Forster Green – The ‘Industrious and Humble’ Philanthropist
A City in Mourning
“The name of Forster Green has been so long and so intimately connected with Belfast, and the city has benefitted so largely through his magnificent generosity that one cannot adequately express the magnitude of the loss occasioned by his demise. It is no exaggeration to say that Belfast, by the close of this notable career, sustains one of the heaviest bereavements that has ever befallen it…”Belfast Newsletter 22nd October 1903
This is an extract from a local newspaper following the death of Forster Green. Obviously, he was a well-known and well-respected figure in Belfast. However, for many of us today, although the name is familiar, his achievements and philanthropy, have largely been forgotten.
Forster was born on 8th October 1815, in the village of Annahilt. This is a small community in County Down, 14 miles south-west of Belfast. The Irish name Eanach Eilte means ‘place of the marsh or fen’.
The Greens were of the Quaker faith. William, his father, was a farmer and linen weaver. While his mother Harriet (nee Bullock) came from Soldierstown, near Moira. Forster got his unusual first name from his parents admiration for a zealous, young preacher named William Forster (father of the English statesman W E Forster).
As a young boy Forster, was taught by a local teacher, George Beatty. Subsequently he attended the Friends School at Prospect Hill in Lisburn. This is a Quaker school, founded in 1774, thanks to a generous bequest of a successful linen merchant called John Hancock.
At an early age, Forster went to work in the grocery business owned by his two older brothers John and Ralph. This shop was located on Waring Street in Belfast. Here Forster learned the trade ‘from the ground up’. After 7 years working for his brothers, he made the move to England. He was employed for 3 years by Mr William Woods of Liverpool. Mr Woods was a prosperous merchant in the city and it was through his work here that Forster became experienced in the importing and selling of tea and coffee.
In 1837, Forster returned to Belfast and a couple of years later established his own shop at 3 High Street, under the sign The Golden Canister.
‘Belfast, 10th month (Oct) 19th 1839, Golden Canister Tea and Coffee Est., 3 High Street, Belfast. In opening a new establishment for the Sale of Teas, Coffees etc. the Proprietor respectfully invites the attention of the inhabitants of Belfast and its vicinity….’
Despite some early setbacks, by dint of hard work and a good business head, the venture prospered. He was able to expand into 1 High Street, on the corner of Cornmarket. The previous tenant was Mr William McComb, a bookseller and poet, who was also the registrar of marriages for the town. When both his brothers passed away, Forster amalgamated their enterprise with his own. He also acquired further premises in Cornmarket as well as shops on Royal Ave and North Street.
An interesting aside, is when Messrs Forster Green & Co were building their Golden Eagle Tea Establishment on the corner of North Street and Royal Ave, human remains were uncovered (see also North Street, Belfast – From the Ashes?)
Family Life & Tragedy
In 1840 Forster Green married Mary Boadle from Whitehaven, in Cumbria. The couple had a family of 5 girls and 1 boy. In 1850 the Greens were residing at 49 Castle Street, then the town of Holywood, before in 1861 moving to the prestigious Malone Road district of Belfast, settling in Derryvolgie House.
Unfortunately, the Greens suffered great personal tragedy. Four of their daughters died young from consumption (tuberculosis). Harriet aged 18, Elizabeth Boadle aged 21, Jane Hutchinson aged 15 and Anna Mary aged 24. In addition, their only son, Forster Henry, too suffered from a respiratory illness. He travelled to Egypt, as it was thought the hot, dry air would aid his condition. Sadly, he died there in 1874, aged 25.
Only one of the Green children, Emily, remained. She married Henry Albert Uprichard, a linen merchant, on 5th August 1875, at the Friends Meeting House in Belfast. The Uprichards had five children – Mary, William, Albert, Forster and Emile. Unfortunately, Emily died of scarlet fever on 25th October 1887, aged 34. This meant that all of Forster’s children predeceased him.
In 1880 Forster suffered another bereavement when Mary, his wife of 40 years, passed away. She died of pneumonia at the age of 71 on 31st October.
Two years later Forster married for a second time. His new wife, Jane Houlding, was the daughter of a cotton spinner from Preston in Lancashire.
Derryvolgie, The Family Home
Derryvolgie House is situated at 73 Malone Road. It was designed by the Irish Quaker architect Thomas Jackson. It was first occupied by J Cranston Gregg, a Belfast shipowner. This was a large 2-storey, 14-roomed house in the mid-Victorian style. The entrance has canted Ionic columns on either side. The bay windows had balustraded parapets and laurel wreaths were carved over the central first floor window. There was a conservatory on the southern side.
The single-storey gate lodge was stuccoed in a similar manner as the main house. It had tall chimneys and a gabled canopy over the doorway. The mansion was set in spacious well-maintained grounds. There were also outbuildings consisting of stables, a coach house, harness room, cow house, fowl house, laundry and a hay house.
The Throne Hospital
Forster Green as well as a successful entrepreneur was also a very generous benefactor to many local charities. Understandably due to his personal circumstances, he was particularly concerned with research into the illness tuberculosis and the treatment of those suffering from this ailment. The Greens donated £5,000 to the Throne Hospital on the Whitewell Road to the north of the city. At this time this was a children’s hospital. The money was used to set up a specialist unit for consumption patients.
Forster Green Hospital
In 1895 Forster Green purchased the rural property Fortbreda House for £11,000. The surrounding grounds comprised 45 acres. His intention was to build a hospital dedicated to the care of those suffering from respiratory illnesses. At this time the only treatment for sufferers was to clear their lungs with clean fresh air.
“The system of treatment is that known as the open-air cure, and the location (Fortbreda) is one of the most healthful and salubrious that could be imagined”Belfast Newsletter 22nd October 1903
Green took an active role in the plans and building of the facility and in only two years the hospital was ready for patients. The Forster Green Hospital for Consumption and Chest Diseases opened on 30th September 1897. Throughout his life, Forster contributed to the upkeep of the hospital, his donations were estimated to amount to over £20,000.
Starting with just 50 beds, the Forster Green Hospital grew over the following years. The range of services offered also expanded including cardiothoracic surgery, neurology, psychiatry and geriatrics. The hospital finally closed in 2012.
Other Charity Donations
The full extent of Forster Green’s munificence will never be fully known, as he often gave to individuals and institutions in private. He donated £2,000 towards the renovations of the Friends Meeting House on Frederick Street, of which he was a regular attender. He also liberally supported his former school in Lisburn.
After a generous contribution which cleared the hospital of its debts, Green was appointed a life-time governor of the Royal Victoria Hospital.
He gave £1,000 to Belfast’s Young Men’s Christian Association and a similar amount towards the building of the Shankill Mission Hall. Through his contributions a house was purchased on Malone Place for the Belfast Midnight Mission to aid the homeless and destitute of the city. It was said Mr and Mrs Green were regular visitors to offer comfort and advice.
The Greens also gave monetary support to Victoria Homes in Ballysillan which aided helpless and poverty-stricken children. Donations were also provided for the Home for the Blind, the Workshop for the Industrious Blind on Royal Ave and the Homes of Rest in Bangor.
Forster Green died on 21st October 1903 in his home, Derryvolgie House. He was 88.
His funeral took place at noon on Saturday 24th October. The service was conducted by Mr D A Black. The Rev Henry Montgomery, a friend of the deceased, also spoke. Several other gentlemen also praised their late friend, including Mr Charles Lamb of Richhill who said that Forster “had left Belfast a better place”. The music was provided by the Friendship Choir with Mr Fred Moffet playing the grand organ. Despite the inclement weather a large crowd attended the ceremony at the Friends Meeting House and the graveyard.
“The life and character of the late Mr Forster Green, formed a splendid example to the young men of the city, and his sterling Christianity, his broad sympathies and his boundless generosity have attracted the attention and excited the admiration of the entire community. There was scarcely a charity in Belfast that had not experienced his Christ-like solicitude…”From the oration given by Mr D A Black
Forster Green was buried in the Friends Burial Ground at Balmoral. His coffin was carried by his grandsons.
In his will Forster Green, as well as providing for his family and friends, also left generous bequests to many Quaker charities and schools. In addition money was donated to the British and Foreign Bible Society, the Samaritan Hospital, Belfast’s Epileptic Hospital in Claremount Street and a further £10,000 for the building and endowing of alms-houses in the city and of course to the hospital that bore his name
Remembering Forster Green
Green was described by those who knew him as an industrious and humble man with great personal integrity. Kind and empathetic he had many friends and was beloved by his family. He took no pride from his donations seeing it as no more than his duty to help those less fortunate than himself.
“His memory will long be fragrant in the city in which he spent the greater part of his career, and for which he has done so much, and in the annals of Belfast his name will ever find an honoured place as that of one whose epitaph may well be – ‘one who loved his fellow men’”Belfast Newsletter 22nd October 1903
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