Dedicated following of fashion starting with label on vintage dress

Amongst other much appreciated organisations and individuals, History Hub Ulster (HHU) often shares wonderful stories and information here.

Wednesday, 28th July 2021, 6:00 am
James Lindsay
James Lindsay

“I have a little piece of history that lives in my loft,” began a recent letter to HHU, which continued, “she was made in the late 1800s, I think by a tailors called James Lindsay in the Ulster Arcade in Belfast.”

The letter, with an accompanying photograph, came from Amanda Allaway in Bangor, County Down, who describes her Facebook blog, called ‘Aetherealart’, as a “depository for steampunk costuming, craft and other ephemera, mostly made by me.”

(For mre, visit www.facebook.com/aetherealart/)

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The end of James Lindsay’s name (bottom right). Eradicated in the 1941 Easter blitz

Amanda’s note came with photographs of an old dress on a mannequin, labelled James Lindsay & Co Ulster Arcade “which I believe is the Lindsay Brothers,” she added “Thomas Lindsay, Mayor of Belfast in 1875?”

She thinks the garment on the mannequin is a mourning dress, but “unfortunately, the silk facings holding the corset boning together are disintegrating rapidly,” she explained, “but sometime soon I will try and restore her for posterity.”

They came from a drama group wardrobe clear-out many years ago and “had been tweaked and remade several times but she remains elegant and beautiful”.

Amanda knows that Lindsay Brothers “were textile merchants, and very successful too”, but wrote to HHU asking ,“if they actually produced/commissioned clothing?”

Historic fashion label on mannequin’s old dress

HHU researcher Richard Graham takes up the story.

James Lindsay and Co was established at 18 Donegall Place, Belfast around 1860.

The family came to Ireland from Scotland in 1678, with their descendants moving to Belfast in 1822, opening a ‘woollen, linen and haberdashery warehouse’ on Bridge Street trading as J & D Lindsay.

John and David Lindsay added their three younger brothers to the flourishing partnership, one of whom was James Lindsay after which the business at 18 Donegall Place was named.

James Lindsay & Co was part of a much larger family business which traded under the name Lindsay Brothers.

They first began manufacturing muslin in the early 1800s, expanding to include flax spinning in two large mills (the Mulhouse Works and Prospect mills) as well as introducing other advances in the burgeoning linen industry.

Goods were exported worldwide from their warehouse at 7 to 9 Donegall Place, where the Disney Store is today.

James’s business at 18 Donegall Place, in a building erected in 1858, held some of the finest stock in Belfast, confirmed by an old advertisement of 1861.

Although it had many departments, it wasn’t like today’s department stores, which didn’t become popular until the 1910s.

It was more of a Victorian fashion emporium and traded as The Ulster Arcade.

The business continued to prosper for the next 80 years, allowing James to reside in a large house and estate called Wheatfield at Ballysillan, North Belfast.

The business concentrated on products of Irish manufacture, and they were soon joined by other worldwide concerns such as Robinson & Cleaver which opened their Royal Irish Linen Warehouse two doors up on Donegall Place in 1888 - the year Queen Victoria granted Belfast its charter as a city.

Although Lindsay Brothers was one of Ireland’s largest manufacturers of linen products - they also produced muslin, cambric and linen handkerchiefs at their Victoria Street premises which were sold at Donegall Place.

HHU’s Richard Graham feels that Amanda’s old dress “may have been imported for retail sale to the ladies of Victorian Belfast, as the range of products included fabrics and finished products from around Europe.”

Richard cannot find definitive proof that Lindsay Brothers actually commissioned or manufactured such detailed work, as the warehouse was very much focused on retail.

In 1920, James Lindsay retired to his villa in Cannes in the South of France, called Lisnacrieve after the family seat in County Tyrone.

The business was taken over by Thomas Brand, a young entrepreneur who developed a chain of fashion stores in Belfast.

Brands continued to trade as ‘The Ulster Arcade - successors to James Lindsay’ at 18 Donegall Place until Easter 1941 when the premises were completely destroyed in the Blitz and James Lindsay’s name was eradicated.

Brands expanded to Brands Arcade, across the street, and then Brands and Normans on Castle Lane - one of the city’s leading fashion and department stores.

Bringing the story up to date, the site of the Ulster Arcade was developed in 1950, becoming the first branch of C&A in Northern Ireland.

This was one of the new breed of department store (such as Littlewoods and M&S) which would take over from older stores such as James Lindsay, which dominated the market in Victoria and Edwardian times.

Lindsay Brothers continued to trade until the 1960s when linen declined and they sold off to Courtaulds, one of the new synthetic fibre manufacturers to arrive in NI in the 1960s.

When the building was destroyed, Thomas Brand merged with Norman & Co on Castle Lane to form Brands & Normans.

The Brand family also developed Brands Arcade (aka Birdcage Walk) becoming one of the most important fashion houses and retailers in Belfast in the ‘Swinging Sixties’.

Sadly, that business has now also disappeared from the streets of Belfast, as has C&A, Robinson & Cleaver, Anderson & McAuley and all the other great stores, as recently as May when Debenhams closed down.

Much thanks for today’s page goes to Richard Graham of HHU, whose address is http://historyhubulster.co.uk/

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