Rare images of Belfast in 1912, through the lens of the Trinity College Mission – Archive of the Month December 2013
RCB Library Notes
Added on 01/12/2013
The RCB Library’s final Archive of the Month for 2013 features a digital viewing of a rare set of images of the streets of Belfast and specifically the work of the Trinity College Mission in the heart of the industrial city which survive from the year of the Mission’s foundation in 1912.
Preserved in a photographic album as RCB Library MS 295, some 33 black and white images show this Mission in action, focusing on bringing practical support to people living in the densely–populated streets of Belfast over 100 years ago. We see children barefoot and playing swings on lampposts. We see workers clocking out of Ewarts linen mill for the breakfast break, in the streets adjacent to the Mission buildings. We also see pastoral interaction – there is football in the street, band practice, scouting activities, trips to the picture house on the Shankhill Road and the seaside – presumably treats that without the vision and financial support of its founders, the young participants would otherwise likely never have had the chance to enjoy.
The images are gummed into in a single album and appear to date from the single year of 1912 – judging by the annotation on the first page: ‘May 1912 J.H [or E?] Browne, T.C.D. Mission Residence’. Hopefully the collection will bear testimony to the vision of the founders of the Mission, and also provide more general interest to those interested in the visual history of Belfast. Now digitized and online, they provide a rare insight to living conditions in the poorest part of the city, and the Church of Ireland’s positive response in this context.
The Trinity College Mission in Belfast was established in St Mary’s parish in 1912. By the early 20th century, the densely–populated area in the labyrinth of streets between the Shankill and Crumlin Road (where St Mary’s church was located) had been identified as a district of particular need – housing as it did some of the poorest families in the city, with unemployment rife, properties derelict and health and sanitation needs high. In this context, the already stretched clergy of existing parishes, including St Mary’s, appealed for assistance to make better provision for the spiritual and pastoral needs of working–class Belfast which, they stressed, was particularly badly staffed in terms of clergy numbers.
The response came from a group of concerned academics from Trinity College Dublin, led by the Revd Dr R.M. Gwynn, Lecturer in Divinity and a Tutor at the College, who also became the University Chaplain in 1911, remaining so until 1919 (when he was appointed Senior Fellow). By 1912, Dublin University had well–established missions in China and North India – the latter having been the feature of a previous Archive of the Month see this link www.ireland.anglican.org/about/135 so there was already a mindset to respond to ‘the need for Christianity in a dense population and to link together men of various occupations who are in danger of mutual estrangement’ as a published report of the mission’s progress put it in 1920.
A vacant large–roomed mansion and extensive gardens (spared from destruction to make way for the rows of red–bricked terraced houses that multiplied in tandem with Belfast’s growth) were purchased by the University to serve as the new ‘College Mission’. The Revd Arthur Barton (1881–1962) then curate–in–charge of Howth in Dublin (who would go on to have a distinguished career in the Church of Ireland, initially as rector of St Mark’s Dundela – the subject of another Archive of the Month at www.ireland.anglican.org/about/158 – eventually ending up as Archbishop of Dublin in 1939) was despatched to Belfast as the first Head of Mission. Several of the images show Barton and colleagues including the first Deputy Head, Henry Gerald Studdart Kennedy (1888–1978) who went on to serve at the Dublin University Mission in India, interacting with young people as they promoted community development in this deprived part of the city on the eve of the First World War.
To view the images of Belfast in 1912 online: www.ireland.anglican.org/library/archiveFor further information please contact:
Dr Susan Hood