Meeting report by Sandra Millsopp
On 10 February 2022 Aidan Campbell was welcomed back to give his new talk about big houses in East Belfast. He has produced a number of illustrated books on different aspects of the area. Money raised goes to various charities including Marie Curie.
He began by explaining how Belfast and its population had grown enormously in the nineteenth century. Industries such as ship building and engineering had developed. The men who established these businesses continued to live in the city and built big houses, largely in east Belfast, around Belmont and Strandtown. Now most of the local businesses have been replaced by multi-nationals run by men who do not live in the city.
Knocknagoney House was built in 1880 and was surrounded by 25 acres. It was close to the giant Tesco supermarket. A photograph of the house in 1912 showed the McCance family outside. According to the 1901 census there were 4 family members in the house, with 6 servants. The house was later bought in 1956 by Herbert Connell who turned it into a hotel, which later became the Windsor Hotel. Part of the area was used as a site for Orchard Caravans. In 1997 this was acquired by Tesco for its new supermarket. In 1978 the Police Authority bought the house and it is now occupied by the Police Service of Northern Ireland.
Norwood Tower stood on the Circular Road. It was built in 1856 and had grounds of 50 acres. It was demolished in the 1950s. The building was in the Scottish baronial style with a tower at one end. It was built for James Alexander Henderson, the owner of the Belfast News Letter. Photographs showed two of the servants: James Burnett was the butler and ran the household, while Henry Clements was the chauffeur. Initially he used horses and carriages, but then he had to adapt to cars. By the 1950s there was only one elderly spinster left from the Henderson family: she owned the newspaper and the house. She left the estate to a distant cousin Sir Christopher Musgrave rather than to her nephews. Planning permission was granted for the demolition of the house in the 1950s and 150 houses were built on the site.
The next house to be discussed was Schomberg, erected in 1884 on a site of 28 acres owned by Sir Thomas McClure. The name comes from William III’s commander the Duke of Schomberg. The house was built for William Quartus Ewart. He married Mary Warren Heard, a first cousin of CS Lewis’ mother. He inherited a baronetcy from his father. Mr Ewart was a linen manufacturer whose family home had been Glenmachan. About 1895 he moved back to Glenmachan, while his widowed mother went to Schomberg. The headquarters of his business was in Bedford Street in Belfast and his Linen Mill was supposed to be the world’s largest. Among the family photos was one of 1910 which included CS Lewis and his friend Arthur Greeves. The house was demolished in the late 1970s and replaced by housing.
Carrowshane was built in 1929 at 57 Knock Road for the Wellwood family. John Wellwood was the head of Dixon’s Timber Company. We were shown a wedding photograph of John’s daughter Elsie and Captain Stanley Davidson. A photograph of 1971 showed the area of the Knock Road which was vested for road widening, but in fact this never happened, although the houses were demolished. Next door to Carrowshane was Archburn, It was the home of James Johnston, a leading opera singer who had a butcher’s shop in Sandy Row.
Brooklyn, now the police headquarters, was built for William Hinde in 1865 on a site of 8 acres. He was a coal merchant from Cumbria. Coal was very important at that time. Hinde was also a Belfast City Councillor. Later the house was sold to John Morton, a wealthy brewer. His product was known as “Protestant Guinness”. When he died he had a garage full of cars. The house had various other owners. Then during the Second World War it was used by the military, including American troops. Later German U boat officers, prisoners of war, were kept there. In the late 1950s it was bought by the RUC as their headquarters.
The Orchard at 89 Knock Road was built in 1913 on a site of 1 acre. It was erected for James Augustine Duff, later an MP at Stormont and chairman of the Education Committee. The house was attacked by suffragists in June 1913 when it was being built. In 1962 it was bought by J. Allan Gray, president of the Belfast Chamber of Commerce. He was involved with shipping and pioneered the use of containers with Ulster Ferry Transport Ltd. The house appears in a photograph of 1964 with a Rover P5 3.0 Litre in front. This was a car favoured by prime ministers and royalty. The house was knocked down about 10 years ago and there are now 12 houses on the site.
Finally Mr Campbell talked about several houses on the other side of the city. No. 5 Lennoxvale, at Malone, was owned by RG Glendinning, a businessman. Ardoyne House dated from about the 1820s. Its owner was Michael Andrews of the Royal Damask Weaving Company. He was part of the Andrews family of Comber. He built houses for mill workers which became the nucleus of Ardoyne Village. Everton House was created in the 1860s by the extension of Everton Cottage originally built in 1810. It was owned by the Beck family, chemical providers. Later the house was also used as a lodging for District Judges at Crumlin Road Courthouse. It was eventually demolished and a school was erected on the site.
Mr Campbell concluded by mentioning the books he had written to raise money for charity. Members were able to buy Volume 2 of East Belfast Big Houses on which his talk was based.