The Industrial Heritage of York Street

York Street has been transformed by the rapid growth of the city.

York Street once contained two industrial establishments which were the largest of their kind in the world. The York Street Mill was founded early in the nineteenth century by Thomas Mulholland and his sons. In 1828, this firm took what was regarded as a revolutionary step by introducing steam power. The other famous industrial establishment was Gallaher’s tobacco factory, founded in 1867 by Thomas Gallaher, a native of Eglinton near Derry.

Another notable York Street establishment was the foundry of John Rowan and Son. Rowan, originally from Doagh, Co Antrim, made a steam coach exhibited in Belfast in 1836. The last family member in the trade patented the Rowan piston.

Like many other thoroughfares in Belfast, York Street has been transformed by the rapid growth of the city. Largely a residential locality at the outset, it went on to become a main shopping area.  The appearance of the city end of the street drastically changed in the early part of the twentieth century with the erection of a series of imposing buildings by the Co-operative Society between 1911 and 1932.

The change in York Street from a residential area to a business thoroughfare may be further illustrated by examining the area between Great Patrick Street and Little Patrick Street. Two shops and a number of offices are situated there today, but this block once consisted of private houses occupied mainly by medical doctors. A number of prominent Belfast people once lived in York Street, including the famous shipbuilder Edward Harland.

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