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Welcome to Belfast Between The Wars, a blog showcasing 100 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

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.

  • Writer's pictureBelfast Between The Wars

Northern Whig, Monday 8th January 1923


Few firms have earned such a high and wide reputation as that of Robinson& Cleaver, whose palatial establishment is one of the features of the Bond Street of Belfast and one of the show places of the city. Their name is familiar not only on both sides of the Channel but on both sides of the Atlantic, and for nearly half a century it has been associated with sterling quality and genuine value. The firm have in their winter sale, which embraces all departments, many specially tempting lines. With them the object is a rapid clearance, and thus prices have been reduced to unprecedentedly low figures. Among the special bargains may be noted all-wool cardigan coats and sports coats at 17s 6d and 18s 6d respectively, and artificial silk cardigan coats at 21s 6d. These are really remarkable value. Among many remarkable lines in dress goods the beautiful new silks, tussore, Jap, schappe and mousseline at 3s 6d, 3s 11d and 4s 11d a yard are striking value; while crepe-de-chine in all the newest shades, and black mousseline satin at 6s 6d and 8s 11d respectively, are priced phenomenally low; so also is the special sale price of chiffon velvet at 12s 9d. A fine range of coats – some of which have been reduced from 7 guineas to 4 guineas, and others from 3 ½ guineas to 39s 6d – will command attention; so will some remarkably pretty afternoon dresses in satin georgette and crepe-de-chine from 32s 6d, and children’s party frocks from 21s. Splendid value is also offered in scarves and shawls; while in dress goods – serges, velours, gaberdines, and Amazon and tunic cloth – there are some very special lines at sternly cut prices. For handkerchiefs and all kinds of linen goods the house has always been noted, and many of their specialities in these departments are also marked down to the lowest figure. The same remark applies to millinery ribbons, boots and shoes and fancy goods, the last named including some really wonderful bargains. In fact, there is not one of the numerous sections of their business in which the management are not giving the most tempting inducements to the customer during the next two or three weeks.


Norman’s, in Castle Lane, is deservedly popular with all classes of shoppers, and with really sterling values going there at ordinary times, the winter sale, with its special reductions, has been eagerly anticipated. There has certainly been no mistake about the way ordinary prices have been cut for the sale, and in practically all departments extraordinary bargains are offered. A most attractive line is a fine range of sample frocks in crepe-de-chine, taffeta, eolienne, &c., in all the favourite shads, which have been marked down to considerably less than half price; so have choice lots of gaberdine dresses and semi-evening frocks. All-wool cardigans and jumper blouses in fashionable colours, ticketed at phenomenal figures, should certainly attract attention, as should the extensive selection of ribbons in glace and other silks, chenie, &c. Another feature of the sale is Swiss work, including flouncings, skirtings, camisole, embroideries, &c., all marked at less than half price. Ladies’ underclothing of all kinds is also made the subject of sweeping reductions of price, while the range of selection is of an exhaustive character. Yet another department which offers very special attractions in selection and price is the ladies’ boot and shoe department, which well deserves inspection. Here elegant glace-kid, high-lace boots with smart Louis heels, which formerly were 35s are down to 19s 11d; while splendid glace-kid shoes in stylish models; formerly 27s 6d, are marked at 14s 11d. Velvet and bar shoes are also offered at nominal prices.


Messrs. David Hanna, Ltd. “The International Fur House”, 40-44 Royal Avenue, is one of those firms in Belfast whose name is a household word. The mere mention of furs is sufficient to bring in many minds a closer association with the name of Messrs. Hanna. During all the years they have been established they have had only one aim – to supply the highest quality at the most reasonable price – and this they have succeeded in doing to a remarkable degree. Strict attention to the best markets, a discerning foresight which seems to intuitively know the requirements of customers, and that almost indefinable gift of suiting taste and pocket at the same time – these are some of the factors which have contributed in a very material degree to the prosperity, the popularity, and the reputation of “The International Fur House.” A sale at Messrs. Hanna’s provides a rare opportunity, and just now their entire stock of furs in capes, wraps and stoles is being offered at specially keen prices. Such sales are boons to the careful and discriminating buyer, and when they are backed up by a prestige such as Messrs. Hanna enjoy there is every incentive to purchase early before the bargains are all snapped up. Some wonderful values in seal coney and beaver coney fur coats in different lengths are being offered, while there is also great variety in skunk capes, squirrel tail wraps, and red fox, blue Mongolian fox, and blue wolf animal ties and furs. In other departments too Messrs. Hanna, desirous of reducing stock before stocktaking, are making some splendid offers. Tweed and velour coats, tweed costumes, gowns in crepe-de-chine and eolienne, raincoats, hats, shirts, blouses and jumpers have all been marked down. In dress materials drastic reductions have been made, and there is a special lot of tweeds, Cheviots, and suitings at a very low figure.


Widely known as one of the most comprehensive of the great stores of the city – Messrs. Robbs, Ltd., Castle Place, is equally famed for quality and good value. Purchasing, as the firm have always done, for cash in the best markets they are able at all times to give sterling goods at competitive rates. At sale times, however, they undoubtedly offer extraordinary bargains, and especially when they announce their winter sale. At present the display in the windows is truly remarkable. Every article is ticketed, and while the reductions made in all cases are a sweeping and drastic character, in some they make the prices positively irresistible.

The extensive character of the business necessitates the carrying of heavy stocks in every department, and if there is a substantial balance left over in any of them at this season of the year it is sacrificed without scruple to obtain a prompt clearance. Some wonderfully fine bargains in dresses and costumes are offered, also in dress materials and silks, lace, millinery, haberdashery and hosiery. Ready-to-wear costumes are a well-known speciality of the firm, and in these at sale prices there is a wonderfully good range. To customers in the tailoring and hat and cap departments the advantages of the sale are also given, the choice of both garments and materials being practically unlimited. Linen and cotton goods of all descriptions, as well as blankets and quilts, furnish special opportunities to the purchaser as does also the boot and shoe department; while toys and fancy goods, of the huge stock of which, notwithstanding the record dimensions of the Christmas trade, there is a substantial balance left, the prices have been cut down ruthlessly. The same applies to stationery goods, some very fine lines of which are on offer in the sale. Furniture of all kinds, leather goods, and household requisites of every description are likewise included – indeed, no matter how small or how large the volume of the customer’s requirement or how varied its character it can be supplied satisfactory and economically from the winter sale at this establishment.


Messrs. Thorntons, 24 and 26 Donegall Place, is popularly and deservedly known as “the home of rubber”. But it is something more. In these days we hear and read a great deal about trade within the Empire, and this is quite an alluring subject. Trade within the city, and in the case of Ulster within the province, is quite as important relatively, and all good citizens and good provincials when visiting the city should concentrate their spending proclivities on what is home-made. This is where Messrs. Thorntons make a strong appeal. Their rubber goods are all manufactured on their own premises, and though this in itself would be some claim for patronage it requires to be backed up by the hall mark of superlative excellence. The firm has always aimed at and succeeded in achieving this, and just now they have decided to give tempting reductions at their annual clearance sale. It would be impossible in a brief notice to give anything like an idea of the comprehensive stock, but all the purchaser who requires anything in the rubber line has to do is call at 24 and 26, Donegall Place. Here he or she will find requirements suited at reductions from 3s to 5s in the pound. Every article will be found marked with the original price in plain figures, and the display in window and on counters is an interesting and fascinating one.

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