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William W. Cleland Ltd.

William W. Cleland Ltd. made pub mirrors advertising Dunville's Whisky.


photograph: William W. Cleland

The Late William W. Cleland
who established the firm in 1865


drawing: View of Works

The Printing, Publishing and Boxmaking

A Little History

Almost sixty years of progress and prosperity alike. The founder of the firm, the late Mr. Wm. W. Cleland, was one of those old school pioneers who scorned difficulties, or regarded them simply as incentives to increased effort toward the accomplishment of the task they set out to fulfil. That the foundations of a splendid business were well and truly laid is self-evident when the super-structure built thereon is examined. From comparatively small beginnings the firm's business has increased steadily until to-day its ramifications include almost every branch of the printing and allied industries.

The number employed, almost 300, conveys some slight idea of the magnitude of its connections; and the extent of the ground covered by the various departments, equipped with the most up-to-date appliances for the speedy and effective turn-out of good work at a rapid rate are not so widely known by the general public as they deserve to be. Many of the older houses are hardly as fair to themselves as they should be in this connection, as they are too prone to rest on their laurels and dislike anything that sounds like "blowing their own trumpet," forgetting that in this very thing "printers do grievously err and are exceedingly inconsistent," as they never tire of proving the value of advertising to the commercial community, as a whole, although they frequently fail to partake of their own prescriptions.

The fact that overseers remain a long lifetime with such employers proclaims loudly congenial conditions, good treatment, and kindly consideration. The founder of the firm was fond of such friendships, the present managing director is seeking by precept as well as example to carry out the best traditions of an honoured name.

The history of the house, and its progress since the beginning, reflects credit on the energy and industry of all concerned. As the necessity arose, one department after another was added to the list of the firm's activities, until to-day it stands in the front rank of those who are catering for the needs of the great city of Belfast.

The business was commenced by the late Mr. Wm. W. Cleland, at 58 Victoria Street, under the Victoria Hall, on 1st May, 1865, and transferred to much larger and more commodious premises, No.61 High Street, in 1867. Again growth necessitated expansion, and rapidly increasing trade forced Mr. Cleland to procure ground in Great Victoria Street, opposite the Great Northern Railway, where in 1871 the Falcon Works were inagurated, with several additional departments, the saleshop and warehouse in High Street being retained for several years afterwards. To facilitate business the warehouse in High Street and the new works in Great Victoria Street were connected by a private telegraph wire, and afterwards by the first telephonic installation erected in the North of Ireland for commercial purposes - an interesting bit of history in the light of later developments.

The Falcon Steam Printing Works in Great Victoria Street consisted originally of four storeys, this being only a portion of the block later known by this name, but here again the old problem of space had to be tackled and accommodation provided for the new machinery, warehouse requirements, and even storage, the later being secured in a street adjacent to the works. Steam power in those far away days meant very much more, from every point of view, than any other kind of propulsion means to-day.

In 1894 another important extension became a necessity. The new extension in Bain's Place reached an average height of 52 feet, with five separate floors, four of which were on the same levels as the older buildings, so that the extra floor space provided was about 16,000 square feet. Early in 1894 this addition was entered upon, and few of those privileged to participate in the celebration of the event imagined that within another ten years the firm would be compelled to seek pastures new. Yet so it proved. Continued prosperity involved a further change, the old site being covered to its utmost capacity, and as one of the older members of this growing, happy family remarked - "The Falcon has not space to flap his wings."

In the interval the business had been converted into a private limited liability company, Mr. Wm. W. Cleland and Mr. James A. Cleland (who had previously given his father valuable assistance in the management) being associated as directors; while an opportunity of becoming shareholders was offered to and availed of by a number of the employees, so that the firm was not only first in local telephony, but well in the front in a much more practical method of ensuring success and prosperity - profit-sharing with the workers, a principle not nearly so popular as it ought to be or would be if its benefits were understood.

The first duty of the new company was to consider space. The directors "hastened slowly" and secured the old Cullingtree Linen and Damask Factory - a historic building - with a rare record behind it. Taken over as a going concern, its plant and machinery had to be disposed of, and the building itself transformed structurally before the Falcon entered its present abode, where there is abundance of space for every possible development that may be necessary for many years to come.

The Cullingtree estate covers almost two acres, and extends from Grosvenor Road to Albert Street, and from Durham Street to Stanley Street, the principal machine departments being situated on the ground floor, and provided with exceptionally fine light; indeed, the Senior Factory Inspector complimented Messrs. Cleland during one of his visits on the excellent lighting, heating, and ventilating system, which he was good enough to say was amongst the finest that he had seen in the United Kingdom.

The buildings proper are three storeys high, and prior to their occupation were thoroughly renovated from foundation to skyline - sanitation, air, light, heat, health and security receiving every attention. There are two special entrances for workers in the side street, with special emergency staircases and double iron doors. The massive appearance of the whole structure, whether viewed from within or without, indicates something of the thoughtful consideration given to every detail by the principals, and their determination to reach the highest pinnacle of perfection attainable commercially - success in its most enduring form, resulting from their splendid service to the community for whom they cater, and their kindly consideration for the small army of contented employees for whom they provide constant and remunerative employment.

In 1912 the premises were further extended by the erection of a fine five-storey building, with a frontage of 157 feet, built on the ferro-concrete principle, and lighted by the latest methods of factory window lighting. Latterly the increase in the firm's cross-Channel business involved further extensions in the London and Glasgow offices.

Messrs. Cleland originally confined their attention to the stationery business, but necessity compelled the introduction of letterpress and lithographic printing, bookbinding, sample case making, chromo-lithography, and transparency printing, designing, embossing, calendar and date case production, fancy box making, collapsible box making by machinery, as well as machine made rigid boxes.

It is not surprising, in view of such a list of varied activities, that so many changes of abode were necessary. Now that something like suitability of situation has been secured, with ample facilities for still further extension when required, it is safe to predict that the prosperity which has hitherto marked the firm's onward way in the path of progress shall be more abundantly exemplified in the days to come. It is their evident intention not only to go on and prosper, but to carry with them the best wishes of the satisfied clientele for whom they cater outside, as well as to retain the hearty support and loyal service of the employees within. Such a combination cannot be beaten in the bloodless battle for commercial supremacy, and continued prosperity even to a greater degree is the only possible consummation of such a royal record.


The booklet containing this history was provided by Tony Smyth, General Manager of Field Boxmore Belfast Ltd. Because William W. Cleland was established in 1865 and the booklet is sub-titled 'Almost Sixty Years of Progress and Prosperity Alike', it is assumed that the booklet was published in the early 1920s.

See also:

Manufacturers of Advertising Items, and Sales Agents

Dunville's Whisky Collectables

Dunville's Whisky Memorabilia