Aidan Campbell is a retired business consultant who has published several local histories on areas of East Belfast since 2005.
The books are an illustrated and local history which take the form of a journey along a main arterial route. There are recollections of how and when an area, suburb or village was developed and has since become part of the Greater Belfast conurbation. Interesting features of an area may include the development of transport infrastructure such as roads, railways or tramways. Social aspects include Churches, schools, sports clubs and youth organizations, hospitals and residential homes, big houses and smaller houses and their families. Commercial interests include businesses, shops and people at work. Then wartime, military and political events are also included.
An interesting dimension to the subject of local history is that of street or area naming. The traditional means of naming places in Northern Ireland was by townland, parish or barony. Apparently there are around 9,000 townlands in Northern Ireland and they could be described as forming the building blocks for higher-level administrative units such as political wards or councils. When the Royal Mail introduced postcodes in the 1970s the use of the townland name in an address became unfashionable. Quite often the name of a large estate (Belmont), demesne (eg, Norwood) house (eg, Clonallon), land owner (eg, Ranfurley) builder (eg, McMaster) or aircraft (eg, Sunderland) has survived in the name of a street or roadway. There are also themes of street naming relating to generals (eg, Montgomery Road) race horses (eg, Trigo), rivers (eg, Dee) or the imported name of a rather grand area in Great Britain (eg, Kensington).
There are interviews and recollections with people who lived in the areas years ago and the memories and reminiscences are supplemented with old photographs which come mainly from the private collections of individuals and have not previously been published. Other helpful sources include: the East Belfast Historical Society, local press including Belfast Telegraph and Belfast News Letter archives plus Mike Maybin who has written extensively on the history of trams and buses and Michael McMullan of the Northern Ireland Postcard Club.
Many of the old pictures are taken from postcards which were sold in large numbers. Telegrams were an expensive means of non–urgent communication and the telephone was not widely available. A postcard was often mailed back home to keep in touch with the family.
Photography was, in Victorian times, largely the preserve of professional photographers, with their bulky glass plate cameras on tripods, and it was quite a slow and expensive means of recording people, events and occasions. Many of these professional collections are held in public ownership and have survived remarkably well.
A photographic record became available to the wider population in the early 1900s with the introduction of small cameras plus Kodak Eastman film and thus began a transition to the use of sheet film instead of glass plates.
The Brownie was an inexpensive camera made by Kodak and popularized low-cost photography introducing the concept of the snapshot. It was introduced in 1900 and was a basic cardboard box camera with a simple lens that took small square pictures on roll film. With its simple controls and initial price of $1, it was intended to be a camera that anyone could afford and use, hence the slogan, ‘You push the button, we do the rest.’
Aidan has published 13 local history books on areas of East Belfast.
Some have sold out and are now unavailable including Beaconsfield, Cherryvalley and Gilnahirk. Castlereagh also sold out but has recently been updated and re-printed.
Others which remain available include: ‘Knock’, ‘Cherryvalley’, ‘Cregagh’, ‘Stormont’, ‘Belmont’, ‘Sydenham’, ‘East Belfast Revisited Volume 1’, and ‘East Belfast Revisited Volume 2’.
These books contain a flavour of life being lived in East Belfast at a more leisurely pace years ago through spoken memories and recollections. Any mistakes or misunderstandings are all my own.
Enjoy some local history.