CENTRAL BELFAST

[Extracts from Central Belfast: An Historical Gazetteer, by Marcus Patton, published by the Ulster Architectural Heritage Society in 1993.]

 

North Queen Street:

Road north from Donegall Street to York Road, considered here only to the junction with Great George's Street. Known in 1791 as Fishers Row, "a long line of thatched huts", and in the early 19c as New Barrack Street (from the Artillery Barracks of 1797) or Carrickfergus Street (since it led to Carrickfergus). It marks the prehistoric shoreline, and houses immediately to the E of it are built on firm sand rather than the sleech that is more typical of the centre of Belfast. O'Hanlon, writing in 1852, observed that "no region of the town seems to be more fully furnished with the elements and means of immorality than this", since nearly all its shops were public houses; some were music-saloons, "where vice, under the garb of pleasure, is so cheapened down that...the young of both sexes can purchase even 'a pennyworth of blackguardism' ". In 1840, the public houses included the Wellington, the Punch Bowl and the Shakespeare.

A road widening scheme carried out at the top of Donegall Street in the late 1980s resulted in the demolition of the St Kevin's Chapel of Ease at nos.1-5, formerly Ekenhead Presbyterian Church, and a harshly functional St Kevin's Hall of brick and corrugated metal has been built at nos.7-19 to replace it (c.1990, architects McLean & Forte). No.47 was the birthplace of Sir John Lavery the artist in 1856. Many of his pictures are in the collection of the Ulster Museum.

Refs: Bardon p.77; Benn I p.560; Gaffikin p.5; Merrick XIII; O'Byrne pp.209-10; O'Hanlon pp.l3-14; UM 223.1928.

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Clifton House:

Clifton House: 1771-74, probably based on designs by Robert Joy:
Belfast's oldest public building, built as the Poorhouse, and still used for more or less its original purpose, as a charitable home for old people. Its central pedimented two-storey block is flanked by single-storey wings with gabled end pavilions set forward, all in nicely weathered old red brick, and its octagonal stone tower with ball finial and weather vane forms a visual stop at the end of Frederick Street. Small pane sash windows with stone cills with surrounds to those in central bays; central pedimented entrance doorcase with attached Doric columns, at head of sweeping stone steps. Taller roundheaded windows to wings, and curious "fanlights" in arched recesses in the pavilions. The pavilions are now the ends of side wings 17 bays long, extended during the 19c in sympathetic but slightly grander style, with quoins, moulded surrounds to windows, and heavier corbels to chimney stacks. These were paid for by John Charters in 1868 (whose architect was W J Barre) and Edward Benn of Glenravel House in 1872, whose architect was William Hastings.

The grounds are well kept with mature trees (some of which were lost during road widening in 1990), but there is a rather disconcerting view of barricading, complete with sangar, on the N side where it bounds with an army base. The single-storey hipped roof gatelodge with central chimney dates from 1938 and was designed by Godfrey Ferguson. The ironwork to the entrance gateway has been replaced rather meanly following the road widening - earlier and more robust ironwork survives at the Clifton Street entrance. Behind in Henry Place is the Clifton Street Graveyard, laid out in connection with the Poorhouse in 1797.

The Poorhouse came into being as a result of the establishment of the Belfast Charitable Society, established in 1752 to raise funds to house the aged and infirm poor. The Marquis of Donegall presented the ground for the building, "healthfully situated at the north end of Donegall Street", and public subscription and lotteries paid for the construction cost of some £7000. The foundation stone was laid in 1771 by Stewart Banks, and in due course its intended fifty paupers and ten destitute sick persons took up residence, growing to a population of over 400 old people and children by 1833. The children of beggars also had to be housed, and steps taken to educate and apprentice them to suitable trades. Most significant in this respect was the expedition of Thomas McCabe and Robert Joy to discover the secrets of the English cotton mills, after which they set up the first cotton looms in Ireland in the N wing of the Poorhouse and put some of the older children to work on them; by 1780 ninety children were employed. Seven beds were provided for what was in effect Belfast's first hospital, and a General Dispensary for the Sick Poor was started in 1792, which grew into the Fever Hospital of 1817.

The first smallpox inoculation in Ireland was carried out here in 1800. Even lunatics were admitted on occasion (and apparently confined in the steeple when they became violent). Initially rooms here were used as Assembly Rooms for balls and gatherings. The Charitable Society also took steps to improve the town's water supply, and the Spring Water Commissioners were set up under its auspices in 1817, providing reservoirs in Fountain Street.

Refs: Allison ST p.5; Appletree 1987 wk.16; Bardon pp.33-34, 69; BC p.87; Beckett pp.21, 42-43; Benn I p.520; Brett pp.4, 9, pl.2; Doyle p.24; Dubourdieu p.539; IB 1875 pp.l 7, 24; Larmour pp.xii, 1, pl.l; McCutcheon pl.l35.3; New Burying Ground, passim; Merrick XIV; O'Byrne pp.l79-82; Smith pp.25-26; Strain, passim; UM Pl.1983.

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Donegall Quay:

Single-sided street from Ann Street to Corporation Square, overlooking the Lagan. Built on reclaimed land at approximately the "High Watter Marke" of 1685, with the southern section shown as Hannover kye on 1715 map; this was subsequently spelt Hanover Quay, and around 1822 known as Custom House Quay, since the old Custom House had by then replaced the King's Stores on the block bounded by Donegall Quay, High Street, Princes Street and Marlborough Street. The central section between High Street and Waring Street was known in 1822 as Merchants Quay. The northern portion between the Custom House and Corporation Square was built somewhat later, by David Tomb in 1804, and was known either as Tomb's Quay, or, by 1819, as Donegall Quay. This name became applied to the whole street when all the old docks, which had only been available at high water, were filled in about 1850 and the new Channels allowed larger vessels to come up to the town. The Bangor Boats left from here in the early part of this century, and from c.1850 until recently the river side was occupied by the embarcation sheds for the Liverpool, Ardrossan and Glasgow ferries, with the cattle travelling on most sailings herded into sheds in the Markets area until they were ready to be driven on.

Refs: BC pp.6, 81; Beckett pp.59, 62-63; Benn I p.529, 11 p.45; Gaffikin p.20; McTear pp.l68-69; Millin p.l07.

Nos. 3-4: 1991-92:
New office block based on, but much larger than, the adjacent Tedfords building.


Nos.5 and 7: James Tedford & Co Ltd:
1855, by Alexander McAllister: No.5 is a narrow three-storey stucco building with central gable: facade enclosed by rope moulding, with triple pulley block and tackle hanging at first floor level and a stucco lifebelt marked "Est. 1851" above: embossed lettering reading "Ship Chandlers, Sail & Tentmakers". Perhaps not great architecture, but a charming evocation of the nautical past of the area. James Tedford started his chandlery in Donaghadee, moving to this site in the 1850s and expanding into ship-owning; his ships travelled to South America and the Caribbean, returning to unload their cargoes just alongside the shop. In later years the firm also supplied tarpaulin to road transport firms. Tedfords closed in 1991, but has since re-opened under new management. Nearby at no.7 is a gable-fronted warehouse of plain stucco where the canvas sails were sewn; this has a projecting roof over hoist doors at first and second floors, and until recently bore a gaily painted ship's figurehead, said to have belonged to one of Tedford's brigantines. The actual dates of the buildings are uncertain; the sail loft is reputed to have been built between 1760 and 1790, and the shop in 1843, McAllister having been responsible only for refacing it; while the pulley block was apparently made by a ships carpenter about a hundred years ago.
Refs: Appletree 1987 wk.15; Brett p.35; BNL 23 Jan 1990; BT 14 May 1991, 21 May 1991.

No.17 (now a car park) was the approximate location of the original Custom-House, on the corner of what was then Custom-house Quay and the Town Dock, later Queen's Square.
Ref: Leases 509/657.

Nos.39-41: Goligher (Belfast) Ltd:
c.1840: Three-storey five bay stucco building with quoins, and small pediment over central arched recess converted into goods hoist.
Ref: Appletree 1992 front endpaper.

Nos.42-43: City Optical Co Ltd:
1887, by Joseph Bell for Belfast Steam Ship Company: Two-storey seven bay red brick building with terracotta detailing, and three-storey addition to N side. Roundheaded doorcase under entablature with swags supported on columns with cloth-like Ionic capitals; central gablet flanked by tall chimneys breaking through balustraded parapet above heavily corbelled cornice. The BSSC was on this site from c.1855 but must have found its business increasing to the point that new facilities were required - one interesting feature of the new building was "an excellent arrangement for the hoisting of ledgers, &c., from the general office up to the audit office".
Ref: Appletree 1992 front endpaper; IB 1888 p.100.

No.44, the Liverpool Lounge:
is now a plain rendered building of no character, but Brett describes the Liverpool House as having "an outside comfortingly garish with white wall, black pilasters, quoins and architraves and plenty of red and yellow ornament". Extensively bomb-damaged in 1972, it has since established itself as a popular venue for traditional music.
Ref: Barzilay I p.44; Brett p.l9; Tohill p.161.

[Note: Since 1993 Tedford's has become a fish restaurant, and the sailmakers have moved elsewhere; part of the original Tedfords premises and the adjacent vacant lot is now a multi-storey car park. In 1998 and 1999 Golighers and the old BSSC building were demolished, and the Liverpool Lounge has followed in 2000.]

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Part of High Street:

St George's Church, 105 High Street:


1811-16 by John Bowden of Dublin, incorporating earlier portico:
Two-storey church in beige sandstone with four-columned Corinthian porch attached with fluted responds on the slightly curved main facade, built as a chapel of ease for St Anne's parish church which had become too small for its congregation. Originally named for George III, it was ultimately consecrated in the name of the saint.

The portico came from the Earl Bishop of Derry's unfinished Ballyscullion House near Castledawson of 1788 (part of his scheme "to make County Derry look like a gentleman"), and was brought down from there by lighters along the Lagan Navigation, having been bought by the Bishop of Down and presented to the church. The pediment has two badges in the centre above oak leaf garlands, one of bishop's keys (arms of the See of Down and Connor), the other the Belfast coat of arms. Between the six-panel front doors at ground floor level are semicircular niches, and the first floor windows are round headed.

Set behind spear-headed railings, with stone corner pillars with semicircular caps, and surrounded by rubble stone walls, mostly badly pointed, but with a rather evocative view of the backs of Church Lane houses. The area around the church recently brick paviored, but retaining a few stone slabs, and three very important trees at the front (there were twelve in 1959).

Internally, the original pulpit and reading desk formed "one massive structure in front of the east window", but in the 1860s the Rev MacIlwaine "anxiously desired to have the interior improved", and W J Barre was called in to alter the "debased Grecian" of the church. The "low and dangerous" flat ceiling was removed, exposing the structure, and a new pulpit was designed. The chancel was added by Edward Braddell in 1882. The effect of the interior is disappointing, half altered Georgian and half High Victorian; but with a simple and enigmatic memorial to Sir Henry Pottinger, "late Minister Plenipotentiary and Ambassador Extraordinary to the Emperor of China" (see also Pottinger's Entry), to the right of the chancel. The school at the rear was built in 1885.

This is the site of the Chapel of the Ford, where travellers could give thanks for safe crossing of the Farset; it was standing by 1306, but considerably repaired in 1657, it having been "much ruinated by being for some years past converted and made use of as a Citadell" by Cromwellian forces in 1649-56. The old Corporation Church, as it was known because the Sovereign and Burgesses worshipped here, was still considered dangerous and eventually pulled down in 1774 when St Anne's was built. When St Anne's proved too small for the expanding population of the city, the foundation stone of the present building was laid in 1813, and the church opened three years later. At first choirboys could fish in the Farset which still flowed down the High Street, and the graveyard continued to be used for a while despite increasing public nuisance from flooding in the area, but within a few decades the river had been closed in. St George's was the first Belfast church to introduce a harvest thanksgiving service, and has pioneered many musical innovations over the years - a Choral Society met in the school-house here in the 1850s.

Refs: Appletree 1992 wk.9; Bardon p.74; Beckett p.74; Benn 1, pp.6, 139-41; BNL 31 Oct 1896; Brett pp.15-17, 39, pl.10; Brett notes; BT 26 June 1913, 4 Oct 1972, 31 Dec 1983; Conlin pp.4-5, 12-13; Dixon UA p.16; Doyle p.29; Dubourdieu p.547; Dunlop pp.59-60; Hogg 10/21/783; Larmour p.4; Lawrence C2421, C6037; Millin p.25; NMC p.8; O'Byrne pp.65-68, 102; Rankin p.63; Smith pp.43-44, 53; Welch W10/21/195; Young Province p.116.

[Note: St George's has recently undergone extensive renovations and stonework repairs, completed in 2000].

No.107 High Street was part of the Eglinton and Winton Hotel (familiarly known as the "Egg and Winkle"). See 53-57 Victoria Street.

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Part of Sandy Row:

Bedford Terrace, 189-197 Sandy Row:

1852: Terrace of five neo-classical houses separated by fluted Corinthian pilasters supporting a deep cornice with dentils over acanthus scrollings. Now converted into a bar with all the first floor windows obliterated except at the gable, it looks very strange, but a glance at Lower Crescent on the other side of Bradbury Place suggests what it must once have looked like. The pilasters ran down to the ground, the ground floor windows and doors had flat entablatures, and the hipped roof was broken up by five chimney stacks set parallel to the ridge. The 1860 Valuer, with his estate agent's eye, was scornful of the terrace, considering it "too good for the locality". The adjacent terrace at nos.l97-207 was known in the 1880s as Napier Place.

Refs: Brett p.33; BT 30 Mar 1974; Carleton p.l35, pl.XXIX.

[Note: Bedford Terrace was still housing in the 1970s, but was converted to a bar shortly after, and the buildings were demolished in 2000 to make way for an apartment block].

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