Story of Belfast Collection

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Early Belfast

For most people, 19th century Belfast is the very essence of an industrial city, boasting as it did by 1900 the world's largest spinning mill, the most productive shipyard, the biggest ropeworks and tobacco factory. Early Belfast: The Origins and Growth of an Ulster Town to 1750 looks beyond that world to reveal an earlier Belfast where the foundations for its later industrial prowess were laid.

It charts the town's remarkable growth from site to city, from the first mentions of it as long ago as the 7th century through to the 13th century Anglo-Norman settlement and Gaelic revival, to the Plantation town of the 17th and 18th centuries. It retraces not only the development of the early streets and their names, but also the lives of those who walked and lived in them. In doing so it recreates something of the thriving commercial settlement and port that came increasingly to dominate the life of the region it served -- Ulster -- in the 17th and 18th centuries.

Using a unique series of maps, together with archaeological and documentary evidence that has been expertly pieced together, the book revolutionises our understanding of this, the most Ulster of towns, before the coming of industrialisation. Just as importantly, it reminds us that Belfast has always had, in the poet Derek Mahon's lyrical phrase, a 'hill at the top of every street'.

An Unlikely Success Story: The Belfast Shipbuilding Industry 1880-1935

Shipbuilding was a most unlikely success story in Belfast and its prosperity was created by a strange mixture of entrepreneurial ability, timing, technical expertise and employment patterns. It was the last of the 'main' industries to develop in Belfast but in terms of wealth-creation and prestige, it was perhaps the greatest of the city's employers.

By the start of the twentieth century Belfast had become one of the main centres of the British shipbuilding industry and, in some years before the First World War, the city's yards were producing up to 10% of British merchant shipping output. But how did the town develop into one of the world's great shipbuilding centres?

This book offers the first history of the whole spectrum of the Belfast shipbuilding industry. It is the story of the yards and the ships. Beyond that it explores the social conditions and workplace environment of the tens of thousands whom this great industry embraced.

Portrait of an Industrial City: Clanging Belfast 1750-1914

'Hammers clanging' was the sound that the great nineteenth-century novelist William Makepeace Thackeray associated with Belfast when he visited it in 1842. By then, Belfast's industrial development was well under way. Had Thackeray visited the city in 1900, he would not have been surprised to find that it was by then the fastest-growing city in the British Isles. It had outstripped Dublin as the largest on the island of Ireland; indeed, it ranked third in the British empire ... and still echoed to the sound of those clanging hammers.

Industry lay at the heart of the city's manufacturing prowess. The shipyards dominated the central harbour area. The textile mills '€“ over 200 of them '€“ seemed to be on every street corner. The constant movement of workers and goods, the smells and sounds of constant industrial activity, and that distinctive clang of metal on metal, dominated the city's daily life.

The city's expansion made it a magnet for the many thousands who migrated there in search of work. This forms the focus of the first chapter, '"The town broke loose": growth'. Belfast's population multiplied many times between 1750 and 1914 '€“ in 1900 only a quarter of the city's population had been born there.

Industrialisation was the engine of Belfast's remarkable growth and the principal contributors to its industrial development '€“ shipbuilding, linen and engineering '€“ take pride of place in the second chapter.

The hectic nature of the thriving and constant activity on the streets of the city (for example, 'scavengers' were employed to scoop up and recycle the manure left on the streets by horses) and the equally rumbustious local and national political goings-on at a critical time in Ireland's history are given close attention.

Throughout the book, the deft use of primary sources and documents illuminates the intriguing story of Belfast, an industrial city described in 1914, at the end of our period of interest, as 'really a wonder'.

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