A Street Through Time: Belfast Mercantile Academy
Mercantile Academy on map of Clifton Street

In 1854 schoolmaster John Pyper established his namesake ‘Pyper Academy’ in Belfast. Pyper was a vocal member of the North Belfast community in his advocation of total abstinence and involvement in the Temperance League. Throughout his life, Pyper gave numerous addresses on the subject.[1] Pyper’s son James became Headmaster of the Academy in 1867 and oversaw the school’s move to Glenravel Street, as the number of pupils outgrew the physical confines of the building. The new, state of the art building designed by prominent architect Anthony Thomas Jackson, opened March 1874 to great local acclaim. Attendees at the school’s opening marvelled at its large, well-ventilated, light school rooms complete with a sizeable playground set back from the traffic of the main Clifton Street.[2]

  The school’s design was remarkably different from traditional inner city schools, where crowded and dark classrooms were the norm. The building was a direct response to growing educational changes where the positive experience of the pupil was increasingly seen as central to a school’s success. A further tell-tale sign of its progressiveness was its inclusion of both sexes in the school.

Original plans for the Pyper Academy, 1867| MS9|2015|006|0144

  During the Belfast Blitz, the area was subject to heavy bombing, irreparably damaging the Glenravel Street school. With the safety and experience of children of great importance, the school purchased new premises at Ardilea House in Jordanstown in 1951, completing the move in September 1953.[3] At this time, Jordanstown was relatively undeveloped so provided an escape from the dangers of inner-city, wartime life for the school’s pupils. Under Headmaster Robert Harte the school also changed its name to ‘Belfast High School’ in 1942.[4] It is still known as this today and remains situated on the Jordanstown campus, which has since greatly expanded and modernised around its Ardelia House origins.[5] The former site of the school, on Glenravel street, was destroyed as the Westlink development claimed the whole street.

Ardelia House
The Belfast Mercantile Academy in 1913

[1] Belfast Morning News, https://www.britishnewspaperarchive.co.uk/viewer/BL/0000428/18631126/026/0004?browse=False, 16th November 1863.

[2] ‘Belfast Mercantile Academy’ in Belfast News-Letter, https://www.britishnewspaperarchive.co.uk/viewer/BL/0000038/18740306/006/0003?browse=False, 6th March 1874.

[3] Belfast Telegraph, https://www.britishnewspaperarchive.co.uk/viewer/BL/0002318/19530930/104/0008?browse=False, 30th September 1953.

[4]Northern Whig, https://www.britishnewspaperarchive.co.uk/viewer/bl/0001542/19420805/133/0002, 5th August 1942.

[5] ‘Belfast High School: Our history’ https://www.youtube.com/watch?v=fVWOr0oL_84&t=160s, 2:42.

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