bar. At the Holywood Arches the horse started and By mid afternoon the men were quite drunk and they Cunningham fell from the cart onto he road. At this met up with another man, William McFall in point he was still alive as a group of women coming McAleaveys in Ballymacarrett. At this stage the bar home from work noticed him falling and the men lift man was refusing to serve them any more drink and him back on to the cart and cover him up. One woman they started to drink Kali water instead. thought she saw some blood on his hand at this point but she could not be sure. The men decided to try their luck in another bar and the pub-crawl continued until Thomas Cunningham The cart continued up the Holywood Road, we do could barely stand. In each bar Cunningham stood not know where the three men were thinking of taking the drinks for the men, no bar man could remember Cunningham but at some point on the Holywood Road Hiles, McFall or Scott buying one drink and Hiles Cunningham and Scott began to argue, drunkenly, and was also charging Cunningham for each journey he a woman looking out from her window saw McFall took them on, from bar to bar. It was clear that place his hand on Cunningham’s throat. Cunningham was expected to pay for his new friends The cart stopped at an area of seclusion on the each time. Holywood road and the men were seen lifting Cunningham by 5.30pm was hopelessly drunk and Cunningham from the cart, fixing his clothes and then



Thomas Cunningham fell off the cart at Holywood Arches carrying across the wasteland to a secluded area where whether this was from a fall or whether he had been they left his body. There was some blood on his head struck. and he was limp as the men carried him. They then McFall, Scott and Hiles were charged with his murder set off in the cart in the direction of Belfast. and at their trial they denied that they had killed him, The next morning Cunningham’s dead body was stating that he had fallen from the cart, but they could found with a rug over him, but with his purse still in not give any explanation for why they had not reported his death to the police but instead had hidden his body. his jacket. At the inquest it was discovered that he had abrasions to his knees and legs and that he also had some bruising to his head. When the doctors made a further examination of his brain they found that the membrane between his scalp and brain was torn and the area was filled with blood. The doctors could not say

The jury took only a short time to find the men not guilty of his murder, and also of manslaughter and the three men were discharged and faced no further charges. Cunningham’s body was returned for burial in Glasgow.

The end of the line for the old York Road Railway Station which was demolished in the mid 1970's



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A collection of local history articles relating to Belfast, Ireland

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A collection of local history articles relating to Belfast, Ireland