Monday, 5 May 2014

Wheatfield House (2) - the link to the 36th (Ulster) Division

In 1901 Wheatfield House was occupied by Rev D K Mitchell, minister of Crumlin Road Presbyterian Church but within a few years it was the home of Charles Owen Slacke (1872-1916), owner of Slacke & Co in Ashton Street.  The gate-lodge was occupied by James Mullan, the gardener.

Charles Owen Slacke was born into a Protestant family in county Tipperary in 1872.  He was the eldest son of Sir Owen Randal Slacke CB (1837-1910), an officer in the 10th Hussars, and his wife Katherine Anne Lanyon, a daughter of Sir Charles Lanyon.  His grandfather was at one time rector of Newcastle.  The family were descended from a Captain William Slacke who came from Derbyshire and settled at Ballinamore, county Leitrim, in the decade after the Battle of the Boyne.

Charles was educated at the College of St Columba and on 14 June 1902 he married Kate Dixon, daughter of Sir Daniel Dixon, a businessman and Ulster Unionist politician.  After their marriage they lived at Wheatfield House.

Slacke was a businessman with premises at 16-18 Ashton Street and his company manufactured galvanised hollowware. The family were members of the Church of Ireland and according to the 1911 census they had four servants, of whom three were Roman Catholics.

Charles Slacke was an Orangeman and in 1909-10 he was WM of Eldon LOL No 7, the premier Orange lodge in Belfast, whose members included Sir James Craig and Major Fred Crawford.  Their are portraits of all the Past Masters of the lodge in the Eldon Room in Clifton Street Orange Hall and among them is one of Slacke.

His wife Kate was in London on Ulster Day in 1912 and she signed the Women's Declaration at Westminster but there is no record in the PRONI archives of Charles signing the Ulster covenant. 

Nevertheless he was a committed Ulster Unionist and Orangeman and he joined the Ulster Volunteer Force, to oppose home rule.  When Sir Edward Carson inspected the Belfast Division of the UVF at Balmoral on 27 September 1913, Slacke commanded the Second Battalion of the North Belfast Regiment. 
He became a captain in the 14th Battalion of the Royal Irish Rifles, in the 36th (Ulster) Division.  This unit was formed from the Young Citizen Volunteers, which had been absorbed into the UVF.

On 7 May 1915 the YCV battalion moved off from their base and arrived that evening at Wheatfield estate, where they spent the night.  There they cleaned up and prepared for a grand parade of the entire 36th (Ulster) Division in Belfast the following day.  After an inspection by Major General Sir Hugh McCalmont at Malone, the Ulster Division marched to the City Hall.
Charles Slacke was killed at Thiepval on 1 July 1916, the first day of the Battle of the Somme, while leading his company into action and he was buried in Connaught Cemetery (Grave IV.A.9)
His widow Kate placed a memorial to him in St John's parish church in Newcastle, where his grandfather had been minister, and he is also listed on the Newcastle war memorial, on the family gravestone in Belfast City Cemetery (G 631/2) and on a war memorial in Malone Golf club of which he had been a member.

Having lost her husband in the war it is not surprising that Kate Slacke is listed among the donors to the Field of Battle Monument for the Fallen of the Ulster Division.
Kate lived on at Wheatfield House for a time and is listed at that address in the 1918 Belfast and Ulster Street Directory but the 1921-22 directory has Thomas R Dixon, a malster and corn merchant, at Wheatfield and J Kelly, gardener, at Wheatfield Lodge.  Dixon had business premises in Ashton Street, the same street as Slacke's business, and also in Banbridge.  However Dixon lived in the house for only a short time and soon afterwards it passed into other hands.

The next stage of the Wheatfield House story will come in a third post.

The newspaper photographs I have used were provided by Nigel Henderson, creator of the Great War Belfast Newspapers facebook page.

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