Blue Plaque for James Viscount Bryce

Blue Plaque for James Viscount Bryce
Unveiling the plaque to James Viscount Bryce at 13 Chichester Street, Belfast on Friday 10 May 2013

Wednesday, 15 May 2013

Blue plaque for James Viscount Bryce

An unseasonably cold and wet morning greeted the guests who gathered at 13 Chichester Street, Belfast to mark the life and achievements of James Bryce on the 175th Anniversary of his birth at 40 Upper Arthur Street. 

Chris Spurr
Chris Spurr, Chairman of the Ulster History Circle, welcomed everyone to this special occasion, the latest of the series of blue plaque in this part of the city. Jame Bryce was joining Luke Livingstone Macassey in Chichester Street, John Boyd Dunlop in May Street and Harry Ferguson in Donegall Square East. James Bryce's many achievement during his long life were impressive; historian, politician and diplomat. Although he lived in a very different age from our own his achievements remain exemplary in the present time. He was of course of Scottish stock who became one of the most prominent Ulster-Scots of Edwardian times. On this, the 175th anniversary of his birth in this street, it was fitting that we now have a visible and permanent record of his life and achievements here in Belfast. Since the early 1980s, the Ulster History Circle has put up more than 150 plaques all over Northern Ireland to celebrate the achievements of those men and women who have contributed significantly to our history, locally, nationally, and internationally. It is an entirely voluntary organisation, and relies on the support of local authorities, individuals, organisations, and businesses to fund the plaques. Chris extended his thanks to the Ulster-Scots Agency for its financial support for the plaque and for hosting the refreshments later and in particular he thanked Maynard Hanna of the Agency for all his help and support during the planning process. He also thanked Noel Phoenix and Clive Neville, joint owners of the building, for allowing the erection of the plaque there. 

Ian Crozier
Ian Crozier, CEO of the Ulster-Scots Agency, thanked the Circle for undertaking the project. This was the first of five plaques that the Circle would erect this year to commemorate Ulster-Scots people who had made a significant contribution not only here but internationally. He hoped this co-operation would continue into the future. Ulster people are a very forward looking people, always looking for the next challenge but one thing they are not so good at is recognising and celebrating their achievements and bringing them to the attention of the next generation as an inspiration. Over the next few years the Agency and the Circle would be working to bring such achievers to public recognition. Today we are honouring James Bryce. There were other Ulster-Scots like Lord Kelvin, honoured in Scotland, buried in Westminster Abbey but virtually unrecognised by today's generation. Blue plaques are too small to record the full extent of the achievements of people like James Bryce. He would not deal in detail with Bryce's life and achievents. That would be provided by Gordon Lucy in the Agency HQ later. It was with great pleasure that he unveiled the plaque. 

Dr Gordon Lucy
Following refreshments in the Agency's premises Dr Gordon Lucy addressed the gathering. Over the course of a stimulating, entertaining and informative 20 minute talk he took us through Bryce's origins, birth and early childhood in Belfast and Glasgow and showed how his early promise was exemplified by his academic achievments. He described the origins of Bryce's liberalism and the development of his scholarship, his extensive travelling and impressive mountaineering skills as well as providing an insight into Bryce's political and diplomatic achievements. 

For more information about James Bryce's life and achievements visit

Catch-up time

I've been neglecting my updating of the blog. Since the last update the Circle has unveiled four plaques. Links are provided to the reports of the unveiling of the individual plaques.

  1. Sean Lester, Last Secretary-General of the League of Nations, 22 February 2013. See  Report of the Lester unveiling
  2. Isabella Tod, Suffragist and Campaigner for Women's Rights, on International Women's Day, 8 March 2013, See Report of the Tod unveiling
  3. Dr James McDonnell, Physician (Father of Belfast Medicine), 15 April 2013, see Report of the McDonnell unveiling and 
  4. Gustav Wilhelm Wolff, Shipbuilder, 17 April 2013. See Report of the Wolff unveiling

Thursday, 24 January 2013

Blue plaque for Sir Otto Jaffe - 14 January 2013 - at 10 Donegall Square South, Belfast

The Event

The wintry day, with a cold drizzle, that met those gathering for the unveiling ceremony opposite the rear entrance of Belfast City Hall did not dampen the spirits or detract from the warmth of the occasion.

Chris Spurr, Chairman of the Ulster History Circle, welcomed the Lord Mayor, Alderman Gavin Robinson and the guests to the unveiling of the latest of the Circle's plaques and the first of 2013. Sir Otto Jaffe had made a significant contribution to the enterprise of Victorian Belfast. So much so that 113 years ago it made him Lord Mayor for the first time and the Circle was delighted to honour him with this plaque. He thanked the City Council for funding the plaque and Mr John Miskelly and the management of the 10 Square Hotel for allowing the plaque to be erected on the building that had originally been called Yorkshire House.

Belfast Lord Mayor, Alderman Gavin Robinson, with
Sean Nolan and Chris Spurr , Ulster History Circle
The Lord Mayor thanked the Circle for erecting the plaque and said how interesting it was to read about Sir Otto and the contribution he had made to this great city of ours. Although he was Hamburg born, coming to Belfast at the age of six, he contributed so much to the City's way of life. Sir Otto was an illustrious predecessor of his and it was interesting to note that his family's linen business was here on this site and his own family's linen business was at the other end of the same street. He got involved in Belfast politics at the age of 30 and rose to become Lord Mayor in 1899 and again in 1904. He gave so much to the City; he contributed £10,000 to the returning servicemen of the Boer War, £1,000 towards the construction of the RVH, £4,000 for Queen's College (now QUB), and established the Jaffe Elementary School for the citizens of Belfast, not just for members of the Jewish community. The Lord Mayor also acknowledged that Belfast had become an unattractive and unwelcoming place for someone who had done so much for the City and so in 1915, after the start of the War, when anti-German feeling was growing in the City, Belfast was no longer an appropriate place for Sir Otto. So he hoped that unveiling this plaque today would in some way to help to reconcile the City with all the great things he gave, the contribution that he made and all that the City owed to Sir Otto Jaffe. In thanking those present for being here today he hoped that we did, in some small way, by unveiling this plaque in his memory, heal those wounds that were so apparent during the War - his memory lives on and his legacy lives on.

Members of the Belfast Jewish Congregation,
with Chris Spurr, after the unveiling
Mr Ronnie Appleton QC thanked the Lord Mayor for his address and the Circle for honouring Sir Otto with this plaque. Sir Otto, twice Lord Mayor of Belfast and Life President of the Belfast Jewish Community, was a philanthropist extraordinary. He came to urban Ireland with his father Daniel at the age of six in 1857. He contributed to many causes; three libraries in Belfast, RVH, Queen's College and the Jaffe School used by a wide number of organisations and used t teach Jewish Children their religion in the evenings. His firm, Jaffe Brothers, was the largest exporter of linen in Ireland and gave much-needed employment. He paid for the Jewish Synagogue that was founded in 1904 and served the Jewish Community until 1964. His contribution was substantial to Northern Ireland and is something that he is now being recognised in this way.

The Man

Sir Otto Jaffe
Otto Jaffe was born in Hamburg in 1846, the third son of Daniel Jaffe. He came to Belfast at the age of 6 and at 16 he entered the family  business, Jaffe Brothers Linen Merchants, also known as Strand spinning, which provided work for about 350 local people, rising to 650 in 1914 when the company expanded to make munitions. Otto was educated in Belfast, Hamburg, and Switzerland. After carrying on business in New York from 1865 to 1877, he became chief director of the Belfast firm.

He was elected a City Councillor for St Anne's Ward in 1894 and became the city's first Lord Mayor in 1899, being knighted in March of the following year. He served as High Sheriff and was re-elected Lord Mayor in 1904.

Sir Otto was well known throughout his public life in Belfast for his generosity of both time and money. During his first term as Lord Mayor he and the Lady Mayoress raised £10,000 for the dependants of soldiers and sailors serving in the Boer War. He contributed £1,000 to the original building fund for the Royal Victoria Hospital where he was Governor.

In 1905 Sir Otto gave £4,000 to the fund for better equipment for Queen's College (now university). He was an active member of the committee that got the Public Libraries Act extended to Belfast, leading to the first free library being established.

As President of the Belfast congregation he made a huge contribution to the consolidation of the province's Jewish population, providing most of the funds for the new synagogue in Annesley Street, Carlisle Circus, in 1904. He had a deep interest in education and funded the Jaffe Public Elementary School at the corner of Cliftonville and Antrim Road in 1907, which, by his stipulation, was not exclusively Jewish, either in its management, staffing or pupils. He was a justice of the peace, a member of the Harbour Board and the German Consul.

In 1915, after 25 years service in Belfast and despite his naturalisation as a British citizen in 1888, and the service of his son Daniel in the British army, Sir Otto was forced to move to England as a result of the intimidation of the family during the war due to their German roots. Sir Otto died and was cremated in London in April 1929. His wife dies in August of the same year.