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With Belfast Central Library celebrating its 130th anniversary last week, we've taken a look at images in our collections of the library in days gone by.

Belfast Council had considered the establishment of a museum in the city in connection with a public library in the 1850s, but no practical move was made in this direction until the adoption of the Public Libraries acts in 1882, which led to the foundation of the Belfast Free Public Library (now Belfast Central Library) which opened in Royal Avenue in 1888.

Image: Central Library on Royal Avenue
Central Library on Royal Avenue

A feature of the opening of the Library was an exhibition of paintings and rare books staged in three rooms on its top floor. These rooms were opened to the public in July 1890 as the Belfast Free Library and Art Gallery and Museum, with James F. Johnston as Curator.

Image: The Grainger Room at Belfast Free Public Library. As well as the cast of the great cross of Monasterboice, currently on display in Window on the World at the Ulster Museum, you can see the world-famous John Horner collection of spinning wheels and devices, now an important part of the Ulster Museum collections.
The Grainger Room at Belfast Free Public Library. As well as the cast of the great cross of Monasterboice, currently on display in Window on the World at the Ulster Museum, you can see the world-famous John Horner collection of spinning wheels and devices, now an important part of the Ulster Museum collections.

In 1891, the Museum expanded hugely following the gift by Canon Grainger, shortly before his death, of a collection of objects so vast that an annexe at the rear of the building had to be built to house it. The Museum remained at Central Library until 1928 when the completion of spacious, new, purpose-built premises in Botanic Gardens for both it and the Old Museum in College Square (which had been taken over by Belfast Council in 1907) became home to the new Belfast Museum and Art Galleries, forerunner of the Ulster Museum.

Image: Arthur Deane, appointed Curator in 1905, giving a lecture to schoolchildren in the Grainger Room at Belfast Free Public Library (later Belfast Central Library) in March 1917. Many of the objects which surround him can today be seen in the Ulster Museum in Botanic Gardens.
Arthur Deane, appointed Curator in 1905, giving a lecture to schoolchildren in the Grainger Room at Belfast Free Public Library (later Belfast Central Library) in March 1917. Many of the objects which surround him can today be seen in the Ulster Museum in Botanic Gardens.