Development of the Area

1800 - 1920

Throughout the 1700s, the Markets area as it is known now was either woodland or beneath the tide of the Lagan. Cromack Woods, as it was then known, stretched from present day Oxford Street to the Ormeau Bridge, along the Lagan. In the late 1700s, the Lagan was reformed, and the old estuary flats were reclaimed for development. Francis Joy’s paper mill was built in 1773, and was served by dam surrounding it, a tributary of the then Blackstaff.

Cromac Street was first developed in the early 1800s. North of Cromac Street followed, which was developed around the 1820s along Hamilton Street. A major industrial build in the area was the gasworks in 1823 along the Blackstaff river on Ormeau Avenue, which was intended to supply light to the growing city. When the dam at Joy’s paper mill was drained in 1828, this freed more land for development, including Joy Street and Henrietta Street. Gentry, merchants and commercial classes lived on this side in fine Georgian houses.

South of Cromac Street was subsequently developed by 1850 which was occupied mainly by labourers and working people. By 1860, most of the area had been developed. The expansion correlated with Belfast’s industrial rise and the growing population migrating from rural Ulster. The harbour and railroad work attracted ‘navvies’, who settled around the Market in the 30s and 40s. The potato blight created an exodus migrants to Belfast from 1845, many settling in the Market.

The area had extended significantly through the establishment of various Markets on the outskirts of the area. The first market built in the area was May’s Market in 1813, then situated at May Street (currently the Royal Courts). By the middle of the century, May’s market moved to Oxford Street alongside horse, pork and cattle markets; grain, potato and vegetable markets on May Street. By the end of the century, the fish market was built on Oxford Street and St George’s Market was built facing it, its present location. 

Industry rapidly developed from the 1850s, in line with Belfast’s industrial rise. On Eliza Street in 1853 Robert Hickson set up an Ironworks, which specialised in iron plates to be sold to the shipbuilding industry. The ironworks began to fail, but was replaced by Inglis Bakery by 1884, a significant employer for the community. McKeown’s blacksmiths, also on Eliza Street, owed much of its trade to providing Inglis’ horse-carts, used then for delivering bread. By 1874, the Gasworks area extended ten-fold in size. The chemical works on Bond Street was also established by 1884 alongside the soap manufacturers. By the end of the 19th century, the area had its first abattoir in McAuley Street, which moved to Stewart Street in 1912, to serve the livestock markets. This was followed by the establishment of a number of hide and skins, including Huxley & Postlethwaite’s, John Maginness’ and the City of Liverpool’s. 

The area also grew commercially, mainly along Cromac Street, but also within the residential part of the area. Cromac Street began to develop as a commercial hub, particularly in the second half of the 19th century. In 1854, Corry’s mineral water company was set up, specialising in aerated drinks from Cromac Springs. In 1875, McWatters bakery opened, notorious across the city for its breads. On Cromac Street, you could have bought anything from clothing to home furnishing, paper to paint, seeds to vegetables, pharmaceuticals to tobacco, hardware to glassware. Cromac Square was also known for the notable busineses of this era, notably McGlade’s and Gray’s grocer’s.