Anderson & McAuley – Early Days
In 1861 Robert and Alexander Anderson formed a partnership with John B McAuley to open a shop in the centre of Belfast. The original premises were a two storey building known as Donegall Place Buildings. However, the venture was not as successful as hoped and Alexander left the concern.
On 19th February 1888 John McAuley passed away. Robert Anderson was now the sole proprietor of the firm, although he kept the name McAuley in the title of the shop.
The new Anderson & McAuley Ltd Store
Aided by the advice and credit facilities of Sir George Williams of Hitchcock, Williams & Co. of London the business flourished. In 1895 Robert Anderson employed the prestigious firm of architects Young and MacKenzie to design a purpose built store on the corner of Donegall Place and Castle Street. The five storey department store was completed in 1899. Under Robert’s auspices the business prospered.
“The establishment is fitted throughout in an elegant manner, and presents an attractive display of new silks, jackets, mantles, costumes, dresses, hosiery, bonnets, millinery, hats, gloves, dress and mantle trimmings, feathers, flowers, etc; also fur boas, pelerines, fur Idalias, and trimmings. A special department is confined to the display of every variety of linen goods, for which the house bears a well-sustained reputation. A large staff of clerks and assistants is engaged to attend to the numerous patrons of the establishment, which is under the entire personal control of the energetic and experienced proprietor, whose long and honourable connection with the commercial life of the city has been marked with conspicuous and deserved success”.Industries of the North 1888-91
Anderson & McAuley Ltd – Exterior
The new building was constructed of cream coloured sandstone transported from Scotland, with a curved corner on to Castle Street. As the building was to have a basement substantial piles had to be bored deep into the earth. The shop had full height pilasters and interesting and varied carvings of vines, portrait heads and panels of roses. The curved corner was adorned with a large clock erected by Messrs William Gibson & Co surmounted with a crown. Behind the clock was an open frame enclosing a large bell. However, not everyone was impressed with Young and MacKenzie’s efforts comparing it to their earlier work at Robinson and Cleaver.
“The result, at 1-7 Donegall Place, is comparatively insipid; even the carving is less good; 29 assorted truncated ladies and gentlemen, some crowned, others not, smirk, gape or simper down from above the first floor windows”C.E.B. Brett Buildings of Belfast 1996
Anderson & McAuley Ltd – Interior
The interior of the store was light and spacious with large ground floor windows enclosed in steel frames. Newspaper accounts described the modern fittings, including electric lights, the ‘prismatic’ lights in the basement and the lift. The shop was divided into several different departments selling various items, both fashion and household.
Anderson and McAuley’s was decorated in an impressive and formal style to attract the most elite clientele. There was copious use of marble and a huge, ornately carved, mirror on the first floor landing. The most striking feature of the store was the grand staircase (similar to the one in Robinson and Cleaver). It was made of Sicilian marble with arched balustrades. Cupids holding electric lights surmounted the newels. The staircase was sculpted by Purdy and Milard of 20 Howard Street, Belfast.
Anderson & McAuley’s over the decades
Success under Robert Anderson
Anderson and McAuley continued its success into the twentieth century. It was a well-respected and prestigious shop that catered to local clients as well as shoppers from all over Ireland. It encouraged a more widespread customer base by paying “carriage to any railway station in the United Kingdom on all parcels of the value of £5 and upwards”.
The life and times of Robert Anderson
Robert Anderson was the son of James Anderson a successful linen merchant from Corbofin, County Monaghan. Robert was born on 8th December 1837, but moved to Belfast at the age of 15. He was employed by Messrs Arnott & Co.
In 1893, as Anderson and McAuley continued to do well, he became a Conservative member of Belfast Corporation. In 1903 while High Sheriff of the city he was knighted by King Edward V11. Sir Robert Anderson was elected Lord Mayor of Belfast in 1908 and High Sheriff of Monaghan (his family home) in 1911.
Robert married Wilhelmina Long on 9th April 1890 at Gordonville, Coleraine. Her father Andrew was a Presbyterian minister. The couple resided between three properties Parkmount at Greencastle, Meadowlands at Balmoral in Belfast and Mullaghmore House in County Monaghan.
Robert died on 16th July 1921 from vascular heart disease at his Parkmount home. He was 84 years old. His funeral service was held at Fortwilliam Presbyterian Church, on the Antrim Road.
“…..by his death Belfast has lost one of its most prominent and respected citizens, and the Presbyterian Church a loyal and devoted member. In his youth he not only saw the heavenly vision, but throughout a long and chequered career, was never disobedient to its call and claims”Rev Dr Maconaghie 1921
Anderson and McAuley was seen as one of the top shops in which to work. While promoting a family friendly atmosphere the staff were trained to the highest standards. In the 1930’s all female staff had to wear a standard black dress with a snow-white collar.
Gaudy make-up was not encouraged ‘scarlet nails and lips plastered in rouge are not an asset to a girl in business’. Male assistants also had to meet a strict dress code and high standards ‘long hair and dirty nails keep many men unemployed’.
In 1953 Anderson and McAuley, for the first time, allowed a female member of staff to remain in employment after her marriage. In 1956 the store was the first in Northern Ireland to install an escalator. Apparently it was a great attraction and people came from miles around to see it.
The Royal Sussex Regiment Plaque
On 25th October 1961 Alderman Martin Wallace, Lord Mayor of Belfast unveiled a plaque inset into the wall at Anderson and McAuley. This was to commemorate the establishment of the Royal Sussex Regiment. Over two centuries earlier on 28th June 1701. Arthur Chichester, 3rd Earl of Donegall, was ordered by King William 111 of England to raise a battalion of foot soldiers. The first encampment of these new recruits, later to become the Sussex Regiment, was on the site of the Anderson and McAuley store at Donegall Place.
End of an era – Decline and Closure
When Sir Robert Anderson died in 1921, his place was taken by his nephew James Anderson. Subsequently Lady Anderson was at the helm until 1949 and then W. H. Anderson.
Unfortunately changing shopping tastes and competition from large modern retail chains eventually forced this family-run store to close. Anderson and McAuley, after 133 years trading, finally closed permanently in March 1994
The Robinson & Cleaver store opened in 1888 as the Royal Irish Linen Warehouse. Now closed, this remains one of Belfast’s iconic buildings
Belfast Entries is a husband & wife hobby website featuring articles on our shared history and entertaining stories of our past. We hope you enjoy visiting the website and would particularly like to thank those who have made a donation through the “Buy Us A Coffee” facility.
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