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Industrial Belfast: photographs of work in the city

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Belfast witnessed great industrialisation in the later half of the nineenth century. Deemed ‘Linenopolis’ due to its booming linen industry, Belfast also had the largest shipyard and rope works in the world.[1] As an industrial and commercial hub with a great port, the city drew many from surrounding areas in search of work.[2] This mass migration meant that by beginning of the twentieth century almost four in every five households in Belfast were born outside of the city, as its population grew from 20,00 in 1800 to 350,000 in 1901.[3] Photographs from National Museum NI’s collections capture some of the many industries that provided employment. Some of these images are taken after the peak of the indusrtial boom but still provide a fascinating glimpse of urban working life.

[1] W.A. Maguire, Belfast: a history (Belfast, 2009), p. 102.

[2] Ibid.

[3] S.J. Connolly and Gillian McIntosh, ‘Whose city? Belonging and exclusion in the nineteenth- century urban world’ in S.J Connolly (ed.) Belfast 400: people, place and history (Liverpool, 2012), p. 265.

R.J. Welch, view of smoothing room in Robinson and Cleaver's linen factory, showing rows of girls sewing at machines. BELUM.Y18660 © National Museums Northern Ireland.

Linen

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A.R. Hogg, Gallaher Ltd., tobacco factory. drawing, c. 1909. BELUM.Y2839 © National Museums Northern Ireland.

Gallaher’s Tobacco Factory

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Photographer unknown, view of rope works, 1899. BELUM.Y23178 © National Museums Northern Ireland.

Rope Works

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R.J. Welch, Harland & Wolff, Ltd. View of Queen's Road, showing shipyard workers leaving at end of shift, with White Star Liner "Titanic" in stocks in background. 1911. BELUM.Y.W.10.46.44 © National Museums Northern Ireland.

Shipbuilding

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Belfast Telegraph collection, Sirocco Engineering Works, lathe turning, 1940. HOYFM.BT.994 © National Museums Northern Ireland.

Sirocco Engineering Works

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A.R. Hogg, Dunville Distilleries, showing railway line, pre 1909. BELUM.Y3370 © National Museums Northern Ireland.

Dunville Distilleries

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R.J. Welch, Cromac Saw Mills (Crawford, Browne & Company), 1912. BELUM.Y.W.10.29.48 © National Museums Northern Ireland.

Saw mills

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A.R. Hogg, Combe Barbour, Falls Foundry, c.1915. BELUM.Y3929 © National Museums Northern Ireland.

Combe Barbour, Falls Foundry

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R.J. Welch, view of McCaw, Stevenson & Orr, Belfast Printers, Loopbridge Works. Bookbinding stiching, c.1910. BELUM.Y.W.10.58.32 © National Museums Northern Ireland.

McCaw, Stevenson & Orr, Belfast Printers

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Linen

In the late nineteenth century, Belfast became known as ‘Linenopolis’ due to its booming linen industry, which employed thousands of individuals, mainly women. Single weaving factories, for instance, could have more than 4,000 workers.[4] In addition to numerous mills and factories, the linen industry provided work in warerooms, workshops and warehouses.[5] Not all jobs were the same, and hierarchies existed within the industry. However, the working conditions of many have been described as ‘most unheathy imaginable’ due to dangerous, taxing and unhygienic work enviroments.[6]

[4] Edwin Aiken & Stepehen Royle, ‘Markets and messages: Linenopolis meets the world’ in Olwen Purdue ed. Belfast: The emerging city 1840-1914 (Dublin, 2013), p. 2.

[5] W.A. Maguire, Belfast: a history (Belfast, 2009), p. 105.

[6] Emily Boyle, “Linenopolis’: The rise of the textile industry’ in J.C. Beckett (ed.) Belfast, The making of the city (Dublin 1983), p 52.

Image: R.J. Welch, view of smoothing room in Robinson and Cleaver's linen factory, showing rows of girls sewing at machines. BELUM.Y18660 © National Museums Northern Ireland.
R.J. Welch, view of smoothing room in Robinson and Cleaver's linen factory, showing rows of girls sewing at machines. BELUM.Y18660 © National Museums Northern Ireland.
Image: A.R. Hogg, Brookfield Linen Company Ltd. Mill. Interior, power looms. BELUM.Y3257 © National Museums Northern Ireland.
A.R. Hogg, Brookfield Linen Company Ltd. Mill. Interior, power looms. BELUM.Y3257 © National Museums Northern Ireland.
Image: W.A. Green, a view of a group of women in a factory operating a handloom. HOYFM.WAG.1935 © National Museums Northern Ireland.
W.A. Green, a view of a group of women in a factory operating a handloom. HOYFM.WAG.1935 © National Museums Northern Ireland.

 

Gallaher’s Tobacco Factory

The tobacco industry provided many jobs for Belfast. This industry was dominated by Gallaher’s, which was established in Belfast in 1863, after Thomas Gallaher transferred his successful but small scale tobacco operations from Londonderry to Belfast, where he could produce his superior pipe tobacco at a lower cost and in larger quantities.[7] These efforts were in response to growing demand, as per capita consumption of tobacco doubled in Ireland, between 1850-1900.[8] The companies growing success was displayed in their five storey factory, which employed 600 people, built in 1881, and further expanded in 1896.[9] Here is a photograph of a bird’s-eye view drawing of Galleher’s factory, built in York Street in 1889, and photographs of staff at work in the 1930s.

[7] W.A. Maguire, Belfast: a history (Belfast, 2009), pp, 110-1.

[8] Ibid.

[9] Ibid.

Image: A.R. Hogg, Gallaher Ltd., tobacco factory. drawing, c. 1909. BELUM.Y2839 © National Museums Northern Ireland.
A.R. Hogg, Gallaher Ltd., tobacco factory. drawing, c. 1909. BELUM.Y2839 © National Museums Northern Ireland.
Image: A.R. Hogg, Gallaher Ltd., tobacco factory. Packing department, 1932. BELUM.Y2870 © National Museums Northern Ireland.
A.R. Hogg, Gallaher Ltd., tobacco factory. Packing department, 1932. BELUM.Y2870 © National Museums Northern Ireland.
Image: A.R. Hogg, Gallaher Ltd., tobacco factory. Packing department, 1932. BELUM.Y2865 © National Museums Northern Ireland.
A.R. Hogg, Gallaher Ltd., tobacco factory. Packing department, 1932. BELUM.Y2865 © National Museums Northern Ireland.

 

Rope Works

In the late nineteenth century, Belfast saw the rise of an extensive rope works. Formed in the Queen’s Island shipyard in 1873, it rapidly expanded, becoming the world’s largest rope works by the turn of the century.[10] By this time, the works was employing 3,000 workers and producing rope and twine of all kinds, as well as fishing lines and nets, sash cord, and binder twine for harvesting machines.[11]

[10] W.A. Maguire, Belfast: a history (Belfast, 2009), p. 109.

[11] Ibid.

Image: Photographer unknown, view of rope works, 1899. BELUM.Y23178 © National Museums Northern Ireland.
Photographer unknown, view of rope works, 1899. BELUM.Y23178 © National Museums Northern Ireland.
Image: Photographer unknown, view of group of Belfast Rope Works workers, 1935. BELUM.Y23802 © National Museums Northern Ireland.
Photographer unknown, view of group of Belfast Rope Works workers, 1935. BELUM.Y23802 © National Museums Northern Ireland.

 

Shipbuilding

Shipbuilding is synonymous with Belfast. The docks provided much employment, mainly for men, in the late nineteenth century. From the 1860s, Harland & Wolff, Belfast’s largest firm, produced a growing number of ships, and from the 1870s, made vessels for the White Star Line. [12] By 1880, the yard occupied 40 acres and had ten slips.[13] Workman Clark was another successful yard in Belfast, making ships for customers such as P&O and Royal Mail.[14] Despite a serious trade depression in the early 1880s that led to a reduction in workforce and wages, the shipbuilding industry saw growth in the late 1880s and 1890s, and by 1900, Harland & Wolff alone was employing 9,000 men. [15]

[12] W.A. Maguire, Belfast: a history (Belfast, 2009), p. 105.

[13] Ibid.

[14] Ibid, pp. 105-6.

[15] Ibid, p. 106.

Image: R.J. Welch, Harland & Wolff, Ltd. View of Queen's Road, showing shipyard workers leaving at end of shift, with White Star Liner "Titanic" in stocks in background. 1911. BELUM.Y.W.10.46.44 © National Museums Northern Ireland.
R.J. Welch, Harland & Wolff, Ltd. View of Queen's Road, showing shipyard workers leaving at end of shift, with White Star Liner "Titanic" in stocks in background. 1911. BELUM.Y.W.10.46.44 © National Museums Northern Ireland.
Image: Harland & Wolff collection, port bow view of Olympic on slip prior to launch, with Titanic shell plated on no. 3 slip, 1910. HOYFM.HW.H1440 © National Museums Northern Ireland.
Harland & Wolff collection, port bow view of Olympic on slip prior to launch, with Titanic shell plated on no. 3 slip, 1910. HOYFM.HW.H1440 © National Museums Northern Ireland.

 

Sirocco Engineering Works

Sirocco Works, founded by Samuel Davidson in 1881, was one of the city’s most prominent engineering firms, receiving worldwide recognition.[16] By the end of the nineteenth century, most of the world’s tea drying machinery was produced by the works. This was due largely to the fact that Davidson had spent his early years in the Assam tea plantations in India, devising drying machinery, which he patented on his return home.[17] As well as this, Sirocco Works produced a large proportion of the world’s ventilation equipment, such as the large fan that can be seen in the second photograph.[18]

[16] W.A. Maguire, Belfast: a history (Belfast, 2009), p. 108-9.

[17] Ibid.

[18] Ibid.

Image: Belfast Telegraph collection, Sirocco Engineering Works, lathe turning, 1940. HOYFM.BT.994 © National Museums Northern Ireland.
Belfast Telegraph collection, Sirocco Engineering Works, lathe turning, 1940. HOYFM.BT.994 © National Museums Northern Ireland.
Image: Belfast Telegraph collection, Sirocco Engineering Works, buffing a large fan wheel, 1940 . HOYFM.BT.993. © National Museums Northern Ireland.
Belfast Telegraph collection, Sirocco Engineering Works, buffing a large fan wheel, 1940 . HOYFM.BT.993. © National Museums Northern Ireland.

 

Dunville Distilleries

By 1900, Belfast was responsible for well over half the total whiskey exports of Ireland.[19] Many were employed in successeful distilleries in the city which included Irish Distillery at Connswater, East Belfast, and Avoneil distillery.[20] These photographs show Dunville Distillery, which established a plant off Grosvenor Road in 1870, and by 1890, was producing two and a half million gallons of proof spirit.[21] These two images, both taken by A.R. Hogg, show the distillery in two different decades, with the first taken in 1909, and the second, showing part of the complex in 1937.

[19] W.A. Maguire, Belfast: a history (Belfast, 2009), p. 109.

[20] Ibid.

[21] Ibid.

Image: A.R. Hogg, Dunville Distilleries, showing railway line, pre 1909. BELUM.Y3370 © National Museums Northern Ireland.
A.R. Hogg, Dunville Distilleries, showing railway line, pre 1909. BELUM.Y3370 © National Museums Northern Ireland.
Image: A.R. Hogg, Dunville Distilleries, inside complex, 1937. BELUM.Y3373© National Museums Northern Ireland.
A.R. Hogg, Dunville Distilleries, inside complex, 1937. BELUM.Y3373© National Museums Northern Ireland.

 

Saw mills

Saw mills, which cut logs into lumber, were among the many mills that provided employment for those searching for work in Belfast. These photographs show two different saw mills in the city. Both are taken in the early twentieth century and show large amounts of lumber being stored, along with some male employees.

Image: R.J. Welch, Cromac Saw Mills (Crawford, Browne & Company), 1912. BELUM.Y.W.10.29.48 © National Museums Northern Ireland.
R.J. Welch, Cromac Saw Mills (Crawford, Browne & Company), 1912. BELUM.Y.W.10.29.48 © National Museums Northern Ireland.
Image: A.R. Hogg, Thos Dickson and Sons, Saw Mills and Creosoting Works, c. 1905. BELUM.Y2470 © National Museums Northern Ireland.
A.R. Hogg, Thos Dickson and Sons, Saw Mills and Creosoting Works, c. 1905. BELUM.Y2470 © National Museums Northern Ireland.

 

Combe Barbour, Falls Foundry

Belfast’s industrial boom brought many foundries to the city, with the first established as early as around 1825.[22] The Falls Foundry (later Combe Barbour) was a prominent foundry located in West Belfast. Established by Scot, James Combe in 1845, it supplied equipment to the expanding railways.[23] By the 1850s the foundry had branched into the textile machinery business, and from about 1880 to the end of the First World War, it also made large steam engines as part of their service to mill owners.[24] These images show the exterior of the foundry c.1915, and male labourers working inside in the late 1920s.

[22] www.culturenorthernireland.org/features/heritage/industrial-heritage-west-belfast

[23] Ibid.

[24] Ibid.

Image: A.R. Hogg, Combe Barbour, Falls Foundry, c.1915. BELUM.Y3929 © National Museums Northern Ireland.
A.R. Hogg, Combe Barbour, Falls Foundry, c.1915. BELUM.Y3929 © National Museums Northern Ireland.
Image: A.R. Hogg, Combe Barbour, Falls Foundry, 1928. BELUM.Y3930 © National Museums Northern Ireland.
A.R. Hogg, Combe Barbour, Falls Foundry, 1928. BELUM.Y3930 © National Museums Northern Ireland.

 

McCaw, Stevenson & Orr, Belfast Printers

According to historian W.A. Maguire, ‘Three Belfast printing firms achieved national or international reputation’ during the late nineteenth century.[25] These were the famous Marcus Ward & Co., David Allen & Sons, and McCaw, Stevenson & Orr. These photographs are of the latter. McCaw Stevenson & Orr started in the mid-1870s, specialising in prints for commercial and advertising.[26] This included ‘glacier’ transparent coloured labels, popular in Victorian shop windows.[27]

[25] W.A. Maguire, Belfast: a history (Belfast, 2009), p. 111.

[26] Ibid.

[27] Ibid.

Image: R.J. Welch, view of McCaw, Stevenson & Orr, Belfast Printers, Loopbridge Works. Bookbinding stiching, c.1910. BELUM.Y.W.10.58.32 © National Museums Northern Ireland.
R.J. Welch, view of McCaw, Stevenson & Orr, Belfast Printers, Loopbridge Works. Bookbinding stiching, c.1910. BELUM.Y.W.10.58.32 © National Museums Northern Ireland.
Image: R.J. Welch, view of McCaw, Stevenson & Orr, Belfast Printers, Loopbridge Works. Finishing room, c. 1899. BELUM.Y.W.10.58.9 © National Museums Northern Ireland.
R.J. Welch, view of McCaw, Stevenson & Orr, Belfast Printers, Loopbridge Works. Finishing room, c. 1899. BELUM.Y.W.10.58.9 © National Museums Northern Ireland.