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Middle-class life in Victorian Belfast

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Public Record Office of Northern Ireland

2 Titanic Blvd

Titanic Quarter

BT3 9HQ

United Kingdom

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PRONI is delighted to invite you to the launch of Middle-class life in Victorian Belfast by Dr Alice Johnson.

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Middle-class life in Victorian Belfast focuses on the middle-class elite who shaped the fastest-growing city in nineteenth-century Britain - the place that was known as Linenopolis, 'The Manchester of Ireland' and the Northern Athens. Middle-class life in Victorian Belfast fills a major gap in the history of pre-twentieth century Belfast and represents a fresh and original look at Irish history, focusing on a place and time that have been neglected by social historians. It is also a substantial contribution to British urban history as it reconstructs the social and cultural world of an industrial city's upper middle classes between the 1830s and the 1880s.

Based on extensive primary material, Alice Johnson's research offers new, interesting and original insights into the bourgeoisie in nineteenth-century Ireland. Her book vividly reconstructs the social world of upper middle-class Belfast during the time of the city’s greatest growth, between the 1830s and the 1880s. Using extensive primary material including personal correspondence, memoirs, diaries and newspapers, the author draws a rich portrait of Belfast society and explores both the public and inner lives of Victorian bourgeois families, including the private lives of mothers, fathers, wives, husbands and children.

Middle-class life in Victorian Belfast helps to reclaim Belfast’s commercial and industrial success story as the impact and legacy of the Troubles threatens to overshadow everything that went before it.

Victorian Belfast was a firmly middle class town. Its middle class was distinct, fitting neither into a British nor an Irish pattern. Belfast was an industrial city situated in a rural island. It was the only Irish city to experience the industrial revolution. While Victorian Dublin was a city of professionals – lawyers and civil servants, Belfast was a city of businessmen and industrialists. They made their money through working hard and were proud of that. Belfast’s industrial character and economic expansion differentiated it from the rest of the island – it was a difference keenly felt throughout the Victorian period but especially noteworthy during and after the Great Famine of 1845-9. Industrialist families like the Workmans and the Corrys formed a unique middle class elite – a class of hard-working, self-made entrepreneurs, civic leaders who oversaw the growth and shaped the development of their city, but a class whose very ‘Irishness’ stood them apart from their British peers.

The Victorian period is a really fascinating era, for Belfast it’s the most exciting era. Belfast was a booming city in Victorian times.

(Refreshments from 18:00)

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Dr Alice Johnson is a lecturer in history at Belfast Metropolitan College and Visiting Research Fellow at Queen’s University Belfast.

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Public Record Office of Northern Ireland

2 Titanic Blvd

Titanic Quarter

BT3 9HQ

United Kingdom

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