12 Belfast’s Local History Magazine
The History of Donegall Street
Cornmarket in the mid 1890’s Old Belfast Nicknames and Characters
DECAPITATION, JOYRIDING AND RUNAWAY SWEETHEARTS!
Life in Belfast in March 1955
Titanic’s Forgotten Sister
AND MUCH MORE
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 cityâ€™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:-
Mr James Elliott, a member of the Belfast AFS photographed with his fiancee, Miss Rosemary Flynn, sister of the Belfast born film star Errol Flynn. 1940 More 1940 pictures on pages 34 and 35
COVER PICTURE The upper end of Donegall Street looking toward the Poor House. 1783 BELOW - The same view today. The old Poorhouse (todayâ€™s Clifton House) is in behind the trees!
To secure a future for our past
5 Churchill Street, Belfast. BT15 2BP 028 9020 2100 028 9074 2255 2
028 9035 1326
DECAPITATION, JOYRIDING AND RUNAWAY SWEETHEARTS! arch 1955 began with a sensational incident when an 18 year old youth Arthur Leonard of Claudymore in Co Armagh was shot dead by the RUC as he gave his sisters and friends a lift home along the Keady Road when he failed to stop at a checkpoint. Mr Leonard had not seen the red light and as he passed the patrol fired on the vehicle and Leonard died of gunshot wounds, his sister sustained a minor injury and his friend who was in the back was seriously injured.
Howâ€™s this for an unusual school â€“ inside the stand at Casement Park! This picture shows a group of kids happy to be going home in March 1955 establishments throughout Ulster under high alert. Additional supplies of firearms, including sten guns, were issued to the RUC, including those on special duty at the prisons. A naval helicopter was used in the general security plan to watch for cars while flying low over border areas. A 57 year old man, Edward Wightman, of no fixed abode, was found on the railway line near Dunmurry. His decapitated body was spotted by the driver of the 6.50am train from Belfast several hundred yards beyond Dunmurry station, 75 yards from the Meeting House level crossing.
The same evening a "B" special was seriously injured when he was driving along the Clogher Valley when he came under fire from an IRA sniper. Security measures in the area were strengthened with more guards put in place at the Belfast prison The gate lodge at the Shore Road and naval, military and air end of Fortwilliam Park was
demolished but there was no proposal to get rid of the ornamental gateways at each end of the Park. The city surveyor issued a statement after there were public concerns issued, "These gateways are picturesque and in no way interfere with traffic", he said. The Shore Road gate lodge on the Mount Vernon estate, on which over 200 houses had been built, was demolished because it was in a dangerous condition. The gate lodge at the Antrim Road end of the park was protected as it was on private land and is still there today, having recently been restored. The gateways were erected in 1864 by William Valentine and were restored in the 21st century after being damaged during a road accident. 3
Four men and one woman were charged after they were discovered with a large amount of linens stolen from their employers, Faulkner & Thompson Ltd. They were alleged to have removed from their place of work over 1000 tablecloths and almost 50 shirts. A 20 year old youth was jailed for four months after he was found guilty of stealing money and clothing from a flat at Cliftonpark Avenue in Belfast. The youth of no fixed abode stole over £14 in cash and a gabardine coat valued at £3, gloves valued at £2 and a scarf worth 5s. The man had been let into the house by a lady on the ground floor when he told her that he was to fix a vacuum cleaner for the man who lived in the flat. She allowed him in when he told the name of the cat upstairs. Mr D G Kennedy from Short Brothers & Harland Ltd gave a lecture on rocket propulsion systems to the local branch of the Royal Aeronautical Society. He told the meeting that decades of research and development would have to be carried out before space travel and in particular trips to the moon could be carried out. He explained that the harnessing of nuclear energy as a possible fuel for rocket motors would open up new and vast fields of exploration. What’s interesting was how wrong he was as only a few years later the Soviet Union began space exploration. Today we often think that so called joy riding is a modern thing but we are wrong. For example 4
Removing the old tram lines in Donegall Place in March 1955 in this month two men were jailed for one month for taking a car and driving it away. The two men had been drinking in Carrickfergus and had stolen the car when they could get no more drink in Carrickfergus. They decided in their mildly drunken state that
they would take a car and drive to Belfast to buy more drink. Their actions were completely out of character and the men did not normally drink together but on this one occasion it appeared that they had egged each other on to carry out this stupid act.
We also think that 24 hour opening is new but while most people in Belfast were in bed Mr Charles Connolly, a grocer in Joy Street was opening up for business. The sign in his window read "These premises open at 125am. No extra charge for early morning service". In 1955 the shops legislation stated that shops in Belfast had an 8pm closing hour on Monday, Tuesday, Thursday and Friday with a 1pm closing on a Wednesday and 9pm on a Saturday. Mr Connolly claimed that the legislation did not state what time a shop could open and despite being warned that he was in breach of the legislation he pledged to remain open through the night. Most customers were buying cigarettes, bread, eggs, bacon and butter. When we look at telephone technology today is is hard to believe that this story actually made the headlines! Users of the Malone telephone exchange heard a new ring tone introduced by the Post Office at a cost of ÂŁ500. The new ring tone of "burr-burr, burrburr" was of a higher pitch than before and was slowly introduced through the country. The idea behind the change was to facilitate long distance callers who had difficulty in hearing the old low frequency tone. The next exchange to be given the new type sound was Larne. 260 cases per week of measles were reported in Ulster compared with four cases per week in 1954. One child died in February 1955 and the Public Health Department
Advertisement for the Ritz, March 1955 asked the public not to panic but that parents should take every precaution. Dr Hayes urged parents to be vigilant and not leave it too long to get medical help when they spotted symptoms as complication of measles such as bronchial pneumonia, heart damage and ear and eye damage would be caused if medical help was not sought as soon as symptoms were spotted. If this were today God knows what the
reaction would be. Finally weâ€™ll finish with a love story when in March 1955 two sweethearts, both from Belfast and only still at school were found in Liverpool after they had run away from home to be together. They were staying in a boarding house in Wallasey and had fallen "head over heels" in love and could not bear to be apart. They were reunited and placed back into the care of their families. 5
European War fought between Bobby Cosgrove two Kings in Ireland he battle of the Boyne was the first and the only major battle ever to be fought in Ireland that involved International sponsors and armies from all over Europe, they where fighting for the English throne on Irish soil. It was the last major battle in the war sometimes called "The Glorious Revolution" it was a war not only about religion but also about securing religious and civil liberties for all the people of Europe. Many people all over Europe had suffered great oppression and hardships at the hands of their Church and State, in France, Holland and Belgium many Protestants were put to death for their faith. These were called the "Huguenots" and many left their homelands or were expelled, many of these arrived with their skills in Ireland during the plantation years, with skills in the Linen Trade.
The Two Kings at the Helm King James the 2nd of England (1633-1701) He was born the eldest son of Charles 1st of England he took up the sword in sympathy with Louis 14th
Throughout Europe the Huguenots were put to death for their faith of France to promote the Catholic faith; he was expelled from England after the birth of his son as it threatened the Protestant succession. He took refuge first in Paris and then in Ireland. He raised an army in Ireland and with the help of the French he decided to claim back the throne of England he FACING PAGE Advertisements from the Belfast Street Directory for 1878 was supported in this venture by Louis the 14th of 7
his leadership and bravery on the battlefield. Blood and Marriage Ties. Both men were blood relatives, they where full cousins as Charles 1st was their paternal Grandfather, the link did not stop there as William married his first cousin Mary sister of James and so as well as being cousins they where also Brother in Law. This practice of Royals inter marrying was common in Europe as they where short in candidates with blue blood, the only people and families they were allowed to marry into.
France. Louis was the most hated King in Europe as he was an oppressor and a person who wished to impose his will over others. James by allowing himself to be a linked with the Frenchman found himself an enemy not only a hated man in England and Ireland but also through out Europe. King William 3rd King of England "Elect" Prince William was born on November 4th 1650; he was the eldest son of Princess Mary and he married the oldest Daughter of King Charles 1st of England. His Grandfather on his Fathers side was a very famous person during this period in European history. He was the leading Huguenot (European Protestants) and he had his head cut off and thrown into a Paris street as a signal to the masses to start what later became "Black Bartholomewâ€™s Day" the massacre of thousands of Protestants across France and other parts of Europe, this event was ordered by Louis 14th. It later life this single act is what led and inspired William, in later life, both as a soldier and a Monarch. William was an ill man most of his life and although in great pain most of the time he made up for it with 8
The Grand Alliance Many leaders in Europe did not like King Louis of France (below) as he posed a threat to the peace of the Continent; he also was seen as a danger to the Church of Rome. The Dutch, Belgiumâ€™s, English and the Austrians/ Germans who along with Pope Innocent decided to finance a war, with first of all King James, because if he took control of Britain and Ireland then there would be a threat to the well being of tens of thousands of other Europeans and their rights endangered and threatend. William was asked to lead the Confederate forces.
The Duke of Schonberg’s forces crossing the Long Bridge in Belfast The Glorious Revolution was set to begin The Siege of Derry. (1688) While William and his Commanders were preparing to travel to Ireland James started to attack the Protestant and Royalist strongholds in the North East of Ireland (Ulster) as he made his preparations to take back England’s throne. Louis who had provided James with French Generals and men, and also the funds to help him in this quest. The major city he had to take was Londonderry/ Derry and as he approached the gates of the city a party of business people, led by Mayor Lundy came out to greet them and said they would surrender the city without violence provided James’s forces and supporters did not fire on or set fire to the city. When this was agreed Lundy returned to the city and told the people to open the gates as he had surrendered the City to James, as he was telling the citizens of this many thousands of people from outside the city were arriving from other parts of Ulster and where asking to have protection from the forces of James. As the hour approached for James to take the city 13 apprentices ran forward and closed the city gates, the people in the city supported this and so began the longest siege in history at that time. The siege of the city lasted 105 days and 8,000 died during this time, most from starvation and diseases, James’s artillery and large guns pounded the city daily. The defenders of the city also had a couple of large cannon the most famous being "Roaring Meg" still mounted on the walls over 300 years later. They
give the Jacobite Army a hell of a pounding too. William’s ship the Mountjoy and his forces broke through the boom on the River Foyle to relieve the City; it was at this point James retreated south. William Arrives in England. On the 5th November 1688 King William landed at Torbay with his European Army, he was greeted with great enthusiasm and made his way to London where the English Parliament asked William to take the throne of England. William accepted on the principle that to do so he would have to defeat his Brother in Law in Ireland as James had exiled himself there and had mustered an army of Scots and Irish Catholics to fight along side the French cavalry that Louis had provided for James. The European Army Arrives in Ireland William’s army under the command of Duke Schonberg had landed at Groomsport in early June 1690. This was with the main artillery, heavy cannon, and large guns. At the time this was the largest fleet ever to be assembled and consisted of 500 ships. The army along with thousands of horses and hundreds of artillery pieces were landed. Schomberg then marched his forces on into Belfast to link up with the arrival of the King, on his way into Belfast Scombergs men and guns had to pass over the newly opened Long Bridge. The weight of the guns and the carts proved too much and part of the bridge cracked and within a couple years part 9
Members of the Belfast Coporation address King William in the town of it collapsed. It was also said that the army bands sum off 10 guineas. were ordered not to play their drums going over the He then took part in a thanksgiving service in the bridge and the solders were ordered to march in Parish Church of Belfast St George's in High Street (below) and then made his way south by the Malone single file. Ridge and on into Lisburn. It was while he rested at Hillsborough that he received word that his army William makes his Battle Plans Prince William landed at Carrickfergus on the 14th while encamped at Faugha outside Newry had come June 1690 and went to Belfast by Whitehouse. He was greeted with great excitement in the town of Belfast and after being given the freedom of the town he made it a law for all ministers of the protestant faith to be awarded a yearly
down with fever and a number of men had to be returned to the Infirmary at Fredrick Street in Belfast. It was believed that over one thousand men died, however after a short delay the army pressed on as James had stopped and encamped on the hill at the Boyne valley. William as he made his battle plans went in amongst his troops and listened to what they had to say. His army was very professional and he though that he held the upper hand James Army had a rag a muffin army of Celtic foot solders, with about 10,000 French professionals as its main body. The Irishmen in James army had a great leader in Patrick Sarsfield and even William praised the fighting and skill of Sarsfield. William and the Skins On the eve of the battle Prince William went around his camp and prayed with all his regiments, when he reached the Irish Regiment of the "Enniskillen’s" sometimes called the "Derry’s" He rewarded them for their heroism at the siege of Derry by asking them to be his personal guard on the battlefield a great honour. They have fought in every major battle since and won many battle honours they are the Royal Enniskillen Fusiliers.
It was while he was going round his men that a marksman on James side fired shots at him the first bullet hit the holster of Prince George of Hesse at this William called out ah the poor Prince is dead, as he spoke a second shot rang out and it tore Williams coat and grazed him drawing blood. As he slumped over on his horse most of those around him through him fatally wounded, they were relieved when he spoke saying, " There is no harm done but the bullet came close enough" 1st July 1690 The battle began at 4am when William ordered his infantry on his right hand side under Scombergs son Meinhart to march to the bridge at Slane and take it and cross so as to come in behind James troops, he took up the same position on the left, leaving Scomberg to take the centre and lead the main thrust. James and Sarsfield anticipated the move to take the bridge and they deployed Sir Neil O’Neill and his regiment of Dragoons to hold the bride and cover the right flank. O’Neill was killed on his way to the bridge, on seeing him lying dead the Irish Dragons deserted, left their arms and returned home, this left the way clear for the Willamette forces to take the
bridge and take the right flank. One of James French Generals feared that the enemy could take them from the rear. Lauzen mustered his French Cavalry and infantry and counter attacked on the right to retake the bridge and change the course of the battle. This left only Irish soldiers to defend the centre and stop the main push by Scomberg and his Dutch and Belgium blues. When this push came the Irish Regiment of the line retreated and fled from the battlefield. Whole regiments of Irish threw their arms down and just ran away. Richard Hamilton put himself at the head of the French and led a counter attack on the Danish Brigade "Solmes Blues". He had some early successes and he managed to drive the Huguenots back towards the river, Scomberg who was watching these events from the northern bank decided to lead his men into battle himself. As he led his men he called out to his men "Come on men these are your persecutors" as he did so he was surrounded by Frenchmen and bludgeoned to death, at the same time the Rev George Walker hero of the siege fell on the field.
with him. As he entered Dublin he was given a heroes welcome as a rumour had spread that he had won the battle. The mood soon changed when it was discovered that the battle was lost and the casualties were heavy. On his arrival at Dublin Castle (below) he was greeted by Lady Tryconnell who asked of the King what happened, his reply was "Your countrymen can run well Madam" to which she replied " Not quite as well as your Majesty as I see you have won the race" James left Dublin in shame and the only lasting gift he gives to Ireland was to order his troops not to burn Dublin or Limerick as he retreated to live in France, his claim to fame was that he was the only man to lose three kingdoms in one battle.
William claims the Crown Two days after the Boyne William paraded his troops into Dublin and claimed Ireland as part of his Kingdom. He then returned to London to be crowned and left his generals to clean up resistance that was still taking place and on the 12th July 1691 the last battle of the Willamette War took place at King James flees the Battlefield With the Battle all but lost James decided to return Augrim when the forces of James led by Sarsfield to Dublin and he took 200 of his personal guard lost.
The face of Europe changes After the fall of James all of Europe celebrated except for France and Louis 14th. The French at first did have street parties as word arrived in Paris that William had be killed. When the truth was learned that William was alive and was being crowned in London the French rejected James and Louis attempts to impose their terror upon them. The battle of the Boyne was the last time kings led their Armies into battle. It was the only time in British history the throne of England was fought for on Irish soil James lost almost 1,500 men mostly French as the Irish in the main did not fight William loses where 500 dead. It was also the only battle in Ireland to involve international armies from across Europe. Europe went into a period of peace and prosperity and was granted civil and religious liberties, from this point in time Europe moved on but as we see in our streets today sadly Ireland has not. The Orange Order connection with King William and the Boyne did not come until over 100 years later, when after a skirmish at the Diamond, Orange Societies where formed. These Societies were formed into groups later called Lodges; they took their name from the orange regiments of the Willamette Army and also the house of Orange in Holland. I hope that you may now see that the Battle of the Boyne was not fought just between Catholic and Protestant Kings and Armies, but for wider international reasons, and a better Europe for its entire people regardless of creed or colour.
The History of the Battle of the Boyne A Dutchman called Prince William And an Englishman King James Fell out and started feuding And called each other names. It was for the throne of England But for reasons not quite clear They came across to Ireland To do they’re fighting here They had Sarsfield They had Schomberg They had horses and big guns And they landed up at Carrick With a thousand Lambeg drums They had lots of Dutch and Frenchmen And battalions and platoons Of Russians and of Prussians and Bulgarian Dragoons And they politely asked the Irish If they’d kindly like to join And the whole affair was settled At the Battle of the Boyne Then William went to London And James went of to France Without a backward glance And the poor abandoned Irish Said goodbye to King and Prince And they went on with their fighting And they’ve been at it ever since.
The old statue to King William in Dublin
Written by the late James Young comedian and Actor 1972 13
GRIM CASE OF MURDERED BABY n December 1933 Michael McSorley aged 29 was brought to trial on the shocking charge of the murder of his nine day old baby daughter, Mary Elizabeth Trainor. The trial at the Belfast Winter Assizes gripped the nation, the evidence of the child’s mother against her lover and McSorleys sensitive demeanour throughout the trial enthralled the court spectators. Michael McSorley was a trapper who worked for the Northern Ministry of Agriculture, living in a small hut near Rostrevor, Co Down. His lover of three years was Lily Trainor, a domestic servant and the mother of his only child, Mary Elizabeth Trainor who was born at Newry Hospital on September 14th. Within less than two weeks the Mary Elizabeth would be dead whilst in the care of her mother and father. It was not until late October of the same year that the police came to call with Lily Trainor to find out what had happened to her daughter, as no one had seen the child for many weeks. It was at this time that untruths and lies were told by both Michael and Lily, each of their accounts would contradict the other until it was not long before Michael was arrested by the police, charged with the murder of his new born baby. On the morning of the 23rd September McSorley called at the hospital in his motor car and took
Lily and the child back to his hut near Rostrevor. They arrived there in the early evening and Lily fed the baby. She made up another bottle, and left her lovers’ hut around 10pm. She swore in court that when she left her baby was still alive and it was the last time she saw Mary Elizabeth. According to Lily Trainor, as she gave evidence in court, shortly after arriving at the hut Michael told her that his sister in Scotland could look after the baby, and Lily claimed that she had received letters from Michael’s sister telling her that the child was doing well. In mid October Lily told Michael that she wanted to send money to his sister for looking after the child but he did not give her his sister’s address.
the child in the wood and he then went to the police and told them where they could find Mary Elizabeth’s body. At this point in the trial Sergeant Duffy was called and he described how he had questioned Michael who eventually took him to the child’s body buried in a shallow grave at the top of a mountain, the grave marked by a stick. There they found Mary Elizabeth wrapped only in a shawl, there was no box. The accused, Michael McSorley, was finally called to the stand. He began his evidence by describing how when he had picked up Lily and the baby from the hospital that Lily had told him there was something wrong with the baby.
Three days later Lily was visited by the police and when she told Michael that the police were investigating the missing baby he got into a terrible state, threatening to shoot himself. A couple of days later Michael finally told her that the baby was dead, but that she was not to worry and a priest would come and talk to her. Three days later Lily was visited by the police and when she told Michael that the police were investigating the missing baby he got into a terrible state, threatening to shoot himself. Lily stated that Michael then confessed to her that he had smothered the baby in September, the night Lily had left the baby in the hut with him. He told her he had buried
He claimed that Lily had been hysterical, crying and wailing about the disgrace of her giving birth out of wedlock. When he realised that the baby was dead he did not know what had happened as he believed that the child was fine when it left the hospital. He had asked Lily if he could have hurt the child when he was holding it; an accident - he thought he might have smothered it but Lily had told him that he had done nothing wrong. He realised that he would have to do
something with the baby so he took the babyâ€™s milk bottle, poured out the milk and put the teat in his wallet for remembrance. He buried the child after he walked Lily home and both he and Lily agreed that they would say that his sister had come across from Glasgow, took the child, as was going to care for it as her own. Michael claimed that Lily had asked to meet him a couple of days later and it was Lily who had urged him to write to his sister and tell her that if anyone asked about a child that she was to say that her own child Norah was in fact Mary Elizabeth. It was Lily, claimed Michael , who had wanted to hide
the death, who had known that something was wrong with the child. She had deceived him, telling him that she had met someone else; there was no room in her life for him or a baby. It was Lily who lied, who was prepared to let Michael face the death sentence rather than admit that the child had died in her arms, she would let her lover die rather than face the disgrace. The medical evidence produced in court was inconclusive, no doctor could state with conviction how Mary Elizabeth had died so the case came down to motive; both McSorley and Lily were feeling the disgrace of the birth. The motive was the unwanted child, but who did the jury believe, did
the child die when Lily brought her to McSorleysâ€™ hut or was the child killed after Lily had left. The jury took a short time to decide that McSorley had murdered his only child and Lord Justice Best pronounced the death sentence just 12 hours after the trial had begun. The verdict was unanimous. Throughout the trial McSorley had maintained a composure which was unchanged when the verdict was announced. Asked whether he had anything to say, McSorley replied "Not guilty", and the execution was set for the 5th January. McSorley escaped the hangman on appeal when his sentenced was reduced to penal servitude.
Junction of Royal Avenue and North Street in 1895 looking towards the Central Library 15
Exploring Belfast’s Old Streets Raymond O’Regan
DONEGALL STREET Part 1
robably dating back to the early 1750’s and not as some have claimed part of "the Four Corners" which is made up of Waring Street, Bridge Street, Rosemary Street and North Street; a street that was formerly known as Goose Lane as it lead up to the North Gate were the geese were released out into the countryside. The gate was part of the Ramparts installed to protect the English and Scottish Planters of Belfast during the Irish Uprising of 1641. The street runs all the way up to
Carrick Hill/North Queen Street from Waring Street. Its original name was "Linenhall Street" as it contained a linen hall, on the site of the present day St. Anne’s Cathedral. By the year 1819 it was known as Donegal Street. We start the journey from the Waring Street end, right hand side. Number 1 is the new Premier Inn Hotel opened by the First Minister, Peter Robinson in October 2008.The façade of the original 19th century building has been incorporated into the new
hotel. On the ground floor of the hotel is the Four Corners Restaurant (the hotel is entitled to use this name in its title as the main entrance to the hotel is in Waring Street.) At one time in the early 1800’s it was the home of the Belfast Bank which later became the Belfast Banking Company moving across the road in 1845 to the old Exchange and Assembly building and would in the 1920s become part of the Midland Banking Group and be known as the Northern Bank up until its closure in 2002.
Four Corners Restaurant which is part of Premier Inn Number 3 – Formerly Office Supplies In 1824 on this site a Mr. Cochran, a watch and clockmaker ran his business.
Number 23 – A building dating back to 1881 and it is presently used by Belfast Exposed, Northern Visions TV and the Belfast Film Festival.
The former Eason building
Next door the former Easons Building dating back to the 1950’s. Easons had been on this site dating back to the mid 1890s. The building in 2008 was refurbished. Numbers 19-21 – Is an 1881 building refurbished in 1991 and is presently used by Cunningham Coates Ltd.
Cunningham & Coates Ltd
Number 25 – c1790 – This is an historic building restored by the former Laganside Development Corporation. On the ground floor was Open Window Productions, home of Anto the well known Belfast sculptor (recently moved up the street) and on the upper floors Safe House Arts providing a platform for the many budding artists to show of their work. Back in the 1790’s Martha McTier, as part of a ladies committee who were setting up in this building a Lying-in- hospital 17
(maternity hospital) for "respectable" working class women to have their babies. Martha writes to her brother, the famous patriot Dr. William Drennan who is in practice in Dublin. She was looking for medical advice on setting up the hospital. He wrote back to her with advice adding that the most important piece of advice he could offer was "Wash hands thoroughly". He advised her that this sign was to be positioned Numbers 29-31 - MacFarlane and above the ward. Dr. Drennan was Smyth (c1895) – estate agents way ahead of his time as even today this is still a major problem in modern hospitals. He never got the credit for this medical advice that accolade went in the mid 1800s to Oliver Wendel Holmes from America and Semmelweiss of Vienna The Lying - in - hospital, with only six beds, would move to a purpose built hospital on ground donated by the Belfast Charitable Society in Clifton Street in 1830, then to Townsend Street and Number33 - Printers Cafe finally to its present home at the Royal Victoria Hospital site. (Note re the RVH it is the second largest hospital in the UK covering over 70 acres the largest is "St. Jimmys" in Leeds. Here is Exchange Place (an existing 18th Century entry leading to Hill Street). Number 27 - Late 18th. Century building. It was here, on the ground floor, the Morning News and Weekly Examiner was published in 1890. 18
Numbers 35-37 – Modern building on a site used by Thomas Grey in the early 1800’s Today offices of Martin & Dunlop Estate Agents
Number 39 –World Choice travel agency Number 41 Offices
Numbers 45-47 - Resource Centre. Advice centre for the unemployed and owners of the next door John Hewit pub. Here is Donegall Street Place. Look down the passageway to see the James Larkin sculpture by Anto Brennan. Also look to the right to see some former private Georgian houses.
Belfast map of 1685 showing the area on which Donegall Street was later built. The x marks the site of the present St Anneâ€™s 19
The resource centre The John Hewitt Pub (below) A popular meeting place of writers, musicians etc. Just opposite in 1972 was the first car bomb explosion in Belfast – 6 dead and over 100 injured.
Numbers 55-59 Willis Insurance Brokers – Former premises of the Belfast Newsletter (c.1872) Francis Joy in September 1737 founded at the "Sign of the and is reputed to be the oldest Peacock" in Bridge Street by provincial newspaper still in production worldwide. It was at one time printed in Joy’s Entry just off High street which lead to people wrongly believing that this is where it was first published. Numbers 49-59 Offices Numbers 61-67 - Church of Numbers 69 - 71. Within the Ireland House including The present St.Anne’s church grounds Good Book Shop was the site of a 1789 house used by the Vicar but today it is a car Here is Talbot Street. park. 20
Brown linen hall which was replaced by St. Anne’s Church. (named after the Earl of Donegall’s wife and was originally to be called St.Marys). It was opened in 1776 and was designed by the English architect Francis Hiorne*, assisted by Roger Mulholland. It was paid for by Lord Donegall, although an absentee landlord he took a great interest in Belfast’s development. The Cathedral was begun in 1898 with the tower being removed from the old church where services continued until 1903. St. Anne’s Cathedral 1898-2007 Cathedral is built on the site of The first architect to work on St. – The magnificent St. Anne’s two former buildings. One was a Anne’s Cathederal was Sir Thomas Drew, one of eight architects to work on this magnificent building.The magnificent Celtic Cross on the north side of the building was completed in 1980 and after the installation of the modern style St Anne’s Church steeple in 2007 the Cathedral can The cathedral was now be said to be complete. built around this (When you look at the complete destruction of the nearby buildings in the 1941 Blitz it is a miracle that St.Annes is still here today.) *(Francis Hiorne assisted Roger Mullholland in the elyptical seating arrangement of the1783 First Presbyterian Church in Rosemary Street) Here is Academy Street. Number 77 – Was the original site of the Academy founded in 1785 by the Rev. Dr. Crombie, Minister of Ist. Presbyterian Church Rosemary Street. The Academy 21
The morning after the German blitz on Belfast showing the site where the present park is built. In the background St Anne’s can be seen. BELOW - the site after it was cleared
moved to it’s present site on the Cliftonville Road in 1878 and is known today as Belfast Royal Academy. On the present day site of the school on the Cliftonville Road is the "Crombie Building" in remembrance of its founder.
Street carried out this work. This practice was also responsible for the magnificent children’s hospital at the RVH. This section of Donegall Street housed various buildings including the International Bar at the corner with York Street, which was destroyed in the Blitz of May 1941. One of the former buildings on this site dates back to the famous Barney Hughes the baker in the 19th century. His shop was here during the Great Irish Famine of 1845-51 and was attacked by mobs of starving people looking for bread.
Numbers 79-93 – Present day Public Park featuring the "The Three Buoys" it backs unto the excellently refurbished University of Ulster, Art College. That well The International at the known architectural practice junction of Donegall Street and Barry Todd Architects of Hill York Street in flames following the Luftwaffe air raid in 1941 Corner of York Street/Donegall Street Numbers 95-101 – McConnell Martin, Post war building called the "Metropole Building" present tenants the solicitors Dornan and Company. It retains the name of the hotel that was lost in the Blitz of 1941, i.e. The "Grand Metropole Hotel" (facing page)
Junction of York Street and Donegall Street in 1906
Donegal Street Congregational Church – Still one of the many churches in Belfast city centre that holds services on Sundays. The site goes back to the early 1800’s. In 1831 the "Institute for the Deaf and Dumb and Blind" was founded here. They moved to a site on the Lisburn Road in the 1840’s (present day Queens Medical Biology Centre).The present church has been rebuilt
Donegall Street Congregational Church after the German blitz and altered many times and at one time extended much further out into the street. It was also partly destroyed during the Belfast Blitz. Not normally opened except on Sundays but arrangements can be made to look around the church.
Numbers 103-105 – Charles House, modern office block Numbers 113-117 – The Irish News, c1905. It was built on the site of a 19th century building 23
Numbers 179-191 – NTN Signs,Terry Enright Foundation, Kennedy Florists,Pauls Café, shop, Computer Connections Here is Donegal Lane
belonging to John McCracken Numbers 193-195 – 1828, two (part of the famous McCracken former schools – Christian Brothers (Boys) and National dynasty). School (Boys and Girls) – built Number 177 – On the ground in the gothic style. These floor is the Emporium Furniture buildings were almost lost in a store, but of more interest above fire. The flames also spread to St. is the famous "Clark School of Patrick’s Church next door which Dancing". Cecil Clark died some was fortunately saved from years back. Eileen is retired but complete destruction by the Fire the business is flourishing as their Service. Both buildings are still son Alan and his wife Heather in use today. carry on the business today. At one time in this small block of buildings stretching to Donegall Lane there were three dance studios.
St. Patrick’s Church – The present magnificent building in gothic style dates back to 1874-77. The original church consecrated in 1815 (a fine stain glass window showing this much smaller church can be found on the right hand side just inside the entrance). This was the second Catholic Church to be re-established in the town of Belfast the first was built in Crooked Lane in 1783 and opened in 1784. Crooked Lane’s name was changed shortly afterwards to Chapel Lane. Another fascinating fact is that members of the Protestant community in Belfast contributed to the building of both these churches. Capt. Waddell Cunningham and the First Company of Volunteers, all Protestants, provided a guard of honour for the official opening of St. Marys in Chapel Lane and on the day collected a further £89 towards the building costs as well as attending the service. The present St.Patricks church contains a famous painting, "The Madonna of the Lakes" by Sir John Lavery. He was born just off North Queen Street (there was a plaque placed on the local primary school commemorating his birth, but the school has recently being demolished and replaced by new housing). Because of this connection to the area it was his wife Helen who suggested donating this painting to the church. Helen Lavery, her daughter and step-daughter sat for the painting. Helen was the Madonna and the two daughters
represent St. Patrick and St. Brigid. This famous painting can be found on the left hand side of the church . Incidentally John Lavery got the idea for the painting from the Madonna of the Lakes a statue in Killarney. Helen Lavery is the lady who appeared on Irish currency notes as Cathleen Na Houlihan. Also in the church to the left of the altar is the walled tomb of Bishop Dorrian, Bishop of Down and Connor in the 19th. Century.If you look to the lower right hand side of the church you will see on the stain glass window a representation of the first church on this site - the 1815 church. Above the entrance to the church is a statue of St. Patrick which was sculpted by Patrick Pearse’s father. An Englishman, who was an ecclesiastical sculptor working in Ireland at the time.
Numbers 201-205 – The remainder of a block of beautiful Georgian houses dating back to 1820 (site goes back to 1790’s). We have to thank the "Hearth Housing Association" for the restoration of Nos. 201-205 which have been rented out. No. 201 is used by St. Patrick’s Church. We have lost numbers 207-215 to a road widening scheme in 1990. Number 215 were Belfast High School had its beginnings and was originally known as "Mercantile College". It moved to Glenravel
Street and eventually became known as Belfast High School and can now be found in Greenisland just past the entrance to the University of Ulster campus at Jordanstown.
St Patrick’s in 1900
Number 199 – St. Patrick’s Presbytery. Built in 1820 with a magnificent brass door showing
the scars of a huge bomb that destroyed a building across the road during the recent troubles. It was originally the Bishop of Down and Connor’s Palace. 25
Old Belfast Nicknames and Characters t doesnâ€™t matter what part of Belfast you come from at sometime in your life you will have encountered someone either being given, or being called by a nickname. Some people in todayâ€™s modern world might think this to be offensive, but I can assure you that over the years many people only answered to their nickname and not their other names. These slang names where in almost all cases given as a remark was made in passing, or given by friends about their friends. The Queens Island men were notorious for nicknames and also winding up as were those in the building trade, most pubs and clubs patriots had their own nicknames for their friends. Many of these names refer to not only one person, but many people being called by the same slang name over the years for example "Nail in the boot" many people who walked with a limp where given this name. Most of these names where given with affection and I know of some people who invented their own nickname as they felt out of place without one. A lot of these names are also a one off and I will show this later.
Bobby Cosgrove We in this city are a witty and funny people I think this came about because of the hardships and adversities that we have met over the years of living in conflict, and the best way that was found was to approach it from a lighter view and I think the late great James Young proved that.
First Nicknames The first time most of us had an encounter with a nickname was at school or on the playground and my memories of these are names taken from the movies or comics so of these where. "Tarzan" was a lad who if given the opportunity would rather have swung his way about instead of walking. "Corky" was from the comic cat in the Dandy "Legs Eleven" was taken from the comic Hotspur and their most famous footballer, anyone with long legs fitted into this name. "Roy Rodgers" was another name I have heard off, this was a lad who had seen every Cowboy film
The Queenâ€™s Island men were notorious for nicknames
(Picture from Images of Belfast)
ever made and it was alleged he lived his life in the saddle and on a horse. He had his arse red raw as he beat it to go faster but the brush shaft "his horse" between his legs slowed him up! In our Teens Some of the tricks and names that where given or done to people when they started work where hilarious and it was unbelievable to see someone go and ask for a bucket of "Tartan Paint" or a bucket of "Blue Steam" another one was a 6ft long yard stick. One that almost all fell for was "The Long Wait" this was when a person was sent to the stores mainly for this item and had to stand for hours in some cases before being told they had waited long enough. Another one was to go and get "Sky Hooks" Many of the names given to men over the years where inherited by their sons and many did not like it others through it great. One with the nickname of "Stoker" was a fireman in the navy and when asked how he got his name he replied he was the coal heaver on a "Submarine". Street Characters Some of the best known street characters from across the city all had nicknames such as Buck Alex Robinson (right) from York Street who kept a lion for a pet and he used to walk it on a lead through the city. Almost all the hard men had slang names men like Stormy Weatherall from the Shankill Road, Silver McKee from the Markets, and Joker Andrews from the Shankill. We had many others who were well known people 28
like Pastor Joe Glover East Belfast and Dougie Big Eyes Bell Sandy Row but it was not only the hard men and drinkers had these names. A lot of the church preachers also had names such as Roaring Hanna and The Sky Pilot W J Cunningham. However most of these nicknames were given to men in the workplace and here is a few of them but before I move away from the street characters you will notice I have only talked about men. Women are few and far between in this subject but one I must mention and she put the fear of God into you was "Old Corky" she came from the Old Lodge Road and had a leg made from cork. Just a glance at her and she give you the most frightening verbal abuse you ever seen. Needless to say she was a lady of the night you had to be a brave man to tackle old corky in any shape or form. I know that each one reading this will have their own favourite character from their own streets and times but it is sad that many of these type of men and women are disappearing and not being replaced. Some Other Nicknames "Yankee Beggs" he was a bricklayer who went to America to his brothers wedding and came back with a New Jersey accent that he had for the rest of his life.
"Oliver" kept asking for more of everything he got his hands on. "Whistle in the Dark" he had a gap in his teeth and when he talked it came out as a whistle. "Al Jolson" worked at the coal quay as coal bag filler and never washed from one Sunday to the next. "Taste of Shillings" I worked with this man in the old Corporation and when he wanted to borrow some money he would say would you have you a taste of shillings until Thursday "pay day" you always got it back. "Billy Three Lumps" he was a man who was bald and had three bumps or large boils on his head. "Blowie up Robinson" a shipyard man from East Belfast got his name because of the amount of cheap blowie up wine he drank. He was the best crier you ever meet he once cried over my dead budgie for months. "Swifty" He was a tall thin man with red hair and was called after a box of matches called swift matches. "Esmeralda" He kept hearing Bells ringing got name from the film the Hunchback of Notrodam "Notrodamus" Kept making the wrong predictions "Pony that Walks" looked like a Red Indian. "Billy the Drip Hanna" Billy was a bricklayer and had a continuous running from his nose he smoked a pipe and could not keep it lit because of the drip from his nose. Some more Characters Davy Jones was Shipyard Joiner and many stories are and have been told of this man. Most joiners and carpenters carried their tools around in a box or a carpet bag but not Davy he carried his on a belt tied around his waist and another one like a bandoleer over his shoulder. He carried hammers, saws, chisels and plains. He also at one time rode a bike and had two feet wing mirrors fitted on the handle bars. An Italian Ice Cream seller once asked Davy to build him a cart to fit an ice box into - Davy built the cart in the back yard of his home in Shamrock Street. When he had finished the cart he discovered that he could not get it out of the back door because of its width. He then proceeded to take part of the yard
wall away so as to get the cart out but it was only then that he discovered the back entry was to narrow to get the cart out onto the street. His answer to this problem was to rap the doors of the six neighbours that their backs would have led out to street and asked them if he could take their back wall down so as to get his cart out of course he would have had the walls rebuilt - you can guess the answer he got from his neighbours. On another occasion he was seen standing at a bus stop with a 12 foot long plank he waited for over 6 hours before he realised that the bus drivers were driving by and not stopping for him. Some of the names given to people I think brilliant but again I have a weird sense of humour and I myself have names for most people I know. These are names given with affection and for no other reason. More Nicknames "Sitting Bull" he got his name because his face was like a Totem Pole carved out off wood. "Itchy Coo" he worked in Shorts and his head moved in and out like a pigeon when he talked. There was a Christian who worked in Shorts who got caught out telling a lie and was given the name "The Crooked Disciple" Another one of the great names I think was given to 29
The old Belfast Gas Works where Apple Ernie worked the lazy foreman he was called "Wounded Buffalo" "Five Star" was a name given to a night shift foreman because he through he was a General "Stinky" he was given this name because he wore to much aftershave. "Rug Head" he had a square piece of hair on another wise baldy head. "Ballet Dancer" so called because of his funny walk and stance. "The Jailer" name that was given to the night shift foreman as he locked the doors more to keep people out that keep them in. "Wooden Weld" this name was given to a welder who tried to weld wood to steel on a ship both were painted grey and looked very alike he spent a number of hours and a large number of rods before he discovered his mistake. By the way he was a well known Irish League and International Footballer who to this day still takes a ribbing over that incident. "Meals on Wheels" this gentleman went round the canteen after everyone had finished their lunch, he then gather up what wasnâ€™t eat and give the left over food to the nightshift. "Bring it on" every time he was asked a question all 30
he would say is bring it on. "Air Raid" every time the factory horn went off he jumped under the table or bench shouting here comes them Nazi b******s again. "Apple Ernie" Now this man was a well known character right across the city and in the 1940s, 50s and the 60s he worked in the Gas Works breaking up the old stoves and meters. His diet consisted mainly of apples he was a very fit man and stood over six feet tall but was a gentle giant. He pushed a bicycle from somewhere up the Castlereagh Hills every day to the Gas Works on the Ormeau and every Saturday he could be seen pushing his bike to wherever his beloved Linfield were playing which included the games against Derry City and Coleraine. He also went by bicycle to Dublin. As he passed through the various towns and village people would greet him and feed him he went to these matches in all weathers with his blue scarf and his "Corncrake" a wooden rattle used by football fans. You could hear him before you seen him and many folk who lived on the route of his journeys would supply him with food and drinks. His favourite he once said was
In the Belfast Shipyard there were thousands of nicknames 31
Dungiven on route to the Derry game. At holiday times like Halloween he would dress up as a Hawaiian in a grass skirt and do a tour of the streets in his grass skirt and flower garland. Sadly one night some young men much the worst for drink set fire to the skirt for a joke. Some joke - Ernie received serious burns and never really recovered and died a short time later. To those people who had the honour of meeting or just seeing Apple Ernie on his travels the memory will be of a fun loving man who harmed no one be give pleasure to many in his life. The Boat Factory The Belfast Shipyards workers give many a man a slang name and some of these where class and very funny. Most related to the work they done and others to the person themselves. Because of the numbers in the yards I can only give a sample as there are far too many. "Washing Soda" he was the guy who ran the first aid room and treated everybody and injury with washing soda - rough when you had an eye injury. "Hard Wrought" so called because he did nothing but made it look like he was worked of his feet. "Wire Nail" he was given this name because he was a tall thin man who wore a flat cap his mate was called "Donald Duck" and the story goes that one night at finishing time as they walked up the Queens Road where another wee man like a midget caught up with them and asked could he walk up the road with them. Wire nail answered him saying "No you can not people will think there is a circus in town". "Tired Hands" this is one of my favourite names given to a man who every time he was asked to do something said I cant my hands are tired. "The Barking Dog" he was one of the best known of all the characters in the yard the story is that if he liked you he talked to you if he did not like you and that was most men he barked like a dog at you, but would never hurt anyone. "Lemonade Walker" lemonade was employed by H&W for over 30 years and spent the most of it running a shop giving tic to men so as they could get fags. He also sold crisps and other tuck shop goods and got the name because he was a whiskey 32
and lemonade man very rare in those days to have someone drink lemonade with a Black Bush. "Bits and Pieces" a fitter who wrecked more than he fixed. "The Mandarin" He was a man with a toe missing and when was walking his feet turned out he had a moustache and was very yellow in appearance hence the name. "Dread the Winter" he had a hole in his boot and always said he dreaded the winter coming. "Bungalow" He was a man who had plenty downstairs but nothing upstairs. "Forty Watts" he was not too bright. "One Run Dick" he was a foreman and he would only pay you for one run on plate if the plate was wide you needed two runs but he would still insist on paying bonus on one run to save the company money. "Desperation Dick" another foreman who would come up to you and say, leave that job and come with me "I am in desperation" "Fowl Pest" he insisted on feeding the seagulls and gannets. He also fed the rats and the wild cats - now these cats where scary. "Buckets McGaughey" Now buckets was an old boxer and street fighter who fought in the Chapel Fields and the booths at York Street. He got his name because no one could knock him out and the only way sometimes to stop him was to hit him over the head with the ringside bucket. Famous Island Men "Tommy Patton OBE. Tommy was a yard man all his life he started serving his time in 1928 as a "Riveter" and worked on many ships over the years he was a trade union shop steward and an active community worker He entered politics as a Unionist councillor for the Victoria Ward and in 1984 was elected the Lord Mayor of Belfast the first and only worker from the Shipyards to achieve this honour. One of the great things about Tommy was that he never forgot his roots and he also said things as he saw them. At one time during a debate in the council chamber on putting "Gongalies" on the water in Victoria Park. When the cost was given for to buy
eight of them Tommy responded with the classic comment "Why cant we buy a male and a female one and breed them ourselves" that was Tommy an honest man. "Blaze Awayâ€? McLaughin OBE. This man worked as a burner and would have knocked you out of the way so he could work. He was on the staging before the starting horn went and also at lunch time so he could get started right away. He worked in the yard for 35 years and never had a day off ill in that time and he was rewarded for his service with an 0BE from the Queen for his services to the ship building Industry. Sadly he was laid off in the 1990s and as a result he could not live without his work and also the Shipyard that night he took his own life. Many of the men who spent their lives in the yard really could not adjust to life without it. "Bob Cosgrove" some times called Paddy He is last one I want to talk about and it is to him that I delicate this story. He started in H&W in 1912 to serve his time as a riveter he was told that their was no future in riveting and he would be lucky to finish his time as an apprentice. Fifty one years later
he retired still employed as a riveter. He was, I was told by many of his workmates, one of the best the yard had produced quite a complement, he also held a record that can not now ever be beaten. At his Funeral a couple of older men were standing crying I asked who they where only to be told that one "Wee Geordie" was his heater boy and the other "Davy" was his holder up they had worked together for 36 years as a riveting squad. He was a member of what was called the "Millionaires Club" this was the name given to the riveters because they earned good money on peace work (Bonus). Before I move on I must tell you that I am very proud to have had Bob as my Grandfather and this story is to him an Island Man through and through he broke his leg when he fell down the hold on a boat when he was in his 60s. He refused to take a claim because it might make H&W go bust. I could fill another book with the stories of the Island men and the men on the Main Yard and East Yards not forgetting the Musgrave Yards. The Victoria Works and the Engine Works are a story on their own as are the Three Graving Docks and the Minutes. Never know I might get round to it someday. 33
Children being evacuated from the Belfast Hospital for Sick Children to Lisburn 1940 Collection of aluminium for the war effort at Shaftesbury Square 1940
Advertisements for Belfast picture houses
ARP exercise at Park Lodge 34
1940 AFS exercises at Benvista Terrace, Antrim Road
Advertisement for Bernard Hughes Baker
A deal in fruit at the Belfast Markets
Members of the ARP giving a demonstration in anti gas measures at the Corporation Yard at Queen’s Bridge 1940
First day of the evacuation - children arriving at the GNR Station to travel to Irvinestown and Castlederg 1940
Enjoying her ‘elevenses’ at the Belfast Variety Market 1940
Collecting tin foil for the war effort at the Ulster Hospital for Children and Women, Templemore Avenue. This was to be destroyed in the German Blitz the following year. 1940 Advertisement for a collection for the RVH 1940 35
TITANIC’S FORGOTTEN SISTER
HMHS Britannic was the third and largest Olympic-class ocean liner of the White Star Line. It was the sister ship of RMS Olympic and RMS Titanic, and was intended to enter service as a transatlantic passenger liner. She was launched just before the start of the First World War and was quickly put to use as a hospital ship. In that role she struck a mine off the Greek island of Kea on the 21st of November 1916, and sank with the loss of 30 lives. ollowing the loss of the after the loss of Titanic. To keep Olympic and Titanic. In August Titanic and the subsequent to a 21 knots (39 km/h) service 1914, before Britannic could inquiries, several design changes speed, the shipyard installed a commence transatlantic service were made to the remaining larger turbine rated for 18,000 between New York and Olympic-class liners. With horsepower (13,000 kW)—versus Southampton, World War I began. Britannic, these changes were Olympic's and Titanic's 16,000 Immediately, all shipyards with made before launching (Olympic horsepower (12,000 kW)—to Admiralty contracts were given was refitted on her return to compensate for the vessel's extra top priority to use available raw Harland and Wolff). The main width. materials. All civil contracts changes included the introduction Although the White Star Line (including the Britannic) were of a double hull along the engine always denied it, most sources say slowed down. The military and boiler rooms and raising six that the ship was supposed to be authorities requisitioned a large out of the 15 watertight bulkheads named RMS Gigantic. number of ships as armed up to 'B' Deck. A more obvious external change was the fitting of large crane-like davits, each capable of holding six lifeboats. Additional lifeboats could be stored within reach of the davits on the deckhouse roof, and in an emergency the davits could even reach lifeboats on the other side of the vessel. The aim of this Construction merchant cruisers or for troop design was to enable all the Britannic was launched on the transport. The Admiralty was lifeboats to be launched, even if 26th of February 1914 at the paying the companies for the use the ship developed a list that Harland and Wolff shipyard in of their vessels but the risk of would normally prevent lifeboats Belfast and fitting out began. She losing a ship during military being launched on the side had been constructed in the same operations was high. However, opposite to the list. These davits gantry slip used to build RMS the big ocean liners were not were not fitted to Olympic. Olympic. So by reusing Olympic's taken for military use, as smaller Britannic's hull was also 2 feet space saved the shipyard time and vessels were much easier to (0.61 m) wider than her money in clearing out a third like operate. The White Star decided predecessors due to the redesign size slip as had been used for to withdraw RMS Olympic from
service until the danger had passed. RMS Olympic returned to Belfast on 3 November 1914, while work on her sister continued slowly. All this would change in 1915. Requisitioning The need for increased tonnage grew critical as military operations extended to the Eastern Mediterranean. In May 1915, Britannic completed mooring trials of her engines, and was prepared for emergency entrance into service with as little as four weeks notice. The same month also saw the first major loss of a civilian ocean vessel when the Cunard liner RMS Lusitania was torpedoed near the Irish coast by SM U-20. The following month, the British Admiralty decided to use recently requisitioned passenger liners as troop transports during the Gallipoli campaign (also called the Dardanelles service). The first to sail were Cunard's RMS Mauretania and RMS Aquitania. As the Gallipoli landings proved to be disastrous and the casualties mounted, the need for large hospital ships for treatment and evacuation of wounded became evident. RMS Aquitania was diverted to hospital ship duties in August (her place as a troop transport would be taken by the RMS Olympic in September) and on the 13th of November 1915, Britannic was requisitioned as a hospital ship from her storage location at Belfast. Repainted white with large red crosses and a horizontal green stripe, she was
Launch of the Britannic
This was how the Britannicâ€™s cabin smoking room was to look renamed HMHS (His Majesty's Hospital Ship) Britannic and placed under the command of Captain Charles A. Bartlett (1868â€“1945). Last voyage After completing five successful voyages to the Middle Eastern theatre and back to the United Kingdom transporting the sick and wounded, Britannic departed Southampton for Lemnos at 14:23 on the 12th of November 1916, her sixth voyage to the Mediterranean Sea. The Britannic passed Gibraltar around midnight
on the 15th of November and arrived at Naples on the morning of 17th November for her usual coaling and water refuelling stop, completing the first stage of her mission. A storm kept the ship at Naples until Sunday afternoon, when Captain Bartlett decided to take advantage of a brief break in the weather and continue on. The seas rose once again just as Britannic left the port but by next morning the storms died and the ship passed the Strait of Messina without problems. Cape Matapan was rounded during the first hours 37
of Tuesday, 21st November. By the morning Britannic was steaming at full speed into the Kea Channel, between Cape Sounion (the southernmost point of Attica, the prefecture that includes Athens) and the island of Kea. Explosion At 08:12 on the 21st of November 1916, a loud explosion shook the ship. The cause, whether it was a torpedo from an enemy submarine or a mine, was not apparent. The reaction in the dining room was immediate; doctors and nurses left instantly for their posts. Not everybody reacted the same way, as further aft the power of the explosion was less felt and many thought the ship had hit a smaller boat. Captain Bartlett and Chief Officer Hume were on the bridge at the time, and the gravity of the situation was soon evident. The first reports were frightening. The explosion had taken place on the starboard side between holds two and three, but the force of the explosion had damaged the watertight bulkhead between hold one and the forepeak. That meant that the first four watertight compartments were filling rapidly with water. To make things worse, the firemen's tunnel connecting the firemen's quarters in the bow with boiler room six had also been seriously damaged and water was flowing into that boiler room. Bartlett ordered the watertight doors closed, sent a distress signal and ordered the crew to prepare the lifeboats. Unfortunately, another surprise was waiting. 38
Along with the damaged watertight door of the firemen's tunnel, the watertight door between boiler rooms six and five also failed to close properly for an unknown reason. Now water was flowing further aft into boiler room five. The Britannic had reached her flooding limit. She could stay afloat (motionless) with her first six watertight compartments flooded and had five watertight bulkheads rising all the way up to B-deck. Those measures were taken after the Titanic disaster (Titanic could float with her first four compartments flooded but the bulkheads only rose as high as Edeck). Luckily, the next crucial bulkhead between boiler rooms five and four and its door were undamaged and should have guaranteed the survival of the ship. However, there was something else that probably sealed Britannic's fate: the open
portholes of the lower decks. The nurses had opened most of those portholes to ventilate the wards. As the ship's list increased, water reached this level and began to enter aft from the bulkhead between boiler rooms five and four. With more than six compartments flooded, the Britannic could not stay afloat. Evacuation On the bridge, Captain Bartlett was trying to save his vessel. Only two minutes after the blast, boiler rooms five and six had to be evacuated. In about ten minutes the Britannic was roughly in the same condition the Titanic was one hour after the collision with the iceberg. Fifteen minutes after the ship was struck the open portholes on E-deck were underwater. Water also entered the ship's aft section from the bulkhead between boiler rooms five and four. The Britannic
quickly developed a serious list to starboard. To his right Bartlett saw the shores of Kea, about three miles away. He decided to make a last desperate effort to beach the ship. This was not an easy task because of the combined effect of the list and the weight of the rudder. The steering gear was unable to respond properly but by using the propeller (giving more power to the port shaft) Britannic slowly started to turn right. Simultaneously, on the boat deck the crewmembers were preparing the lifeboats. Some of the boats were immediately rushed by a
group of stewards and some sailors, who had started to panic. An unknown officer kept his nerve and persuaded his sailors to get out and stand by their positions near the boat stations. He decided to leave the stewards on the lifeboats as they were responsible for starting the panic and he did not want them in his way during the evacuation. However, he left one of the crew with them in order to take charge of the lifeboat after leaving the ship. After this episode, all the sailors under his command remained at their posts until the
last moment. As no RAMC personnel were near this boat station at that time, the Officer started to lower the boats, but when he saw that the ship's engines were still running, he stopped them within six feet (2 m) of the water and waited for orders from the bridge. The occupants of the lifeboats did not take this decision very well and started cursing. Shortly after this, orders finally arrived: no lifeboats should be launched, as the Captain had decided to beach the Britannic. Assistant Commander Harry William Dyke was making the arrangements for the lowering of the lifeboats from the aft davits of the starboard boat deck when he spotted a group of firemen who had taken a lifeboat from the poop deck without authorisation and had not filled it to maximum capacity. Dyke ordered them to pick up some of the men who had already jumped into the water. At 08:30, two lifeboats from the boat station assigned to Third Officer David Laws were lowered without his knowledge through the use of the automatic release gear. Those two lifeboats dropped some 6 feet into the water and hit the water violently. The two lifeboats soon drifted into the stillturning propellers, which were almost out of the water by now. As the first one reached the turning blades, both lifeboats, together with their occupants, were torn to pieces. By then the word of the massacre arrived on the bridge. Captain Bartlett, seeing that water was entering 39
more rapidly as Britannic was moving and that there was a risk of more victims, gave the order to stop the engines. The propellers stopped turning the moment a third lifeboat was about to be reduced to splinters. RAMC occupants of this boat pushed against the blades and got away from them safely. Final moments The Captain officially ordered the crew to lower the boats and at 08:35, he gave the order to abandon ship. The forward set of port side davits soon became useless. The unknown officer had already launched his two lifeboats and managed to launch rapidly one more boat from the after set of portside davits. He then started to prepare the motor launch when First Officer Oliver came with orders from the Captain. Bartlett had ordered Oliver to get in the motor launch and use its speed to pick up survivors from the smashed lifeboats. Then he was to take charge of the small fleet of lifeboats formed around the sinking Britannic. After launching the motor launch with Oliver, the unknown officer filled another lifeboat with seventy-five men and launched it with great difficulty because the port side was now very high from the surface due to the list to starboard. By 08:45, the list to starboard was so great that no davits were operable. The unknown officer with six sailors decided to move to mid-ship on the boat deck to throw overboard-collapsible rafts and deck chairs from the starboard
side. About thirty RAMC personnel who were still left on the ship followed them. As he was about to order these men to jump then give his final report to the Captain, the unknown officer spotted Sixth officer Welch and a few sailors near one of the smaller lifeboats on the starboard side. They were trying to lift the boat but they had not enough men. Quickly, the unknown officer ordered his group of forty men to assist the Sixth officer. Together they managed to lift it, load it with men, then launch it safely. At 09:00, Bartlett sounded one last blast on the whistle then just walked into the water, which had already reached the bridge. He swam to a collapsible boat and began to co-ordinate the rescue operations. The whistle blow was the final signal for the ship's engineers (commanded by Chief Engineer Robert Fleming) who, like their heroic colleagues on the Titanic, had remained at their posts until the last possible moment. They escaped via the staircase into funnel #4, which ventilated the engine room. The Britannic rolled over onto her starboard side and the funnels
began collapsing. Violet Jessop (who was also one of the survivors of Britannic's sistership Titanic, as well as the third sister, Olympic, when she collided with the HMS Hawke), described the last seconds: "She dipped her head a little, then a little lower and still lower. All the deck machinery fell into the sea like a child's toys. Then she took a fearful plunge, her stern rearing hundreds of feet into the air until with a final roar, she disappeared into the depths, the noise of her going resounding though the water with undreamtof violence...." It was 09:07, only fifty-five minutes after the explosion. The Britannic was the largest ship lost during World War One. Rescue The first to arrive on the scene were the Greek fishermen from Kea on their CaĂŻque, who picked up many men from the water. One of them, Francesco Psilas, was later paid ÂŁ4 by the Admiralty for his services. At 10:00, HMS Scourge sighted the first lifeboats and ten minutes later stopped and picked up 339 survivors. HMS Heroic had arrived some minutes earlier and picked up 494. Some
150 had made it to Korissia (a community on Kea), where surviving doctors and nurses from the Britannic were trying to save the horribly mutilated men, using aprons and pieces of lifebelts to make dressings. A little barren quayside served as their operating room. Although the motor launches were quick to transport the wounded to Korissia, the first lifeboat arrived there some two hours later due to the strong current and their heavy load. It was the lifeboat of Sixth Officer Welch and the unknown Officer. The latter was able to speak some French and managed to talk with one of the local villagers, obtaining some bottles of brandy and some bread for the injured. The inhabitants of Korissia were deeply moved by the suffering of the wounded. They offered all possible assistance to the survivors and hosted many of them in their houses while waiting for the rescue ships. Violet Jessop approached one of the wounded. "An elderly man, in an RAMC uniform with a row of ribbons on his breast, lay motionless on the ground. Part of his thigh was gone and one foot missing; the greygreen hue of his face contrasted with his fine physique. I took his hand and looked at him. After a long time, he opened his eyes and said: 'I'm dying'. There seemed nothing to disprove him yet I involuntarily replied: 'No, you are not going to die, because I've just been praying for you to live'. He gave me a beautiful smile . . . That man lived and sang jolly songs for us on Christmas Day."
The Scourge and Heroic had no deck space for more survivors and they left for Pireaus signalling the presence of those left at Korissia. Luckily, HMS Foxhound arrived at 11:45 and, after sweeping the area, anchored in the small port at 13:00 to offer medical assistance and take onboard the remaining survivors. At 14:00 arrived the light cruiser HMS Foresight. The Foxhound departed for Pireaus at 14:15 while the Foresight remained to arrange the burial on Kea of Sergeant W. Sharpe, who had died of his injuries. Another two men died on the Heroic and one on the French tug Goliath. The three were buried with military honours in the British cemetery at Pireaus. The last fatality was G. Honeycott, who died at the Russian Hospital at Pireaus shortly after the funerals. 1,036 people were saved. Thirty men lost their lives in the disaster but only five were buried. The others were left in the water and their memory is honoured in memorials in Thessaloniki and London. Another twenty-four men were injured. The ship carried no patients. The survivors were hosted in the warships that were anchored at the port of Pireaus. However, the nurses and the officers were hosted in separate hotels at Phaleron. Many Greek citizens and officials attended the funerals. One survivor, nurse Violet Jessop was notable as having also survived the sinking of the RMS Titanic in 1912, and had also been on board RMS Olympic, when it collided with the HMS Hawke in 1911.
Wreck The wreck of HMHS Britannic is at 37âˆž42_05_N 24âˆž17_02_E in about 400 ft (120 m) of water. It was first discovered and explored by Jacques Cousteau in 1975. The giant liner lies on her starboard side hiding the zone of impact with the mine. There is a huge hole just beneath the forward well deck. The bow is attached to the rest of the hull only by some pieces of the Bdeck. This is the result of the massive explosion that destroyed the entire part of the keel between bulkheads two and three and of the force of impact with the seabed. The bow is heavily deformed as the ship hit the seabed before the total length of the 882 feet 9 inches (269 m) liner was completely submerged, as she sank in a depth of only 400 feet of water. Despite this, the crew's quarters in the forecastle were found to be in good shape with many details still visible. The holds were found empty. The forecastle machinery and the two cargo cranes in the forward well deck are still there and are well preserved. The foremast is bent and lies on the sea floor near the wreck with the crow's nest still attached on it. The bell was not found. Funnel #1 was found a few metres from the Boat Deck. The other three funnels were found in the debris field (located off the stern). The wreck lies in shallow enough water that scuba divers trained in technical diving can explore it, but it is listed as a British war grave and any expedition must be approved by both the British and Greek governments.
In mid-1995, during an expedition filmed by NOVA, Dr. Robert Ballard visited the wreck, using advanced side-scan sonar. Images were obtained from remotely controlled vehicles, but the wreck was not penetrated. Ballard succeeded in locating all the ship's funnels, which proved to be in surprisingly good condition. Attempts to find mine anchors failed. In August 1996, the wreck of the HMHS Britannic became available for sale and was bought by maritime historian Simon Mills who has written two books about the ship: Britannic - The Last Titan, and Hostage To Fortune. When Simon Mills was asked if he had all the money and 42
support needed, what would his ideal vision be for the wreck of Britannic be, he replied: "That's simple - to leave it as it is!" In November 1997, an international team of divers lead by Kevin Gurr used open circuit Trimix diving techniques to visit and film the wreck in the newly available Digital Video format (mini-DV). Kevin Gurr, Alan Wright, John Thornton, Dan Burton, Uffe Eriksson, Ingemar Lundgren, Richard Lundgren, Dave Thompson, Alexander Sotiriou, Kirk Kavalaris, Kevin Denlay, Tristan Cope, Miria Denlay, Gary Sharp, Ian Fuller, Manthos Sotiriou participated in the project. Vangelis Sotiriou provided general support.
In 1999, GUE, divers typically acclimated to cave diving and Ocean Discovery led the first dive expedition to include extensive penetration into the Britannic. Video of the expedition was broadcast by National Geographic, BBC, History Channel, and the Discovery Channel. In 2003, an expedition led by Carl Spencer used advanced diving technology to send scuba divers into the wreck. Their most significant finding was that several watertight doors were open. It has been suggested that this was because the mine strike coincided with the change of watches. Alternatively, the explosion may have distorted the
doorframes. A number of mine anchors were located, confirming the German records of U-73 that Britannic was sunk by a single mine and the damage was compounded by open portholes and watertight doors. In 2006, an expedition, funded and filmed by the History Channel, brought together thirteen of the world's best wreck divers to help determine what caused the quick sinking of the Britannic. Setting sail on the 17th of September in a diving boat, converted from a fishing boat for this mission, the crew dived and explored the sunken ship. After days of preparation, the wreck was explored by divers John Chatterton and Richie Kohler. However, time was cut short when silt was kicked-up, causing zero visibility conditions, and the two divers narrowly escaped with their lives. John Chatterton's rebreather famously failed whilst he was still deep inside the wreck. One last dive was to be attempted on Britannic's boiler room, but it was discovered that photographing this far inside the wreck would lead to breaking the rules of a permit issued by the Ephorate of Underwater Antiquities, a department within the Greek Ministry of Culture. Due partly to a barrier in languages, a last minute plea was turned down by the department. The expedition was unable to determine the cause of the rapid sinking, but hours of footage were filmed and important data was documented. Underwater Antiquities later recognized the
importance of this mission and has since extended an invitation to revisit the wreck under less stringent rules. During this expedition, Chatterton and Kohler found a bulb shape in her expansion joint. This proved that her design was changed following the loss of Titanic. On the 24th of May 2009, a diver, Carl Spencer, 37, died in Greece from a suspected case of decompression sickness, commonly known as the bends, which is caused by surfacing too quickly from a dive, while filming the wreck of HMHS Britannic for National Geographic. He is
reported to have "begun convulsing" at depth which is a symptom of oxygen poisoning. He was diving with an Ouroboros rebreather. Carl Spencer, from Burton-on-Trent, Staffordshire, was part of a 17-member crew. Spencer, father-of-two, was an experienced mixed gas and closed circuit rebreather diver who had been on three previous missions to film the Britannic. He was in the team during the exploration of the Titanic wreckage as part of a Discovery Channel expedition led by filmmaker James Cameron, who directed the blockbuster Titanic.
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Published on Aug 3, 2011