Little Lea

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Little Lea as it stands today

In 1905 the family moved out of Dundela Avenue and into their newly built home named Little Lea. The family had decided to build this grand house in the affluent suburbs of Belmont motivated by the health of their two children. Belfast in the early 1900’s was a city full of smog, a report in 1906 found that the chance of developing tuberculous was almost double than that of England or Wales with Belfast also having the highest rate of typhoid in the United Kingdom at this time.

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The family at Little Lea, C S Lewis is the young boy in the middle

It was at this happy home that Lewis declared himself Jack, and it was this name that his family would refer to him as. Jack and his older brother, Warnie were inseparable. Their father was often prone to moodiness and Lewis would blame this in later years on his Celtic temperament.

This was a turbulent time in Irish history with the home rule debate being one that was often discussed at the dinner table with his grandmother Mary Hamilton being pro home rule, and his grandfather the rector at St Mark’s Church of Ireland being a staunch Unionist who was against it.

Against the political backdrop bubbling in Belfast, this was a happy home that Jack and Warnie talked of with fondness. This idyllic childhood was to shatter all around them in 1908 when his mother Florence died from bowel cancer. Her death affected the boys deeply, with Albert never fully recovering from the loss of his wife at such an early age.

The boys had enjoyed a close relationship with their mother, even though they had, had servants, their long seaside holidays with her and moments at Little Lea were cherished. On talking about losing his mother in later life Lewis stated, ‘no one told me that grief felt so like fear.’

Only two weeks after their mother’s death Jack was sent to join Warnie at a boarding school in Watford, England. This had a profound affect on the young boy who had just lost his mother and now had lost his beloved home. As an adult Lewis remarks in his autobiography Surprised by Joy that,

‘With my mother’s death all settled, happiness, all that was tranquil and reliable, disappeared from my life. There was to be much fun, many pleasures, many stabs of joy; but no more of the old security. It was sea and islands now; the great continent had sunk like Atlantis.’

It was this longing for home that cemented the memories in his mind. The rolling hills of Down and the green fields of Antrim would stay with C S Lewis, in his imagination. It was these fond memories of the Ireland he had known until 1908 that never left him even when that Ireland changed forever in 1921.

Dundela Avenue

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Castle Place, Belfast

At the turn of the 20th Century Belfast was a successful city of industry. Ship building, rope works, linen mills, tobacco and tea factories spanned the city, with Harland and Wolfe claiming to be the greatest shipyard in the world and one of the leading ports in Europe. It was in this thriving city that Clive Staples Lewis was born on November 29th 1898 in a semi-detatched villa on Dundela Avenue.

C S Lewis was born into a middle class family who enjoyed the spoils of Belfast’s success. They lived in a densely populated area of east Belfast, a far cry from the over crowded terraces that surrounded the factories. They had financial security, enjoyed summer holidays to the seaside and had servants.

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Albert Lewis

 

Lewis’s father, Albert Lewis was the first of his family to enter into an educated profession as a solicitor, establishing his own practice on Royal Avenue, in the city centre. He was an avid reader who attended the Belmont Literary Society as a young man of 18. He wanted to move up amongst the social ranks of the city, as in Edwardian Belfast class distinctions existed.

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Florence Augusta Hamilton

He began to pursue Florence Hamilton, whose family were well distinguished in Belfast. She had attended ‘Ladies Classes,’ in Methodist College and was one of the first women to graduate from Queens University. Although her family considered Albert to be only just a gentleman and to be below her station, the two fell in love and soon married. Their first home was the little semi-detached villa that they rented off their brother in law. This was the place where C S Lewis was born.

The villas were later demolished in the 50’s for social housing, but the flats that stand there today still bare a blue plaque honouring C S Lewis’s birthplace.