Belfast in the 17th Century
The city of Belfast began in the early 17th century. The name Belfast is a corruption of the Gaelic words Beal Feirste meaning mouth of the sandy ford.
In 1177 an Englishman called John de Courcy built a castle there. However the actual town of Belfast grew up after 1609 when king James began his policy of settling Englishmen and Scots in Ulster. Sir Arthur Chichester was granted land in Ulster including Belfast Castle, which he rebuilt in 1611. A small town soon grew up in its shadow.
By 1611 there were Englishmen, Scots and Manx men living in the thriving community of Belfast. In 1613 Belfast was made a corporation and afterwards it sent 2 MPs to parliament. However the corporation was partly controlled by the Chichester family, the lords of the manor. Belfast was run by an official called a sovereign assisted by 12 burgesses (merchants). Each year the burgesses drew up a shortlist of 3 of themselves and Chichester chose one to be the sovereign. Chichester's consent was required for new by laws. Ordinary people had no part in the government of Belfast.
In the early 17th century Belfast was a small town with a population of only about 1,000 but it was busy. Wool, hides, grain, butter and salted meat were exported from Belfast to England, Scotland and France. Wine and fruit were imported into Belfast from France and Spain.
Later in the 17th century Belfast traded with the North American colonies. Tobacco was imported from there. Sugar was imported from the West Indies and refined in Belfast.
By the late 17th century Belfast probably had a population of about 1,500-2,000. It was swelled by French Protestants, fleeing religious persecution in their own country, who introduced linen weaving to Belfast. Other industries in Belfast were brewing, rope making and sail making.
In 1680 Belfast gained a piped water supply (using wooden pipes). After 1686 each householder was supposed to hang a lantern outside his house at night during the winter months. The first bridge over the Lagan was erected after 1682.
Belfast in the 18th Century
Belfast Castle burned down in 1708. However in the 18th century Belfast grew rapidly. The population of Belfast was only about 2,500 in 1700 but it grew to about 8,000 in 1750 and about 13,000 by 1780. By 1800 Belfast had a population of around 20,000. In the late 18th century a new suburb grew up across the Lagan.
Meanwhile Belfast gained its first newspaper in 1737. Belfast gained its first bank in 1752 and its first theatre by 1768.
During the 18th century increasing amounts of linen were exported from Belfast. (The linen was woven in people's homes in the surrounding countryside not woven in factories). In 1701 less than 200,000 yards of linen was exported from Belfast. By 1773 the figure had risen to 17 million yards. The White Linen Hall was built in 1788. Cotton spinning was introduced into Belfast in 1777. However it never had the same importance as linen.
In 1785 a Harbour Board was formed with responsibility for the upkeep of the harbour. Shipbuilding in Belfast began in 1791.
Belfast in the 19th Century
Belfast continued to grow rapidly in the 19th century. Belfast was made a borough in 1842 and it was made a city in 1888. Meanwhile in 1800 a Paving Board was formed to pave the streets of Belfast and The Royal Academic Institution was built in 1810. The first hospital in Belfast was built in 1815 in Frederick Street. A lunatic asylum was built in Belfast in 1829. Meanwhile St George's Church was built in 1819.
Queen's Bridge was built in 1843 and Queen's University was formed in 1845. Sinclair Seamen's Church was built in 1853 and St Malachy's Church was built in 1844.
The Harbour Commissioners Office was built in 1854. The Custom House was built in 1857. Ulster Hall was built in 1862. Albert Memorial Clock was erected in 1869.
Belfast Castle was built by the Marquis of Donegal in 1870. Belfast Public Library was built in 1890. Grand Opera House was built in 1895. St Georges Market was built in 1896. St Anne's Anglican Cathedral was built in the years 1899-1927.
Ulster Museum dates from 1833. Meanwhile a Botanic and Horticultural Society was formed in Belfast in 1827. They created a private botanic garden and the Palm House was built in 1840. The Botanic Garden became a public park in 1895.
From 1823 Belfast had gas light and a railway was built from Belfast to Lisburn in 1839. From 1872 horse drawn trams ran in the streets of Belfast.
As in all early 19th century cities conditions in Belfast in the years 1800-1850 were appalling. Streets were dirty and houses were overcrowded. The Lagan was used a sewer. Not surprisingly in 1847 there was an outbreak of typhus (a disease spread by lice). In 1848 cholera struck Belfast.
Belfast in the late 19th Century
In the late 19th century conditions improved. New by-laws meant all new houses were much better. Unfortunately the old ones still remained. In the late 1880s and early 1890s Belfast Council built a network of sewers. Albert Bridge was built in 1890. Meanwhile the shipbuilding industry in Belfast boomed. The Harland and Wolff shipyard was founded in 1862.
The port of Belfast also boomed. The River Lagan was shallow and winding so in 1841 a channel was dug to bypass one of its curves. In this way Queen's Island was formed. The channel was extended in 1849 and the extension was named Victoria Channel. (Both it and Queen's Island were named after the visit of Queen Victoria to Belfast in 1849). Clarendon Dock was built in 1851. Dufferin and Spencer Docks followed in 1872. York Dock was built in 1897.
The rope making industry flourished during the 19th century. However linen was the dominant industry in Belfast. In the early years of the 19th century linen was woven by hand in people's homes in Belfast and surrounding villages.
From the mid 19th century the linen industry was industrialised and it was woven in factories. However the cotton industry declined severely in the mid-19th century. There were several iron foundries in Belfast in the mid 19th century and in the late 19th century a large engineering industry grew up. Also in the late 19th century there was a whiskey distilling industry in Belfast and a tobacco industry.
Harland and Wolff was founded in 1853 by Robert Hickson, an ironmonger, and sold to his shipyard manager, Edward Harland, in 1855. Harland was financed by GC Schwabe of Liverpool, whose nephew Gustav Wolff joined the firm as Harland's assistant.
The first ship to be launched from the shipyard was the Venetian, followed by innovatory transoceanic liners for the White Star Line such as the Oceanic, the Britannic, the Olympic, and of course the Titanic. Harland and Wolff quickly established a reputation as the world's leading liner constructor.
In 1880, the firm of Workman and Clark was established on the opposing bank of the River Lagan in Co Antrim. Known as the 'wee yard', they took over McIlwaine and Coll within three years and pioneered refrigerated shipping utilised by the booming transoceanic trade routes.
Belfast in the 20th Century
By 1901 Belfast had a population of 349,000. It was around this time when James Maxton & Company was founded. The Principal Surveyor was Mr James Maxton. The company was involved in the design and superintendence during construction of a number of new vessels and in particular for the Fruit Company and Straight Line and are mentioned in various documents and news reports within the shipbuilding industry and shipping line history.
James Maxton & Company expanded into other marine engineering activities and representations on behalf of many of the main Hull and Machinery Underwriters, and employment in superintendence for local ship-owners, including John Kelly Ltd, Antrim Steamship Company, and James Fisher of Newry
The outbreak of the First World War in 1916 generated a marked increase in production in the shipyards. However, the ensuing economic slump saw shipyard employment figures fall from a pre-war high of 25,000 to just 2750 in 1933. Workman and Clark were bought over by the Tyneside Company Northumberland Shipping, but declared bankruptcy in 1928. A management buyout was arranged, but a combination of the Wall Street Crash and a serious fire on the dock bound liner Bermuda finished off Workman and Clark in 1935.
By 1939 the population of Belfast had risen to 438,000. City Hall was built in 1906 and Belfast was made the capital of Northern Ireland in 1920. Meanwhile from 1904 electric trams replaced the horse drawn ones and Belfast airport was built in 1933. In 1911 The Titanic was launched in Belfast.
In the early years of the 20th century the traditional industries and the port continued to flourish. Musgrave Channel was dug in 1903. Herdman Channel was dug in 1933. The same year Pollock Dock opened.
In the 1920s and 1930s Belfast suffered from mass unemployment. However during the Second World War shipbuilding and engineering boomed. These essential industries made Belfast a target for German bombing and the city suffered severely during the blitz. There were 3 raids, on 7 April 1941, 15-16 April 1941 and 4 May 1941. A total of 955 people were killed. Some 3,200 houses were destroyed. There was also much damage to industry in Belfast.
Harland and Wolff were by now the only the only shipbuilders on the Lagan, and survived to emerge as a key component in the war effort of 1939 to 1945. Employment in the shipyards returned to over 20,000 as the firm made boats, tanks and guns in the early rearmament drive.
However, half their yards were destroyed by the German blitz of April 1941 and, while they were able to rebuild quickly, Harland and Wolff also lost boats and men in one of the most devastating air raids of the war.
James Maxton & Company was occupying offices in Victoria Street at the time of the 1941 blitz and unfortunately the Offices were destroyed during the blitz resulting in all records being lost. The company then moved into new offices and continued to trade as before.
In the late 20th century Belfast again suffered from high unemployment. The old industries of linen, engineering and shipbuilding declined and many workers were laid off. However service industries such as education, local government, and retail grew rapidly. At the end of the 20th century there was a flourishing industry in Belfast making aircraft.
Throughout this period James Maxton & Company continued trading and was now working as Non Exclusive Surveyors for Det Norske Veritas, Bureau Veritas and American Bureau of Shipping. They continued to service the Insurance market as Surveyors for Hull & Machinery Claims and were appointed as Surveyors to The Salvage Association, London. The Superintendence continued for Owners and the company diversified into P & I work for cargo claims and other associated work, and the company continued to expand with the City. The Principal Surveyor was now Mr Hector McColl a nephew of Mr James Maxton & Company. In 1960 Mr Ronnie Atkinson, a Marine Engineer, had joined the company and other Surveyors included two other Marine Engineers, Mr Lewis McKay who subsequently moved to another Belfast Company of Naval Architects and Surveyors and Mr Carlisle Scott who moved to The Salvage Association and were he was latterly appointed as Principal Surveyor in the Piraeus Office of The Salvage Association.
The Association with the local Ship-owners John Kelly Ltd of Belfast progressed and James Maxton & Company provided full Engineering Superintendence to John Kelly Ltd in the day to day running of the company. James Maxton & Company moved to office accommodation in John Kelly Ltd.'s Station Street, Belfast Office suite.
In 1970 Mr Harry Steele, Marine Engineer, joined the company and became a Partner in 1975, and then Principal Surveyor until his retirement from the Company in 1992. Harry was responsible for the purchase of new tonnage, Ballykelly and Ballykeeran to the John Kelly Fleet in the late 1970's, and also for new tonnage of the vessel's "Ballygarvey" and "Ballygrainey" or 'G' boats as they were known. Which were built by Cleland's of Google and proved to be two excellent acquisitions to the John Kelly Fleet.
In 1980 Mr Fred Stitt also a Marine Engineer joined the company as Assistant Surveyor, and assisted Harry as required with Superintendence of the new build 'G' boats and also the other 6 vessel's, Ballylesson, Ballyloran, Ballyrush, Ballykelly, Ballykelly and Ballykeeran. Fred trained under Ron and Harry and eventually took over the full Engineering Superintendence of the Kelly Vessel Fleet.
Fred became a Partner in the company with Mr Bryan Millar, a Naval Architect in 1992.
The company continued to provide the services to Hull & Machinery Insurers, Superintendence, and other traditional surveys but with an evolving situation including providing services to the MOD on RMAS, RNR, and RN, DARD, DANI and fisheries protection vessel.
During the 1960s and 1970s Belfast also suffered from crowded and substandard housing, although the situation had improved by the end of the century, partly because many people moved to satellite communities.
Kings Hall Conference Centre was built in 1965 and Queen Elizabeth II Bridge opened in 1966. Crescent Arts Centre opened in 1980 and Belfast City Tours began in 1985.
At the end of the century Belfast began to reinvent itself. Smithfield Market was rebuilt in 1986. In 1988 an old gasworks in Belfast was demolished and the area was redeveloped. Cromac Industrial Estate was built on part of the site.
In 1989 Laganside Corporation was formed to regenerate land on both sides of the river Lagan. Waterfront Hall opened in 1997. Furthermore new shopping centres were built. Castle Court Centre opened in 1990. So did Westwood Centre. Forestside Shopping Centre opened in 1998.