The Newlodge: Old Story
THE AREAS NAME
The New Lodge. Those who are unfamiliar with the district would be excused from thinking that due to the name this would be a modern estate. Modern and new it is not and today the New Lodge ranks as one of Belfast’s most historical areas.
The main bulk of the area is bordered by the Antrim Road, Duncairn Gardens, North Queen Street and Clifton Street with its name coming from the thoroughfare running through its centre — the New Lodge Road. The lower section of this road was once a small lane-way known as Pinkerton’s Row which was really a small row of cottages but due to developments over a mile away this was soon to change. The Lodge was a large mansion situated in the Oldpark area. This house was built by the Joy family (relatives of Henry Joy McCracken) who in turn sold it to the Lyons family. The Lyons’s were extremely wealthy and owned much of the land in that area. During the mid 1800s the family decided to build a new house to the north of their property and when completed they named it ‘The Lodge.’ The family did not use much of their imagination when choosing a new name as The Lodge was also the name of the previous house. In order to distinguish the both houses the recently constructed property became known as ‘The New Lodge’ with the other becoming ‘The Old Lodge.’ The lane-way to this house retained the name ‘Lodge Road.’ However, when the laneway was completed to the new house there arose the problem of two lodge roads. Exactly the same solution that distinguished the two houses was used with the former road becoming the ‘Old Lodge Road’ and the recent one becoming the ‘New Lodge Road.’
During this period the whole area was very much in the countryside with very few buildings with the town of Belfast being the size of the present city centre. The country road now named the New Lodge had a few cottages on it and began on Carrickfergus Street slightly to the side of Artillery Barracks. However, in a very short space of time this was to change dramatically. The Artillery Barracks, as the name suggests, was the base of the local military. These barracks were erected in the latter part of the 1700s and were built to replace the old barracks which were situated in Ann Street. Another barrack was also situated next to this. The Infantry Barrack was erected in 1792 to replace the military quarters in Barrack Street and this became the main Belfast garrison. Next to this Belfast Charitable Society had built their Poor House in an attempt to care for the town”s paupers. Above the Artillery Barrack was the recently constructed Lodge Cotton Factory which was one of the many cotton mills situated around Belfast. With the exception of a few cottages these were the only buildings in the New Lodge area.
Now that a new road was constructed through the area the opportunity for further development was created. The land to the south of the New Lodge Road had two main owners — the Belfast Charitable Society and the Lepper family. The Charitable Society built a graveyard at the top of their land and then leased out much of their remaining property. The Lepper family, who owned the large cotton factory, decided to build their houses on their land. Charles Lepper built Laurel Lodge directly next to the cotton mill while his brother William built Trainfield House further down the New Lodge Road. Laurel Lodge was obviously named after the laurels growing in the grounds while Trainfield received its name from the fact that the grounds were previously the training grounds of Artillery Barracks. Smaller houses began to be constructed throughout the area and another mansion, Casino, was built next to the Poor House graveyard. New roads were also laid out. Previous to this the only houses were situated at the lower section of the New Lodge Road (Pinkertons Row) and at the junction of the New Lodge Road and the lane leading to Lepper’s cotton factory which later became Lepper Street. The northern side of the New Lodge Road also saw some development. Situated in this area was an ancient rock monument which was situated close to a spa. A mansion was constructed and this was named Fort Field while another was erected further down the field and was named Duncairn. Duncairn being the Irish term for the old fort.
Most of these mansion houses did not last long. Fort Field, Duncairn, Casino and Laurel Lodge were all demolished to clear the way for further development. The only survivor being Trainfield House.
As previously stated the first of these barracks were erected in the area during the latter part of the 1700s. Artillery Barracks were relatively small and held a small number of soldiers and horses. Belfast’s main barrack was situated to the west of the town and this was constructed in the 1730s. In the early part of the 1790s this was moved to the New Lodge area and was constructed between the Artillery Barracks and the Poor House.
These became the military headquarters and when first erected they were described as among the “finest and most commodious in Ireland.” Their grounds were spacious, and the site being elevated, their sanitary condition could not be surpassed. In the Spring of 1888 the original barrack accommodation was greatly increased by the addition of two blocks of buildings. Trainfield House was also purchased and this became the officers quarters. The barrack could now hold ten officers and 182 soldiers and work was continuing. The old Artillery Barrack was now taken over and altogether the barracks could now hold upwards of 1,000 men. Other buildings were added and these included a recreation room and coffee bar, gymnasium, hospital, morgue, canteen as well as additional sleeping quarters.
THE BELFAST CHARITABLE SOCIETY
As previously stated the Belfast Charitable Society owned a lot of the land to the south of the New Lodge Road. When streets began to be developed on Duncairn and on the property of the Lepper family the land of the Society was also to change dramatically. The Infantry Barrack was built on the Society’s land as was the new thoroughfare of Clifton Street. A row of large house were later built outside the Poor House on North Queen Street and to the back of the house a new street was laid out. Two new hospitals were built on this street by Edward Benn. The Ulster Eye, Ear and Throat Hospital and the Skin Hospital. Next to the skin hospital the Royal Irish Constabulary erected a large police barrack and next to this was erected a row of houses. Houses were also built on the other side of the street as was a large school, the Belfast Mercantile College. The street was named Glenravel Street after the area in the Glens of Antrim where Mr Edward Benn lived. Once the street was completed the military saw a use for it. They planned to make the main entrance into their barracks here but after a number of objections from the hospitals, who stated that marching soldiers would disturb their patients, the plan was scrapped. In a compromise a new street was laid out above Glenravel Street to lead to the barracks. This street became Henry Place. There is no doubt that the Society was responsible for much of the development in the New Lodge area but what was it?
On the 20th of August 1752 a meeting was held in Belfast by the leading inhabitants of the town and adjoining countryside to consider the question of building a poor-house, hospital and church. It was at this meeting that the Belfast Charitable Society was born. The necessity for a poor-house is shown by the following resolution passed at a subsequent meeting: Resolved-that, whereas a poor-house and hospital are greatly wanted in Belfast for the support of vast numbers of real objects of charity in this parish, for the employment of idle beggars who crowd to it from all parts of the North, and for the reception of infirm and diseased poor; and, whereas the church of Belfast is old and ruinous, and not large enough to accommodate the parishioners, and to rebuild and accommodate the parishioners, and to rebuild and enlarge the same would be an expense grievous and insupportable by the ordinary method of public cesses: Now, in order to raise a sum of money to carry those good works into execution, the following scheme has been approved of by the principle inhabitants of the said town and gentlemen of fortune in the neighbourhood who are friends to promote so laudable an undertaking.
A lottery was organised to raise money, the tickets of which were sold in the large cities and towns throughout the British Empire. But as the scheme did not receive much encouragement in London, and the tickets were cried down, the committee of the Belfast Charitable Society sent over two members, Mr Gregg and Mr Getty, with the power of attorney to promote the project. The scheme was still decried, and legal proceedings had to be taken to compel the purchasers to pay for their tickets.
At last, a sum of money having been obtained, a memorial was presented to Lord Donegall asking him to grant a piece of ground for the erection of buildings. The land the Belfast Charitable Society had in mind was in the countryside at the North of the town. Lord Donegall granted the land to the Society, and later advertisements were issued inviting plans for the building of a poor-house and hospital, the cost to be £3000, and the stone, sand, lime and water to be supplied by the inhabitants of the town and district. The plans of a Mr Cooley, of Dublin, for a poor-house to accommodate 36 inmates and a hospital to contain 24 beds were approved, and on the 7th of August, 1771, the foundation stone was laid, and placed within it were five guineas and a copper tablet with the following inscription: THIS FOUNDATION STONE OF A POOR-HOUSE AND INFIRMARY FOR THE TOWN AND PARISH OF BELFAST WAS LAID ON THE FIRST DAY OF AUGUST, A.D. M,DCC,LXXI, AND IN THE XI. YEAR OF THE REIGN OF MAJESTY GEORGE III THE RIGHT HONOURABLE ARTHUR EARL OF DONEGALL AND THE PRINCIPAL INHABITANTS OF BELFAST FOUNDED THIS CHARITY; AND HIS LORDSHIP GRANTED TO IT IN PERPETUITY EIGHT ACRES OF LAND ON PART OF WHICH THIS BUILDING IS ERECTED.
In addition to the hospital and poor-house the building contained assembly rooms for the use of the townspeople and profit of the charity. On the 17th of September, 1774, the hospital was opened for the admission of the sick. In this hospital were made the first trials of inoculation and vaccination in the north of Ireland, because, the minutes show that on the 4th of May, 1782, the thanks of the committee were given to Dr W. Drennan (the United Irishman) for his introduction of the plan of inoculation, and on the 29th of March, 1800, a resolution was passed permitting Dr Haliday to try the experiment of vaccination on a few children in the poor-house, provided the consent of their parents was obtained. An extern department was afterwards established and wards were also allotted for the treatment of lunatics, and it can be found from an entry in the committee book that a lunatic at one time had to be chained down and handcuffed. It also appears that there was a lock hospital as well as a reformatory in connection with the building.
For a number of years the Belfast Charitable Society remained the only charity in the town of Belfast, but gradually other institutions became established which relieved its expenditure, and with the erection of a dispensary in 1792 and a hospital for infectious diseases in 1799 the Society was then able to close its extern department. In August 1817 the hospital was moved to Frederick Street where it was named the ‘Royal Hospital’, and it was here that the hospital remained until the early part of the present century when it was moved to the Falls Road and renamed the ‘Royal Victoria Hospital’. Since coming under the operation of the Irish Poor Law Act the Society has been, in its practical operation, limited to the class of decayed citizens. Reduced tradesmen, artisans and servants, under this act, were seen to be fit and sent to the work-house on the Lisburn Road In 1867 an additional wing at the back of the poor-house was erected at a cost of £2,500 which was paid by John Charters (a mill owner) and in 1873 two additions, at each side of the building, were erected by Edward Benn at a cost of £2,850.
It was the Poor House which built the graveyard which remains in the area today. This was built to raise money to run the Poor House as well as providing somewhere for them to bury the poor who died. Today this is a very historic burying ground and contains two of the biggest ‘famine’ graves in this part of the country as well as the remains of many who built the present city.
THE NEW LODGE TAKES SHAPE
The 1880s was the decade which not only built the New Lodge but also Belfast. It was also the decade which saw Belfast turn from a town into a city when the charter was granted in 1888. As previously stated the area to the south of the New Lodge Road was dramatically changed when the military expanded their barrack and the Belfast Charitable Society created Glenravel Street and Henry Place. The northern side of the New Lodge Road was completely transformed when the entire Duncairn estate was cleared and straight rows of houses built. The Duncairn estate was famous throughout Ireland and Britain for its beautiful gardens and when one of these streets was built through them it retained the name — Duncairn Gardens. This thoroughfare also saw the area divided with one side keeping the name of the New Lodge and the other becoming Duncairn. Both areas were now made up of working class housing as were its surrounding districts with the exception of Duncairn Street which became the Antrim Road. Duncairn Street was not the only thoroughfare which was to go through a name change. At the same time the upper section of the New Lodge Road was changed to the Cliftonville Road.
After the development of the 1880s the New Lodge area was to basically remain the same well into the next century. York Street Mill was the main employer as were the docks. It was very much a Protestant area with the exception being the lower end of the New Lodge Road which was Catholic. In other areas of Belfast there had been great distrust between Catholics and Protestants and on several occasions this resulted in street disorders. The New Lodge area always remained unaffected, however, after the partition of Ireland this was to change.
When war was declared between Britain and Germany in 1914 many young men from Belfast, both Catholic and Protestant, joined various regiments of the British army. This war lasted four years and many of these men never came back. A situation now arose where those who did return were experts with guns. The Protestants now despised the Catholics after the failed rising in Ireland during the war, however, after the Republican victory which saw the formation of Northern Ireland and the Irish Free State a few years later this hatred was to surface into killings. Six of the Ulster counties were to remain British and many of the Catholics living there felt trapped and isolated. Civil war erupted in the city in 1920 and over the next two years many deaths were to follow. Many terrible murders occurred in this period but one of the most tragic occurred yards away from the New Lodge Road when the McMahon family were slaughtered in their home in 1922.
These troubles ended at the beginning of 1923 but unemployment now began to strike a major blow to all the working class communities and the New Lodge was no exception. A few years later local trade unions began to unite Belfast’s Catholic and Protestant working classes in the fight against unemployment and in the early 1930s the even marched together. Seeing this as a threat the upper classes used the tried and tested tactic of ‘divide and conquer’. The business men and mill owners stated that what the trade unions were doing were part of an IRA plot against Ulster and that god fearing Protestants should have nothing to do with it. It worked and sectarian conflict once again erupted. These conflicts did not last long and the death toll was nothing compared to that of the 1920s conflict. A few years later other conflicts broke out and once again these resulted in a very low death rate. These were the last sectarian fights to strike Belfast and the peace was to last until the late 1960s. But the suffering of Belfast was not over yet. In the late 1930s people in Belfast believed that the events in Europe would not affect them when Adolf Hitler began to raid countries around Germany. Britain declared war in 1939 after the invasion of Poland but Belfast still believed that it would have no affect on them. The people of Belfast were wrong.
THE LUFTWAFFE BLITZ
On the night of April 15 1941, an event occurred in Belfast which, until then, many people in the city had thought impossible. The German Luftwaffe began an air raid. Although this was to be a main raid it was not the first, as there had been a smaller raid which had previously targeted the docks area. Most people thought nothing much of that particular raid and accepted the view of the Northern Ireland Cabinet that Hitler’s bombers could never reach Belfast. Due to this ignorance Belfast became the most undefended city in the whole of Britain. It had no fighter planes, no barrage balloons and very few anti aircraft guns, a fact which is very hard to believe after three years of war. On the 15th of April 1941 one of the largest squadrons of Luftwaffe bombers consisting of over 200 planes left Brittany, in the north west of France. Their target — Belfast.
The planes that took part were mainly Heinkel HE III medium bombers. In Belfast the air raid sirens sounded to warn of the advancing squadron. The Civil Defence took up positions with the army manning the few anti aircraft guns in Victoria Barracks and the Castlereagh hills and in the port smoke-screens were already belching out thick black smoke. When the sirens stopped the noise of the approaching bombers could be heard coming over Carlingford Lough. Minutes later all hell broke loose.
As is well documented many areas of Belfast were struck but, without doubt, the most heavily struck civilian areas were those between York Street and the Antrim road. In the New Lodge bombs struck a large number of streets due to the fact that Victoria Barracks was a direct target. Burke Street, which ran between Annadale Street and Dawson Street, disappeared with a heavy loss of life. In Lincoln Avenue and nearby Cranburn Street what were once neat rows of terraced houses were now heaps of burning rubble, as were parts of St James”s Street, Pim Street and the upper parts of Hillman Street and Duncairn Gardens. An air raid shelter on the Halidays Road received a direct hit killing all those sheltering within it. Coulters car shop on the Antrim Road was nothing but a pile of rubble and broken motor cars and the York Street Flax Spinning Mill received a number of hits and was burning out of control. One of its large side walls collapsed on to Sussex and Vere Streets killing all those who stayed within them. Victoria Barracks was also hit a number of times, the scene inside the barracks is described by Jimmy Doherty who was an air raid warden at the time of the bombing
He wrote, “The barrack complex was devastated. Large blocks were in ruins, some of them blazing. The married quarters received a direct hit resulting in heavy casualties and loss of life. Rescue teams were busily engaged trying to recover bodies or others who could be brought out alive. This was the site that met us as we passed along with one of the guards from the gate who directed us through the area and gave us a running commentary as we went along. We could see more new fires were blazing fiercely in the buildings used as stores. ”The gunners collected a packet” was how our guide described a direct hit on a gun crew. A group of A.T.S. girls perished in this attack as did some more when a bomb hit their quarters. Our informant told us that about 30 A.T.S. were killed. He told of further major damage at the far end of the barrack as we cut off between two large blocks.”
As was normal at the time the military denied that Victoria Barracks was even hit but the fact of the matter was that the place was practically levelled. The German bombs continued to bomb Belfast for most of the night dropping flares to light up their targets before dropping various types of bombs which included landmines suspended from parachutes and numerous anti handling devices which were particular lethal as they were designed to explode once someone had touched it. The New Lodge and the areas around it were the most blitzed due to the fact that the Luftwaffe had targeted Victoria Barracks, York Street Mill, and the nearby Water Works. At day break the damage caused during the bombing could clearly be seen. Many parts of the city were nothing more than burning heaps of rubble and much of the city centre was still ablaze. In the New Lodge rows and rows of terraced housing was bombed beyond recognition and with every hour that passed the death rate for the area and for the whole city rose higher. Almost everyone in Burke Street, which had been completely levelled, were killed and this was a pattern in many other parts of the area.
A number of New Lodge churches also suffered major damage with Spamount, St James”s and Duncairn Gardens all burnt out. The Air Raid Wardens, Army and numerous volunteers were busy digging at the rubble in the hope of finding survivors and removing the bodies of those who died. At the same time fire fighters were trying to extinguish the burning buildings and rubble. The bodies removed were taken either to the Mater Hospital, Falls Road Baths or St Georges Market. They were then laid out and people who had reported members of their family missing then had to look through all the corpses to see if their loved ones were among them. There were many people dug out who had survived the bombing by sheltering underneath their stairs or in cellars beneath their homes, they were fortunate enough that their homes did not receive a direct hit or had even caught on fire. For Belfast as a whole its problems were now just beginning, there was the injured to be treated and the dead to be identified. The unexploded bombs also had to be dealt with as did the homeless followed by the clearing up operations. The death toll was growing at an alarming rate and it was learned that 35 people had been killed in Sussex Street alone after the mill wall fell on the small Victorian houses.
When the Luftwaffe returned to their base German Radio interviewed one of the pilots involved who reported the following. “We were in exceptional good humour knowing that we were going for a new target, one of England’s last hiding places. Wherever Churchill is hiding his war material we will go. Belfast is as worthy a target as Coventry, Birmingham, Bristol or Glasgow.”
It was now realised that Belfast was not immune to attack. The cities defences were built up with anti aircraft guns, barrage balloons and searchlights. At night people took to the surrounding hills to avoid any further raid. Many people thought that this had been a ”one off” raid and that the Luftwaffe would not return. Once again they were wrong. Over the following few days many people joked about the bombing of the Water Works. The theory was that they were stupid enough to mistake this for the Belfast Docks. The authorities were staying silent. The bombing of water supplies was a common feature throughout Britain and it could only mean one thing — the Luftwaffe would return.
THE FIRE RAID
Eighteen days after the main raid the Luftwaffe returned to carry out another and more devastating, air raid on Belfast. From their bases in northern France, 471 bombers set of for their targets and of these, 204 were destined for Belfast. The same type of planes used in the first air raid were once again used with the only difference being the bombs they were carrying. In addition to the high explosive bombs the bombers had also equipped themselves with highly inflammable incendiary devices. The target was once again the shipyard and aircraft factory but with the use of incendiary bombs they also planned to burn much of Belfast and so bring the city to a stand still. As previously stated they had also bombed the Water Works on the Antrim Road during their last attack and so they knew that the water to put out the fires was going to be in short supply. This was the reason why it was targeted the first time.
At around one o’clock in the morning the bombs began to fall and immediately large fires could be seen in and around the docks and in the city centre. Soon after the bombs struck Victoria Barracks and, once again, the streets situated around it. Many of the streets running between Henry Street and Great George”s Street were burning intensely with the fire spreading through the terraced houses very quickly. In the New Lodge, Hillman Street, Upper Meadow Street, Spamount Street and Stratheden Street all had large parts in flames as had many other streets including Lepper Street and Glenrosa Street. Belfast had now become the target for a ”fire blitz”, which was the new German strategy in aerial warfare. Glenravel Street R.U.C. barracks received a direct hit killing five constables and the next door Skin Hospital was burned to a smouldering shell as were some remaining parts of Victoria Barracks. What was left of the York Street Mill was burned and the neighbouring Gallagher Tobacco Factory received a number of direct hits and parts of nearby Sailortown had fire devouring its buildings. In the New Lodge area the casualty figures were a fraction of those inflicted during the last raid due to the fact that the main target was the shipyard and the east of the city. When the raid had ended it was to have been the last as Hitler directed the Luftwaffe bombers to attack ports and cities in Britain. In Belfast it was to have been many years before the city returned to normal because of the large amount of damage caused.
As previously stated 1888 was the years that not only developed the New Lodge but much of Belfast. Since then the area remain totally unchanged up until 1941 when Hitler’s bombs forced the changes. Many streets were obliterated as was Victoria Barracks (although this was denied.) When it was built aerial warfare was unheard off. After this bombing the military authorities now realised that there garrisons were totally unsafe and that regiments could be wiped out in their own barracks through aircraft bombing missions. Another major problem also came to light. Due to the tactics of the Luftwaffe. When the water supply was put out of action it was realised that large sections of the city could be set on fire. Large cities did indeed burn down because of this and the fault was with their old Victorian design. When the war had ended a rebuilding began the city of Belfast was to change dramatically.
One problem being faced by the Belfast Corporation (and others) was the need for more housing and not enough land. The local governments believed that their problems were resolved whenever plans were presented showing a large number of homes on a very small piece of land – high rise flats. During the 1950s and 60s work on these began and old Belfast districts were wiped out and replaced with building schemes such as Divis Flats, Unity Flats and Shankill Estate. The New Lodge also obtained this modern form of housing when the Victoria Barracks were sold to the Corporation. Because of the destruction caused to the base by the Luftwaffe it basically needed to be rebuilt. The military authorities decided that instead of doing this they would move to Holywood. A small section of the base remained and the remainder was demolished. Multi level flats then began to appear and in the area six twelve storey flats were built and one sixteen storey block. Below these maisonettes were constructed as were a few houses. On the bomb site at Sheridan Street three four storey blocks were built and another on the Antrim Road. In 1968 the military moved from the remaining section of Victoria Barracks to the nearby site at Girdwood Park and to Lisburn. When this was done the present Carlisle Estate was constructed on the land.
It was to be over twenty years before the rebuilding programme began to come to a close. Other sections of the district were cleared and new housing erected mainly on the left hand side of the New Lodge Road. On the right hand side the rows of housing were renovated but this in turn has led to its own problems and, at the time of writing, a scheme is underway where this housing is also to be replaced. When this is complete there will be nothing left of the old area except for the old army gym (the Recy), the old cemetery and the Belfast Poor House (Clifton House.)