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Welcome to Belfast Between The Wars, a blog showcasing a range of interesting stories written in and about Belfast between the end of the First World War in 1918 and the outbreak of the Second World War in 1939. 

  • Writer's pictureBelfast Between The Wars

Northern Whig, Tuesday 29th January 1935

The Belfast Tramways Committee's proposals for making the new Floral Hall at Bellevue a success are causing apprehension among amusement caterers in the city, who consider it is unfair that amusement houses in the city should have to face what they regard as unfair competition from a municipal department.

The fees which are to be paid to some of the companies and individual artists, it is urged, are far beyond what any private concern should pay, and are such that the Floral Hall would not be a success from a financial point of view. It is also pointed out that the competition which the theatres and cinemas would have to face will be at a time of the year which is the leanest for them. In the summer months it is with difficulty that both clear expenses, and if the weather is particularly good for the whole of the period then cinemas and theatres lose heavily. This loss, it is held, would be intensified if uneconomic competition had to be face from the Corporation.

A memorial setting out the views of the amusement trade has been sent to the Town Clerk, and will come before the Tramways Committee at its next meeting.

Another matter which is creating a great deal of interest is the attitude which will be taken by the Improvement Committee to the plans of two new cinemas on Lisburn Road which will be next to churches. At the Committee's meeting to-day the plans for one of them will come up for approval.

The number of people who are keen to enter the field of entertainment, writes the "Northern Whig" Film Correspondent, shows not the slightest sign of abating, and if the various persons interested proceed with their intention then the building trade should be given a considerable amount of employment. Including those for which plans have already been drawn up no fewer than ten halls are projected for various parts of Belfast.

  • Writer's pictureBelfast Between The Wars

Irish Weekly and Ulster Examiner, Saturday 23rd May 1936


The casual, one-day visitor to Belfast as I was the other day, has a unique opportunity of studying the city and the people in a manner not given to those who reside longer within the confines of Ulster’s capital. One catches the city unawares, as it were. It is just like paying an unexpected call upon a house-proud suburban housewife before she has the breakfast things washed up in the morning or the front hall dusted and polished for the day.

There is the difference, however, that whereas the housewife may, and probably will, have things put to rights before noon, there are certain things in Belfast, which can never be put right, short of demolishing the whole city and re-building it again!


Whoever was responsible for placing the new Law Courts where they are will probably have a complete answer to my aesthetic objection to the policy of erecting a palace of justice almost in the centre of the dockland area. In this instance the term ‘palace of justice’ is something more than a mere euphemism; the new building is a palace in the literal sense of the word. And so increases the amazement of the country visitor at its location!

Looking at the setting which was chosen for the Law Court, one is tempted to think of the incongruity of placing the White House at Washington in the centre of the Chicago stockyards!


Passing along that side of the block which is devoted to the private comings and goings of barristers and the accommodation of motor care belonging to the more fortunately placed civil servants, of which there seems to be a great many, one emerges to the rear portion of the Courts. Just across the way from it stand the premises of a firm of livestock salesmen, which a next-door neighbour would appear to have devoted his life to the preparation and sale of cattle medicines.

Those resplendent, tall-hatted individuals who are paid to interest themselves in the destination of all who come in by the main entrance have their gold-braided personalities warped by a daily parade of lorries, carts and drays to and from the shipping area. Although never intended to do so, their position compels them to “cover the waterfront” from the sitting of the Courts until the rising thereof.


Is it not extraordinary to think that the weighty decisions of Chancery and the forensic eloquence called forth by the Court of Appeal are accomplished almost “next door” to where the witty quips and sallies of the fruit man and the old-clothes man fly from stall to stall in the City Markets hard by? Or are we more amazed to learn that a little further away still the embryo sausage is going through its preliminary proceedings before coming up for judgement of the breakfast-table.

This overshadowing of Belfast’s “Great Paradox” haunts the visitor all the way up Chichester Street, into Donegall Square, and along Royal Avenue. One feels that in a city there is such a “Great Paradox,” there must be quite a number of “Little Paradoxes,” too; and one is not disappointed.

In common with every other city, Belfast has its fashionable 4 p.m. parade along the main thoroughfare. But nowhere else have I ever seen the ladies who make this daily pilgrimage do so with little fancy marketing baskets on their arms! Yet, they do it in Belfast, although I cannot possibly imagine what any woman wants to carry home in a basket at four o’clock in the evening! Indeed, some of the baskets I saw were quite empty, whilst others only contained a little parcel which could easily have been carried in the hand or in the pocket, that is, if ladies have pockets in their dresses these days.


After the Law Courts and the ladies, I was not at all amazed at the paradox which allows the visitor an excellent cinema seat for sixpence, but will only allow him a very indifferent tea for not less than one-and-sixpence. I do not by any means place good celluloid fare before a good bill-of-fare, but it does seem that, in Belfast, luxuries are cheaper than necessities.


Perhaps it is asking too much to expect you to believe that I found something else to comment on before leaving the city, but I am still wondering why the best view in Belfast, or even in all Ulster, has been given over to lions and tigers. I am sure they do not appreciate it, at least they did not seem to when I paid them a visit at the zoological gardens at Bellevue.

There they sat in their comfortable cages on that terrace from which it is possible to see such a glorious panorama of mountain, river and sea. It did not appear to have sweetened their natures the least little bit. And the point of the matter is this: you pay your money for the privilege of staring at wild beasts if you wish to gain admittance to the best portion of the grounds for indulging your passion for panoramic beauty rather than your curiosity concerning the imprisoned natives of the Indian and African forests.

But maybe the authorities were considering their Scots visitors as of paramount importance. When they grow tired of looking at the lions and tigers they can turn around and enjoy the miles of rolling scenery stretched out before them, even to their own native coast of Scotland “an’ the wild beasties an aw thrown in fer a shillin’”!

Belfast News-Letter, Friday 29th April 1938

North Street Arcade, to which tradesmen are now putting the finishing touches, is an important addition to one of Belfast’s most popular shopping centres. It is an outstanding example of the shopping arcade, and comprises no fewer than 29 first-class shops. Not the least of its merits is the fact that it provides a much needed thoroughfare from North Street to Donegall Street, opposite the officers of the “Belfast News-Letter,” and with its North Street end close to Garfield Street, forms a convenient through route from Royal Avenue.

The architects responsible for the planning of this important development are Messrs. Cowser & Smyth, A.A.R.I.B.A., of 13, Donegall Square North, Belfast. They had a very difficult site on which to work, but they have turned all the difficulties to good account. On plan the Arcade is straight from North Street, leading to a circular rotunda which is about equidistant from North Street and Donegall Street. From the rotunda the Arcade sweeps round towards Donegall Street in a graceful quadrant. The total length is 292 feet. This plan, which was dictated by the exigencies of the site and the surrounding property, is most attractive, and adds to the interest of the general scheme.


The 29 shops are of various sizes, and each has a floor about approached by a staircase. All have independent lavatory accommodation, and gas, water, and electricity are laid on. Air ducts have been provided between each pair of shops so as to give adequate ventilation.

Steel frame construction has been used, and this has an important advantage in permitting the removal of party walls between shops, if required. Two or more shops can thus be made into one if a tenant so desires.

All shops have hardwood floors, and the rooms about them are lit by roof lights. The shop fronts are modern and attractive, with their bronze frames, marble plinths and pilasters, and teak doors glazed with etched glass.

At the Donegall Street end are two larger shops, one on each side of the entrance. Each of these shops is 33ft. square, and unlike the other 27, which have one floor above, these have two. The upper floors are splendidly lighted, the first by wide windows overlooking Donegall Street, and the top floor by five small windows and two large roof lights.

The lighting of the Arcade is also all that could be desired, both by day or night. By day it seems to be even brighter inside the Arcade than outside, this being the effect of the glass roof, helped by the bright colour scheme of the walls. The artificial lighting is thoroughly up-to-date, and is provided by a system of fluorescent tubing which runs round the cornice on either side. This gives a soft decorative lighting which is very pleasing. In the roof about the rotunda is a dome, on the under side of which is concealed lighting of a soft orange shade.

The floor of the Arcade is of cream coloured terrazzo, divided by green border strips. Materials which ensure easy upkeep have been used. Above the shops the walls are faced with artificial marble which can be wiped down, and the same applies to the fluted glass used above the cornice. Care has been taken to provide a good circulation of air. A concealed system of direct ventilation has been adopted, and this has the further advantage of preventing condensation on the glass roof. The width of the Arcade is 14 feet between the shop fronts, and 18 feet above them. The diameter of the rotunda is 30ft.

At the North Street end are the caretaker’s apartments, with bedrooms, bathroom, etc., and large living room overlooking North Street. Also overlooking North Street are certain rooms in the old building which have been converted into offices for letting. From the caretaker’s rooms there is direct access to the flat roof of the Arcade.

A feature has been made of the entrances from both North Street and Donegall Street. At North Street the elevation has been carried out in cream terrazzo slabs, marble and granite, and there are moulded panels to the jambs of the first floor windows. The name of the Arcade is placed above the entrance in neon sign lettering, and other neon signs have been placed at the sides of the building. The entrance itself, which is carried to the height of two stories, is imposing, and has a marble fret lining.


The Donegall Street façade, which is entirely new, is of special interest. Architecturally, it is one of the finest examples of commercial design in the city centre. The entrance, which is the height of two storeys, dominates the façade, and is led up to by the smaller doors on either side – one to each of the two shops. On the first floor are wide windows, and the whole composition is drawn together by the row of small windows on the second floor. The entrance, like that in North Street, is 23ft. 6ins. in height, and has a lining of green marble fret.

A bronze canopy projects above the entrance, and on the underside of the canopy, a strip light has been placed. Set into the wall below the canopy is a Portland stone panel, with a group of sculptured figures representing the linen industry. This is a reminder of the building which formerly stood on the site – the warehouse of the Brookfield Linen Company, designed by the late Mr. W. H. Lynn after the manner of an Italian palace, and long regarded as one of the finest buildings in central Belfast.

The Arcade shops which have frontages in North Street and Donegall Street have bronze frames, teak doors, and trimmings of granite and marble. The upper portion of the Donegall Street frontage is carried out in reconstructed stone.

The Arcade has been built by the North Street Development Co., Ltd. The lettings are in the hands of Messrs. J. Alfred McAuley & Co., of 12, Arthur Street, Belfast.


All the glass for the entire contract, consisting of 32 shops, including North Street and Donegall Street fronts, was entrusted to Messrs. Campbell Bros. British glass-plate was used throughout. The edges of the glass are mitre-bevelled and secured with bronze clips and screws in the modern style. Triple-embossed plate-glass was used for the doors, and in the transoms new decorated reeded glass. The total area of the glass was approximately 10,000 super feet. Messrs. Campbell Bros. state that it is the largest contract for shop front plates carried out in the city.


The black Bonaccord granite and Issore green marble pilasters and plinths are tastefully finished with Greek key pattern surrounds, and the doorways are finished in light Swedish green marble. The flooring throughout the arcade and porches is cream coloured terrazzo. These contracts have been carefully executed by Messrs. Toffolo, Jackson & Co., of Glasgow, whose representatives are Messrs. A. N. McClinton, Ltd., of 35, Wellington Place, Belfast. Messrs. McClinton also represent the Pennycook Patent Glazing & Engineering Co., Ltd., of Glasgow, who have made an excellent roof over the Arcade, composed of patent glazing with spherical glass domes, cupola lights and also lantern lights. The work has been carried out in a first-class manner throughout.

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