William Henry Belford

Fleurville House – The Belford Family Home – Picture courtesy of James Mc Michael.

Almost a forgotten family now in Ballycastle, the Belford’s were prominent characters in the civic life of the town. Their home and adjoining property still stands along the Quay Road of Ballycastle. [kmg1] 

The most prominent family member in Ballycastle was William Henry Belford, with the family hailing from Co Cavan and a background in the Royal Irish Constabulary.

The Belford family had roots in Ballyhaise, Co Cavan. Ballyhaise was a plantation that had been handed out through the Ulster Plantations to John Taylor of Cambridge.  It would even be what could be described as an estate village, where the village has grown up around working for the estate or the estate industries. In this instance it was to facilitate the linen industry in the area which would eventually start to die out by the 1800’s.

The major landowners in the village were the Newburgh Family, a family line of Irish MP’S for the Cavan constituency. It was this family who invested in the linen industry and Brockhill Newburgh was chairman of the Linen board of Ireland. With some of his wealth he built Ballyhaise House which was one of the biggest mansions in the County. It would be in this hamlet that the branch of the Belford family would emerge.

Richard Belford was born in 1828 to Thomas Belford and Mary O’ Rourke in Co Leitrim and on the 17th of May 1852 he married Martha Courtney in Saint Anne’s Dublin. Richard would serve time in the military, possibly the Ulster Dragoons and then moved into policing with the formation of the Royal Irish constabulary. The RIC was established in Ireland in 1836.

Richard was 40 years old when his first son was born. Named after his father, Richard Henry Belford was born in 1861, and enlisted in the Dublin fusiliers at the age of twenty-one. He ultimately found himself in America first off in Pennsylvania and then in Suffolk County where he would later die. Richard would have another son, just one year later on the 26th of July 1864, William Henry Belford, who relocated to Ballycastle, Co Antrim. But more later. In 1867, he had his first daughter, Harriet Letitia Belford, born on the 29th of September 1867 and then Martha Amanda Belford born on the 9th of December 1870. Harriet Letitia later married a Scottish born accountant Richard P Miller and ended up living for a period in Dun Laoghaire, Dublin before moving to London and then finishing her life in Bromley, Kent. The youngest girl in the family, Martha Amanda married in Ballycastle in March 1899, with the family living in Co Derry for a while before moving to England, living in Surrey, Kensington, and Epsom. Martha was widowed young being only 33 years old when her husband died. In the 1920’s she relocated to America, living in various places around New York including Brooklyn, Garden city and then Long Island where she later died.

It was the second son of this family that made the move to Ballycastle. William Henry, Henry being a common second name for the sons of the family was born on the 26th of July 1864. Like his father he took up a career in the RIC. This was common within the RIC and indeed there was a name given to this practice, RIC Families, where many of the family would continue the path of their predecessors. William Henry joined the RIC on the 2nd of August 1882, where he was recommended by Sub Inspector Brown. After training he was first posted to County Clare on the 29th of October 1882 and then seven months later, he was relocated to Roscommon. William was then transferred to County Antrim on the 4th of October 1885. We can see in the newspaper archives that William was active in the local courts being the arresting officer on a number of occasions. It seems that his period in Ballycastle was a quiet time in his career. The biggest case that he would be involved with here locally would be the drowning of Colonel Mc Neill in the Vanishing Lake.

On 15th August 1890 William married teacher Margaret Livingstone Ruske of Ballycastle. Margaret was the daughter of farmer Robert Ruske.

The Valuation Revision records places William at Ann Street from at least 1892. This was later ‘Fleurville’ from 1907. He therefore appears to have control of two properties. This address was changed in the early 1920’s to Quay Road and appears to have been number 18. By this stage William was firmly established in the town. Fleurville would be one of the largest houses standing independently on what is now the Quay Road.

On 10th May 1894 son Albert Richard was born at Ann Street Ballycastle. He, like his siblings would go to the Ballycastle High School.  He would go on to have a career in finance and became a bank manager. He moved to just outside Belfast and became the bank manager for the Northern Bank in Newtownards, living in Holywood, Co Down. Albert had a sad end in life, at the age of 64 his body would be found lying along the seashore. It was thought that he had slipped and hit his head on rock and drowned.

On the 31st of July 1895, William’s first daughter was born Evaline (Jeannie) Tennis. I like to think it was Tennis as her father was a tennis man.  

William was pensioned from the RIC on the 11th of February 1898. In his time spent with the force in Ballycastle, big changes had happened. The RIC station had moved from Castle Street over to Market Street and Rathlin RIC station would be brought under the remit of the Ballycastle RIC. A further daughter Martha Letitia was born 6th March 1899 at Ann Street and her father’s occupation then was listed as clerk which was also noted on the 1901 census. The collieries at this time were largely under the control of the McGildowney Family of Clare Park. William’s wife Margaret was listed as a national schoolteacher. Margaret was pregnant at the time of the census and another son William Henry was born 26th July 1901 at Athelford House Ballycastle.

William Henry went to Ballycastle High School and would follow a career in medicine setting up a practice in Ballymoney. After the closure of the Ballymoney workhouse in 1918 it left only the fever hospital and infirmary so there was the need for new health provision. A Cloughmills farmer, Samuel Robinson who worked alongside his uncle in Ballymoney emigrated with his friend and then brothers, he would go onto become one of the prolific entrepreneurs that came out of the North Antrim area. Coincidentally he would go on to buy out the business of a Ballycastle entrepreneurial emigrant that had set up in Philadelphia. This will be talked about at a later date.  A man known as Thomas P Hunter. On a trip home in later years, Robinson would fund the building of the Robinson hospital in Ballymoney. Coincidentally the Robinson family are buried in the same graveyard as my great great grandparents. William Henry Junior would sit on the medical board of management of the newly founded Robinson Hospital.

By October William was listed as working in the estate office and then their final child was born on the 10th of June 1904, another son, Alfred James who was born at Ann Street, which could have also been Athelford House.

The youngest son Alfred James would go on to work in the legal profession being called to the bar in 1927. Later in his career Alfred James became the Umpire with the Unemployment Insurance Act, the Widow’s Orphans, Old Age Contributary Pensions Act and the Family Allowances Act. He was also sworn in as the Deputy Recorder of Derry. The girls of the family are harder to find in their chosen careers, it looks like Martha went on to attend the London College of Music and obtained a degree from there in 1918.

In 1911 the family were still living on Ann Street, William’s occupation was listed as hotel gas works, golf club and lawn tennis club secretary. Margaret was a teacher under the National Board.

With his retirement from the RIC in 1898 William became very involved in the sporting organisations in Ballycastle. The Ballycastle Golf Club was founded in 1890/1891 (bit of a dispute) by Commander Causton of the Royal Navy with the ground given by Miss Boyd of the Manor House and was a nine-hole course over 30 acres. When Causton took a step back from his role it was William Belford that stepped in as club secretary from 1899. This was a role that he would hold almost continually for the next thirty-seven years (except 1900/1901). He helped the club expand from the initial 9 holes to the 18-hole course in 1926. For years the membership fees were paid at his house on the Quay Road, Fleurville.

Early Ballycastle Golf Club – WH Belford was the secretary here for a record thirty-seven years.

In those troublesome years of the 1910’s, William’s politics became more prevalent, and he became the Treasurer of the North Antrim Constitutional Association. This was the organisation that picked the candidates for election as MP’S. It is important to remember that there were no nationalist candidates contesting North Antrim before 1914. The Belford’s would, like many of the leading unionists in Ballycastle throw their weight in with Carsonism. After the founding of the UVF, the family’s politics would continue on that path. William would take up the position of Treasurer in the Ballycastle Unionist Club. His wife was part of the women unionist organisations and would hold flag days and knitting socks etc for members of the UVF who had went to the war. William was also heavily involved gardening; he would be a member of the North Antrim Orchard and Garden Association. His proud achievement was to “be able to record an excellent yield of one single tree of Bramley Seedlings who had forty-nine stones of Apples, which was sold at three shillings per stone, netting the result of seven guineas from the one tree”

At the end of the first world war, there seems to be a syndicate that took on the Marine Hotel Ballycastle, when applying for an alcohol licence in April 1918 it was under William’s name that the application was made. He held the role as treasurer in the Northern Marine Hotel Company, the same company that would acquire the Golf Hotel, Portrush.

With the formation of Ballycastle Urban Council in 1920, William Belford was elected as one of the unionist representatives. He represented the North Ward and then what I would imagine was the pinnacle of his career he was elected a Justice of the Peace in 1922.

“Mr William H Belford “Fleurville” Ballycastle has on the recommendation of Lord Massareene, Lieutenant for the County, been appointed to the commission of the Peace for County Antrim. Mr Belford is a member of the Ballycastle Urban Council and has been an earnest worker of the unionist cause for a good number of years.”

He also found time to be on the Board of Ballycastle High School and Secretary of the tennis clubs

William Henry Belford was also heavily involved in the local Masonic Lodge, this was the True-Blue Masonic Lodge, No. 89.

He died on 2nd March 1942 at Fleurville Ann Street/Quay Road Ballycastle. Probate was paid to William Henry Belford medical doctor and Alfred James Belford barrister-at-law. Margaret died 25th October 1947 also at Fleurville.

After William and Margaret had died, the house as per the will looked to stay within the family. The current resident of the house picks up the story here: “The Belford family owned the house. The father was a local Doctor. They had their own gardener. They had their own workshop area for doing joinery work and an area for storing crops. They sold fruit from their little shop up the side of the house. They kept animals out the back. There used to be lot of cobble stones.

The family owned the 2 houses to the left including land close by e.g. where our current playing fields and play park are.

My understanding is that 2 of his sons owned the houses to the left. Dr Belford built these. At least one was a guest house with wash hand basins in each room. There were no wash hand basins in the rooms in no 16.

There was a name on the gate, but the family took it when they sold the house.

Like many houses of the era, it had a small attic room where the maid would have slept. It once had fireplaces in each room which are long gone.

The ground and playing fields were originally farmed for crops by this family. During the second world war soldiers were based there.

Later on, the playing field grounds were gifted to the people of Ballycastle for a park. In return there was a clause that they couldn’t be built on.

When the house was bought it was after one of the daughters died around 1981.

The grandson, also Mr Belford, was in charge of sorting things.”

MJ Spence.

On the Quay Road close to Fleurville House lived the in laws of the Belford Family, the Douglas Family. I think it might be no. 40, which is one of the guesthouses owned by Berkely white.

James and Jennie worked as a building contractor and a schoolteacher respectively. Jennie Douglas was the teacher in the Ramoan National Girls School for nearly three decades. Her sister was Margaret Belford, Margaret also taught in the school. One of the lads in the house John, would carry on the family business in Carpentry. Two of the other sons, Archer Patton Douglas, and J Keevers Douglas were in the Mercantile Marine Service. The most prestigious job still in existence that the Douglas built would be the new post office at the corner of Ann Street and Rathlin Road.

This would also be the private residence of Mr G.H Scarlett.

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