Belfast Orange Hall on Clifton Street is a member of the North Belfast Heritage Cluster and part of Great Place North Belfast (GPNB). At GPNB, our long-term goal is to uncover and use what’s special about the area to support economic and social development in north Belfast and deliver heritage-led regeneration. The diversity of north Belfast’s heritage is part of the area’s strength and the collection of historic buildings, and the real stories connected to them, are at the heart of Belfast’s story, both past and future.
The Belfast Orange Hall Archive Development project is jointly funded by the Community Foundation for Northern Ireland (CFNI) and the Department of Foreign Affairs (DoFA) and was carried out by the Great Place North Belfast Archive team. The Public Records Office of Northern Ireland (PRONI) has also provided valuable advice and guidance throughout. The Archive Development project aims to:
- Inform the priorities of Belfast Orange Hall regarding their archive through the identification of themes within the collection
- Create an inventory of all items currently held in the Hall
- Increase awareness of the items held in the Hall and the stories they tell
- Identify and research important items among the collection and seek advice on conservation and storage, where relevant
The Hall’s History:
Belfast Orange Hall was designed to convey the growing prominence of the Orange Order in late-Victorian Belfast, which saw a surge in membership in response to Home Rule anxieties. Reflecting this growth, the Grand Lodge of Belfast sought a large new building ‘in every way worthy of Belfast, the metropolis of Orangeism’. After a little over a year’s construction, the Clifton Street Orange Hall opened in January 1885.
As the seat of the Grand Lodge of Belfast, the Clifton Street Hall has been at the centre of Orange Order activity in the city. Prominent Unionist Party politicians, including Edward Carson, James Craig and Terence O’Neill, have used the hall as a rallying point for election campaign speeches. The signature event of the Orange Order is the annual Twelfth of July parade commemorating King William’s victory at the Battle of the Boyne in 1690 and Clifton Street Orange Hall is the rendezvous point for several district lodges which then merge in the city centre for the main march to Barnett Demesne.
From its opening in 1885, the Hall has accumulated hundreds of records relating to the lodges that have met there. In addition, as Districts 1, 2, 3, 4, 7 and 8 all meet at Clifton Street, it has also received unique artefacts and other donations over time. If you’d like to read more about the history of the Hall, check out our blog post.
Over the course of the Archive development project, we (the GPNB Archive team) used an agreed inventory template to record details of the documents, pictures, plans and artefacts that are held in the Belfast Orange Hall.
What is an inventory?
To put it simply, an inventory is just ‘a list of things’. To be more archive specific, ‘an inventory is a descriptive listing of each record series or system, together with an indication of location and other pertinent data.’ It is important to create a record of the items for multiple reasons. Firstly, to understand the sources that are on-site and the value they hold and, secondly, to create a record of sources for safekeeping!
We had hoped to begin work in January 2021 but, as has been the case with everything over the past year, the coronavirus pandemic intervened. Instead, we used our time in lockdown to conduct contextual research on the Order and its structure, important Lodges associated with the Hall, and chosen members of Eldon L.O.L. No. 7. We even worked to start the inventory from photographs, where possible!
Eldon L.O.L. No. 7 ‘was the traditional elite lodge, favoured by many Stormont MPs’. In the nineteenth century, it was seen to be ‘the lodge of the Ulster aristocracy and shipbuilding tycoons’. Members include Frederick Crawford, Sir James Craig, and Robert Hugh Wallace. The Eldon Meeting Room inside Clifton Street Orange Hall features portraits of many prominent members as well as items relating specifically to the Lodge’s rich history.
The gradual easing of restrictions allowed our Archive team to begin work on-site from 12 April and, room by room, we worked our way through the building, creating an inventory of all the items we could find. As the project progressed, we quickly identified the need to separately record the items in need of conservation or further research from each room. Each so-called ‘key’ item was photographed and compiled into a document with item a detailed description, location, current condition, the reason for selection, and any action to be taken.
Examples of the items we’ve discovered of the course of this project include:
- Intricate Rolls of Honour from the First and Second World Wars
- A large, framed portrait of the future William III when he was Prince of Orange
- An original floorplan of the Hall, dated 1889, reveals how the Hall was intended to function and includes details such as a Ladies Powder Room, a coal store, and fireplaces in every room
- A framed piece of green material with a handwritten accompanying letter explaining its connection to the Siege of Ladysmith during the 2nd Boer War
- Numerous Register and Role Books detailing the names, occupations and addresses of members, telling a fascinating social history of the local area
Our priorities for the last phase of the project are to delve deeper into the history of the ‘key’ items through detailed research and to acquire expert advice on conservation and storage to ensure the items are preserved for future generations. This research conducted as part of this project will eventually be used to inform talks and tours of Clifton Street Orange Hall.
 Belfast News Letter, 8 October 1883.
 Eric Kaufmann, The Orange Order: A Contemporary Northern Irish History (New York: Oxford University Press, 2009): p. 44.
 Kevin Haddick-Flynn, Orangeism: a historical profile (Kibworth: Beauchamp, 2019): p. 441.