Victorian industrialist, engineer and speculator instrumental in the development of east Belfast
Unlike that of his better-known namesake William Ritchie, the Ayshire-born father of shipbuilding in Belfast, Francis Ritchie’s family seem to have settled in Ulster in the 1640s. Ritchie himself was born in Ballykeigle (now Ballykeel) Co Down in 1784. He married an Agnes Barry of Ballydrain in 1811, and moved to Belfast about 1830.
In support of his industrial and property enterprises, Francis Ritchie built the Lagan or ‘Ha’penny’ toll bridge (forerunner of the modern Albert Bridge) in 1831, and ten years later started work on Queen’s Bridge (replacing the old Long Bridge) which opened for traffic in January 1843.
These improvements in communications between the Co Antrim and Co Down banks of the Lagan, along with Ritchie’s workers’ housing projects in Ballymacarrett, paved the way for the breakneck expansion of East Belfast in the coming decades.
Ritchie’s industrial interests included by-products of the district’s chemical industry (there had been two vitriol or sulphuric acid plants in Ballymacarrett since the end of the eighteenth century). As well as production of roofing felt (an industry that persisted in the district as late as the 1940s) ‘Francis Ritchie & Sons, Belfast’ manufactured ‘Vitriolized Bone Compound and other Manures, Fire Lights, Vitriol, Coal Tar, Coal Tar Pitch, Black and Brown Mineral Paints, Asphalte Flagging, &c., &c.’
Despite the name of the family firm, only one of Ritchie’s five children survived him. William Barry Ritchie (1816-1887) worked alongside his father and personally supervised work on the Queen’s Bridge.
Francis Ritchie himself died in 1864.
East Belfast: Paintings and Stories from Harbour to Hills (2001) by Keith Haines; The Ulster-Scot families Taylor and Ritchie: forefathers of Feridah Forbes (1988?) by I Forbes