Elegance. It’s not a word usually associated with Belfast, the place I call home. Our reputation often precedes us for all the wrong reasons-sectarianism, violence, racism, and most recently the utter ineptitude of our so-called politicians. What, I hear you ask, has any of this got to do with charity shopping, vintage brooches and preloved handbags?! Good question! Belfast’s past, present and future is made of much more than its negative headlines. It is a city with a fascinating history and a future full of potential, and sometimes an unsuspecting vintage find serves to remind me of that.
Belfast was once the shining star of the Victorian era. With its ship-building, linen-making, engineering and rope-making, the city was alive, confident and prosperous with industry. In 1861, slap bang in the middle of that Victorian success and affluence, the seed was sown for a retail empire that would exist in Belfast until 1994. That empire was the department store known as Anderson & McAuley.
I didn’t arrive in Belfast until 1995, a year after it had disappeared from our city centre so I sadly never crossed its threshold. From the stories I’ve heard and the information I have found about it, the store was the epitome of elegance and a Belfast icon for more than a century. My husband was just telling me this evening how much I would have adored the huge floor dedicated to haberdashery and my friends @BallywalterPark (give them a twitter follow!) recently told me that it was essentially the Harrods of Belfast. I love this image of Anderson & McAuley staff, looking very serious indeed http://www.census.nationalarchives.ie/exhibition/belfast/social_conditions/5.html – it looks like a still from the ITV series Mr Selfridge!
So, given the distinguished history of Anderson & McAuley, how excited was I to find this stunning vintage bag on my charity shop travels last week! It seems almost unused, but I imagine it has seen some incredible dinners, dances and dalliances in Belfast and has just been lovingly looked after by its previous owner. Who wouldn’t care for such a pretty bag.
I’ve never owned anything from Anderson & McAuley before and I’m so delighted to now have this beautiful bag in my possession! It’s not just another vintage bag to add to my collection. It’s a reminder, if only a small one, of Belfast’s fine Victorian past, and its ability to be the best in the world. Sometimes, we forget what a force of nature this city has been, and just how capable we are of achieving, succeeding and impressing. More of that please!