A Street Through Time: St Enoch’s Shops
Plans for St Enoch’s shops, entrance to the school is planned on the left MS13|2015|001|0014

  By 1890 upper Clifton Street boasted a row of shops. Original plans show the shops as having the capacity to house numerous businesses. In 1890 its functions were various including a ‘Snugvile bakery’, a stationer, cabinet maker, hairdresser and a Coffee Stand. The Coffee Stand was the brainchild of the Irish Temperance League, a Christian organisation that encouraged and supported sobriety in Ireland. The Coffee Stand was intended to be an alternative to Belfast’s drinking culture, starting in 1870’s as a counter attraction.[1] The Stand was certainly well placed on the Church-lined Clifton Street, with Protestantism being the denomination commonly associated with temperance.

Plans for St Enoch’s school positioned behind the
shops MS13|2015|006|0036

Nevertheless, the Stand was gone by 1918, perhaps suggestive of temperance’s growing unpopularity. Various businesses moved in and out of the shop space over the ensuing decades. During the Troubles, one business in particular, received numerous negative reports in the media, the Post Office. In February 1974 three youths raided the Post Office and stole £2,000. Immediate suspicions were that the boys were involved in the IRA although this was later disproved.[2]Perhaps more shockingly, in May 1979 a 50-year-old woman was ‘pistol-whipped’ as she prevented an armed raid of the Post-Office. This happened on a day of chaos in Belfast, with a hijacked bus blowing up nearby, an assassination attempt in West Belfast and a hoax explosion in Lisburn[3]The episode in the Post Office shows how the lives of ordinary people from Belfast became intertwined with serious sectarian violence during the Troubles.

Also, visible on the original St Enoch’s shop plans was the entrance to St Enoch’s school. The school was opened in January 1882 to educate the young congregation of St Enoch’s Church. Both the building and the pupils were subject to much accreditation in the media. In July 1882 the building was described as looking ‘remarkably well, having a light and cheerful aspect, and evidently filled with good taste and every attention to comfort’.[4] Likewise, the pupils were described as having ‘bright, gent appearance, their movements were educated with quickness precision that were highly creditable’.[5]As the leader of the St Enoch’s congregation, the impressive school further bolstered Hugh Hanna’s local reputation in Belfast. In a speech on the opening of the school, one attendee described how ‘The whole population of Belfast would hail Mr Hanna as a benefactor, and the school as the most important that had been raised in the interest of education in Belfast’.[6] Hanna’s reputation was inexorable from the school’s identity. The school was, however, not invincible to social change in the city. By 1955 the school had closed and was being used as a church hall, this was owing to the declining congregation thus demand for church-led education.

St Enoch’s Church with the shops to the right in 1931

Despite an extensive modernisation process, the row of shops are still recognisable today, identifiable by their one storey build and turret like division between each shop. One identifiable difference is, however, the demolished entrance to St Enoch’s school. The shops continue to serve a mixed purpose, including a beauty parlour, pharmacy and charity shop. The charity shop specialises in the sale of children’s wear, the profits of which go towards supporting newfound migrant communities in the North of the city. The project is led by the Presbyterian Church in Ireland, keeping up the longstanding Protestant tradition in the area. The importance of the site is acknowledged by the local clerk of the presbytery, Trevor Long, who said ‘it is wonderful to be able to demonstrate a living Christian witness of practical love and care, particularly on this site, which was once home to one of our biggest churches’.[7]

St Enoch’s shops and school today

[1] Campbell, O., ‘A platform upon which all could unite?: Temperance in Ulster and the Irish league, 1858-1914’, https://oro.open.ac.uk/48914/7/Orfhlaith%20Campbell%20-%20Full%20Thesis%20%28inc%20abstract%29.pdf, (2016), p7.

[2] ‘IRA-Claim’ in Belfast Telegraph, https://www.britishnewspaperarchive.co.uk/viewer/BL/0002318/19740307/081/0008?browse=False, 7th March 1974.

[3] ‘Hijacked Bus blown up at RUC Station’ in Belfast Telegraph, https://www.britishnewspaperarchive.co.uk/viewer/BL/0002318/19790503/073/0006?browse=False, 3rd May 1979.

[4] ‘St Enoch’s Daily Schools’ in Belfast Weekly News, https://www.britishnewspaperarchive.co.uk/viewer/BL/0001593/18820708/108/0008?browse=False, 8th July 1882.

[5] Ibid.

[6] ‘Opening of St Enoch’s schools’ in Belfast News-Letter, https://www.britishnewspaperarchive.co.uk/viewer/BL/0000038/18820127/017/0008?browse=False, 27th January 1882.

[7] Long, T., ‘Opportunity knocks for the Op Shop’ in Presbyterian Church in Ireland, https://www.presbyterianireland.org/News/2019-News-Archive/September-2019/Opportunity-knocks-for-new-North-Belfast-initiativ.aspx, 25th September 2019.

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