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. 

Updated: Jan 6

Northern Whig, Thursday 31st March 1927


To-day the last word in hotels in Belfast will be formally opened by the Prime Minister of Northern Ireland, Viscount Craigavon. The Grand Central, as everyone knows, is not a new hotel, but so well and so thorough has the scheme of renovation and re-decoration been carried out that it might well be called a new hotel.


For long enough the Grand Central stood a gaunt, grey building in Belfast’s leading thoroughfare, ever growing dingier, with its curtainless windows weather-stained, giving the impression of sightless eyes; and the only decoration the letting board.

It was a pitiful sight, and its empty lifelessness seemed as though it were likely to become a permanency, one of the sights of Belfast, its emptiness a seeming mute rebuke to a great progressive city.


The last few months have wrought a great change. No longer does a vast greyness dominate Royal Avenue; instead there is a mighty stretch of living colour. Day after day the people of Belfast watched the growing change in the façade of the building; day after day marked the growth of the evolution of the pile from obscured uselessness to a premier place in the life of the city.


No longer did the letting board meet the eye from every angle; in its place was another bearing the name of a great furnishing firm that spoke of life, colour and comfort.


A TRANSFORMATION


Inside the contrast was even greater our representative discovered when he made a visit of inspection yesterday. In place of long resounding corridors and empty rooms that threw back the echo of the least noise, with over all the hushed silence peculiar to empty buildings, everything was in the last stages of being made ready.


True, the rooms and the corridors re-echoed with noise, but it was the cheering noise of workmen busily engaged putting the final touches to the work of the past few months.


In the entrance hall the impression of spaciousness is immediately received from the plain wall surfaces contrasting with mahogany and gold woodwork, reminiscent of the later work of Adam. The banqueting hall, with its brilliant artistic lighting, is an imposing room with a spring dance floor. It is designed on early Georgian lines, the colour scheme being mainly peach broken up with blue and gold, and the woodwork done in Chinese blue. There is accommodation for about two hundred persons, and it will be used for breakfasts and luncheons, as well as for dancing. The colour scheme in the reception-room is flesh pink, primrose, and petunia, the walls being broken up with pilasters having decorative motifs of baskets and flowers.


A department that should appeal strongly to the sterner sex is the smokeroom, which is panelled in a soft shade of grey oak, that acts as a quiet background to the darker furniture. A sense of warmth is added by the introduction of a blue and tango carpet. The lounge, which is situated at the corner of the hotel and consequently is flooded by light from the numerous windows, has been treated naturally in a cheerful manner. The ornaments for the chimneypieces have been designed after the style of Grinling Gibbons, and the tones of the walls are biscuit, with a slight introduction of petunia. It is a most graceful and alluring room, and is likely to prove one of the most popular.


There are two “function rooms” and each is beautiful. Rose is the keynote in the large room, and a striking effect is obtained in the blue and silver in the special room.


The writing room deserves special mention. Situated at the end of a corridor almost “perfect peace” is assured, the decorative scheme of plain panelled walls of café-au-lait offering no distraction to the mind. In the visitors’ lounge and drawing-rooms the wall colouring is of varying tones of cream relieved by gold mouldings, and the whole scheme gives a sense of warmth.


One cannot help being struck by the absolute simplicity of the hotel dining-rooms. The grill room and private boxes have been designed essentially for men. It is pleasing to know that Mr. E. J. Emery, who served as chef at St. Enoch’s, Glasgow, and the Midland Hotel, Crewe, will be in charge of this department.


Comfort and cosiness are found in every bedroom. Each has been installed with hot and cold water, and bell pushes and light switches are within less than an arm’s length of the pillow. Last but not least, each room has a telephone.


The hotel contains four magnificent private suites, one of which is known as the Harland & Wolff suite, which will be occupied by Lord Kylsant, chairman of the firm. It consists of dining-room, sitting-room, two bedrooms, and a bathroom, and the furniture is exclusively from the residence of the late Lord Pirrie at Ormiston.


AN ASSET TO THE CITY


It will be agreed by all, no doubt, that the hotel accommodation in Belfast has not been sufficient to meet the demands put upon it, either from the commercial or the tourist point of view, and in these respects the Grand Central should prove a decided asset to the city in this respect. It will be recalled that the Prime Minister has on several occasions commented on the accommodation offered by Belfast and the Six Counties to tourists, and Belfast’s new hotel should add weight to the claims of Ulster as a holiday resort.


Bookings have already commenced, reservations having been received from a large party from Chicago, while to-night quite a number of people will be in residence.

Mr. C. J. Sims, the resident manager, is a genial gentleman, with extensive experience, having seen service in London, Liverpool, Manchester, Edinburgh, and Glasgow, and in a chat with the “Whig” representative he put the aim of the hotel as “Ordinary prices, but better value.”


You can view images of the hotel's beautiful exterior and interior on National Museums NI's website.


Find out more about the history of the hotel here.


  • Belfast Between The Wars

Updated: Jan 6

Belfast News-Letter, Tuesday 11th August 1936


Seldom has the Belfast Zoo presented such a scene of animation as that witnessed, in glorious weather, yesterday afternoon, the special occasion being the entertainment to tea of the Zoo “babies” at the Hazelwood Café.


Vast crowds, which included many visitors from across the Channel and elsewhere, began to flock to Bellevue and Hazelwood immediately after lunch, and so great was the rush from the centre of the city that by 2.30pm the tramway management was taxed to its maximum to handle the traffic. At Castle Junction, tramcars were packed on leaving, and many people along the line of route were forced to go to the Junction to get a car or omnibus. It was not until nearly four o’clock that the rush eased off.


Among the thousands of children who went to the Zoo it was evident there were none who did not enjoy the outing, and among the grown-ups the happiest was the genial curator, Dr. Richard H. Hunter, F.Z.S., &C. It was a great afternoon for the doctor, and he told the representative of the “News-Letter” that he was delighted beyond bounds with the wonderful crowds and the happy time the children were enjoying.


THE TEA PARTY


Dr. Hunter described his entertainment as “the most original tea-party ever held in Belfast.” Little Gordon McNutt, aged five years, invited all the baby animals in Belfast Zoo to Hazelwood Café for tea, and half the children in Belfast seemed to have gone along to see the fun. Gordon received his baby animal guests in a most important manner, and introduced them to his girl friend, little Sheila Morrison, daughter of Mr. Morrison, manager of the Empire Theatre. They were Aunt Phoebe, the baby llama; Joe, the baby monkey; Richard, Elma and Early Bird, the baby lions, and the three unnamed baby wolves.


“Tea” was served from silver salvers by a bevy of charming waitresses. Finely minced raw beef for the baby lions, not-so-finely-minced raw beef for the baby wolves; bread and butter for the baby llama, with a dish of fruit for Joe the monkey. The best of animal behaviour was observed by all the guests except Joe, who disgraced himself by seizing a banana in each of his little hands and then helping himself to an apple by his right foot and an orange by his left. Joe’s naughtiness merely added to the fun of the party.


The babies were then taken back to the zoo, where Sheila performed the ceremony of naming the baby wolves: Jerry, Gordon, and Sheila. Every child in the vicinity was then presented with a free bottle of lemonade to drink the health of the babies. The toast was drunk with enthusiasm, and thus ended one of the jolliest and most unusual tea parties ever held at Bellevue.


The baby animals were under the personal charge of Mr. Dick Foster, head keeper of the zoo, and a capable staff of assistants.


Find out more about the history of Belfast Zoo here.


Updated: Jan 17

Ballymena Weekly Telegraph, Saturday 22nd October 1938


A Ballymena lady found herself in a peculiar predicament in Belfast on Wednesday.


It was half-holiday in the shops, and the lady just before closing time entered the North Street Arcade to have a look around.


Unnoticed by her, the caretaker closed the entrances at Donegall Street and North Street and disappeared, and when the lady thought of leaving she found herself in a trap.


Her appearance at the North Street grill gathered a crowd, the members of which set themselves to solving the problem of how she was to get out.


Somebody suggested a ladder, but the shops around were all closed, and besides the lady did not fancy the experience.


Then it was suggested that perhaps the city’s handy men – the fire brigade – could help, and someone was about to spring the nearest alarm when the caretaker turned up – inside the Arcade.


He demonstrated that the grill was only closed over and not locked, but nobody had thought of that.


The lady disappeared down North Street just as the first Press photographer was coming in at the other end of the street.


Find out more about the history of North Street Arcade here.