A Street Through Time: Clifton Street Shops
Location of Clifton Street shops on Clifton Street

The first buildings on lower Clifton Street, branching off North Queen Street, were commissioned as a block of shops by local builder W.B. McMaster. The plot was colloquially known as ‘McMaster’s yard’. The architect involved in the design of the shops was William Hastings, who came from an influential family of civil engineers. Testament to their local influence is their burial plot in the Clifton Street graveyard.[1]

Two buildings were initially put forward by Hastings. One of the designs, dated 1868, was an elaborate grey stoned building with the capacity for nine business and housing space above. A later plan, from 1872, depicts a considerably scaled back design fashioned from red brick, more traditional for the Belfast vernacular. The space served a mixed purpose, with the shops varying widely. For example, in 1894 the businesses operating out of the building included a pub, painter, draper, building contractor, confectioner, grocer, butcher, plumber and undertaker at the same time.[2] The shops were the nucleus of the surrounding community, providing all the essentials to make the area habitable and functional. This would be true of the area over the subsequent decade as different businesses moved in and out of the space to serve the community.

Early elaborate plans for the row of shops| MS9|2015|010|0359
Later, scaled back plans| MS9|2015|010|0360

Over the years episodes of turmoil punctured the otherwise functional space. For example, during the Second World War rationing of foodstuffs was implemented in Northern Ireland. Adhering to these rules were bound by law and held important symbolism for the commitment to the British wartime cause. Proprietor of the Fish Restaurant on Clifton Street, Mary Jordan, was fined £10 in July 1944 for obtaining quantities of dripping far beyond her rations.[3] Jordan’s son Thomas was implemented in the crime, for which he was fined £20.[4] After the war, the son of a Clifton Street tailoring family, Thomas Teegan, was killed in Zimbabwe (then Rhodesia). Teegan, an R.A.F man, was killed in May 1953 as he flew over Bulawayo.[5] His loss was keenly felt in the local community having been schooled locally in the Hardinge Street Christian Brother’s School and survived by a wife and young child.[6] Later a labourer who lived above the premises of the shops on Clifton Street, William Doole, was found dead in his partially burned bedroom in January 1960.[7] Reports suggest that his habit of smoking in bed contributed to his death.[8] The businesses did not escape the enveloping violence of the Troubles either, including the shooting of a local boy in September 1974 as he exited the Premises of Pacific Cafe.

Clifton Street Shops in 1977, including Pacific Cafe

Today, the area remains a place of business, although in a considerably lesser capacity. This is perhaps a response to changing consumer habits, which include a shift to larger out of town retail shops and online ordering. It is also reflective of how urban redevelopment in the area, most notably of the Westlink, has somewhat severed the Clifton Street community. Despite its reduced commercial capacity its function as a place of business echoes that of its original purpose over 150 years before!

Clifton Street Shops as they appear today

[1] ‘William Hastings’ in Dictionary of Irish Architects 1720-1940, https://www.dia.ie/architects/view/2444/HASTINGS%2C+WILLIAM+%5B2%5D.

[2] Lennon-Wylie, Belfast Street Directory 1894.

[3] Belfast News-Letter, https://www.britishnewspaperarchive.co.uk/viewer/bl/0000038/19440704/103/0004, 4th July 1944,.

[4] Ibid.

[5] ‘Belfast Airman killed in crash’, Belfast Telegraph, https://www.britishnewspaperarchive.co.uk/viewer/BL/0002318/19530528/125/0006?browse=False, 28th May 1953.

[6] Ibid.

[7] ‘Deaths’, Belfast Telegraph, https://www.britishnewspaperarchive.co.uk/viewer/bl/0002318/19600129/021/0002, 29th January 1960.

[8] Ibid.

[9] ‘Chronological list of deaths’, https://cain.ulster.ac.uk/sutton/chron/1974.html.

[10] Duffy. J., and McClements, F., in Children of the Troubles: The untold story of the children killed in the Northern Ireland conflict, p167.

[11]‘Welcome to the ‘History of Na Fianna Éireann”, https://fiannaeireannhistory.wordpress.com/about/.

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