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A Historical Background of Mount Vernon
Mount Vernon estate is situated on the Shore Road in North Belfast. It sits proudly under the grandeur of the Cavehill and "Napoleon's Nose". The Belfast Corporation built the houses in 1949-52 with the maisonettes and tower blocks being built in 1966. Mount Vernon House
Mount Vernon House was one of many great mansions in the Shore Road area, but where did the name Mount Vernon come from? In the centre of the estate stood an impressive house with stables and this was called Mount Vernon House. It is believed that the person who built the house in the 1800's was an admirer of George Washington, the first President of the United States, and named the 'house' after the President’s residence, 'Mount Vernon'. Early research showed that the house was built for Hill Hamilton.
Hill Hamilton began his career as a peddler selling his wares in Smithfield Market and who went on to become one of the biggest landlords in Belfast.
It is said that his son Hill Hamilton Junior received 7000 pounds per annum in house rents, a massive sum in the 1800's. Hill Hamilton died on 5th January 1869 and left his effects in his will which amounted to 250,000 pounds. He is buried in Clifton Street Grave yard under an impressive Head Stone which reads 'Hill Hamilton of Mount Vernon'.
Alderman Samuel Lawther
Samuel Lawther was a ship owner and merchant. He was a Senior Member of both the City Corporation and the Belfast Harbour Board and also High Sheriff of Belfast in 1902. Apart from being the owner of two of the largest and finest sailing ships of the day, the "Walter H Wilson" and the "W J Pirrie". Samuel Lawther is recognised as the person who put fog signals and lights on the Maidons and who erected a new lighthouse on Black Head at the entrance to Belfast Lough. Lawther Street in Tigers Bay is named after Samuel Lawther. During this period Belfast was one of the major exporting and ship building ports of the British Empire and the Lawther family fortune would have been immense.
Samuel Lawther's son Robert who went on to become an Ulster Shipping Magnate with extensive business interests throughout the world died at Mount Vernon House at the age of 75. Roberts sister married Major Harold Robinson the son of the founder of "Robinson & Cleaver" Royal Avenue. Alliances such as this was not unusual between the wealthy business classes and their desire to maintain control of the business life of Belfast.
Sir Edward Carson (Lord Duncairn)
Edward Carson is probably looked upon by other Unionists as the greatest Unionist of our time. In January 1913 the Ulster Unionist Council declared that it would use "all means which may be found necessary" to stop the push of Home Rule for Ireland. To add weight to this declaration the Council was organising a new Citizens Army called the Ulster Volunteer Force. One of the prime movers was Edward Carson and the new army was sometimes referred to as Carson's Army.
The Ulster Volunteer Force organised training and gun running to defend, if necessary, an Independent Ulster if the Home Rule Bill was successfully passed by the London Parliament. The First World War broke out in 1914 and the Home Rule Bill was set to one side. Many of the Ulster Volunteer Force joined the 36th Ulster Division and their heroics and sacrifice at the Battle of the Somme will never be forgotten by Ulster's Loyalist Community.
Carson had been MP for Dublin University for twenty six years but after the war and with Home Rule inevitable for the South of Ireland, Carson sought to find an appropriate seat in the North of Ireland. A redistribution of seats in the House of Commons meant that the representation of Belfast was doubled and it was for one of these seats that Carson was invited to stand as the Unionist.
Sir Edward Carson came forward to stand as the Unionist candidate for the Duncairn Ward by invitation of the Chairman of the Duncarin Unionist Association. Along with James Craig, Carson took residence in Mount Vernon House where he successfully organised a campaign which would see him elected as M.P. for Duncairn.
James Craig P.M.
James Craig was the son of the owner of Dunville Distillery. After serving in the Boer War he returned home to successfully contest and win the Westminster seat for MP of East Down in 1903. In 1911 at his home in Craigavon, he organised a demonstration which 50,000 people have attended to show their opposition to Home Rule in Ireland. In 1912 James Craig organised the signing of the Ulster Covenant which half a million people signed and the setting up of the Ulster Volunteer Force.
After the First World War Craig turned Craigavon House into the Ulster Volunteer Hospital for injured and shell shocked soldiers. It later became a sanatorium for ex-servicemen. Craig used all his power to ensure the setting up of Northern Ireland and was the first Prime Minister of the new government. As Prime Minister, Craig directed loyalist aggression in the setting up of the Special Constabulary and successfully defeated the IRA in their 1920 campaign. James Craig moved to mount Vernon House with Carson where they conducted a vigorous election campaign which would see Carson elected as MP for Duncairn.
Royal Air Force
During the Second World War members of the Royal Air Force were billeted at Mount Vernon House and during one particular German air raid a bomb was dropped in the grounds of Mount Vernon.
In 1947 Mount Vernon House was taken over by the Education Authority as a school for the educationally sub normal. The school was officially opened in August 1952 and according to a schools table in 1971-72 Mount Vernon had 11 teachers and 149 pupils. The house like many of the other "Great" Houses has now been demolished and a Fold for Senior Citizens is now built on the site.
An extract from 'Mount Vernon "More Than A Mural"' by Michael Atcheson (pages 3,4,8-13)