Charity Shop Mystery

Something I really love about being obsessed by vintage is the fact that you often come across finds that spark an additional interest. Thanks to my love of sparkly old brooches for instance I’ve really increased my knowledge of vintage costume jewellery. When I find a piece or a signature I don’t recognise, I love to find out more.

When I came across this 1920s auction catalogue for £1 in my local Oxfam charity book shop, addressed ‘Clarence Place, May Street, Belfast’ the vintage sleuth within was awakened. I didn’t recognise the location – I know Clarence Street and May Street but Clarence Place was a conundrum to me. I love my city and I love uncovering its secrets, so a few minutes of googling and I was able to place it –

It’s a stunning Victorian building, known as Clarence Place Hall, designed by the infamous Lanyon, Lynn & Lanyon, as in Charles Lanyon, the architect behind Queen’s University & Belfast Castle among many other stunning sites. It’s actually close to the infamous Ross’ auction house in the city centre and was originally Diocesan Offices, a hall, reading rooms and offices for the Church of Ireland Young Men’s Society. Although I walk past the building almost every morning, now home to a local estate agent, I never gave it a second glance! How blind we can become to the amazing things around us sometimes.

And so having located the building, I noticed when I opened the catalogue there was even more local history to discover. The auction catalogue featured a local artist, William Gibbs (W.G) Mackenzie, a man previously unknown to me, but judging by the sale list, a prolific painter who featured a lot of Northern Irish locations in his work. I found myself googling again 🙂 He was clearly a man of talent but as the catalogue says, ‘never attained the popularity which his undoubted talent would have commanded had he been more forceful and self-assertive’. There’s something simultaneously sweet and sad about that line, isn’t there…I was really delighted to find out online that his work is now included in collections at Belfast City Hall and the Ulster Museum. In fact, one of his pieces ‘Street Scene with Newspaper Vendors and Boys Playing a Game Of Spinner’ sold in 2011 for $13,559. Recognition at last.

Then, out of the catalogue fell a photo. A picture of a very dapper man painting the portrait of a rather important looking gentleman. There’s no inscription on the back and I’ve not been able to confirm the identity of either man, despite plenty of online hours searching, but I’m really hoping that the picture is ‘modest and retiring’ Mr Mackenzie! That really would be quite an insight. And I wonder how many of the items listed under ‘furnishings’ in the catalogue might be in that very photo.

So my mystery is going to take a little more time to solve! I’m hoping I’ll get a bit of help in the process. In the meantime, I’ll be taking a much keener interest in Clarence Place Hall on my daily travels into work. What a reminder of the joy I get from my charity shop travels too.

Rosie xx

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