MALONE and STRANMILLIS

[Extracts from the Malone and Stranmillis list by Paul Larmour, published by the Ulster Architectural Heritage Society in 1991.]

 

...It would appear that this whole suburb contains the greatest concentration of good architect-designed houses in Ulster. When we add to the many fine examples of domestic architecture, over half-a dozen churches of special architectural interest, and consider also a few good educational and institutional buildings, it becomes clear that the architectural heritage of this whole area is very substantial despite some important losses. Add to that heritage the very generous amount of mature trees lining many of the parks and avenues, as well as the abundant hedges and trees in private gardens, and it is evident that the area has a very high environmental quality.

Some buildings are statutorily listed but that protection for a few is surely not enough to ensure that the area retains its special Victorian and Edwardian residential character. It has to be said that the special character of the area is under threat and a few more additions to the ranks of 'listed buildings' will not allay that threat. The wanton demolition of some of the larger houses, the felling of mature trees and the destruction of gardens and plantings to make way for large apartment blocks is the most obvious danger at present. The infilling of spaces between houses here and there by bungalows and smaller apartments may seem a less brutal assault on the area but it is equally damaging.

A third element in the gradual erosion of the special character of the area is more insidious and will not be countered by the listing of a few good buildings here and there, for it affects the mass of buildings that are not individually of sufficient special architectural or historic interest to merit being statutorily listed. Ironically it is the so-called 'improvements' that are often made to properties that actually spoil them and which, taken together, can gradually diminish the quality of the whole area month by month. Such 'improvements' include the replacing of original windows by new ones of different pattern, type or material; the covering of stone dressings and brickwork with paint; the replacing of natural slates on roofs by synthetic materials; the truncating or complete removal of chimneys, or the rebuilding of them in the wrong materials; the failure to reinstate mouldings damaged or removed in the course of re-plastering exterior walls; and the insertion of modern flush roof-lights in prominently positioned roofs of tile or slate. The replacement of mature hedges by walls of modem brickwork and artificial stone or indeed by panels of horizontal timber fencing, and the wholesale obliteration of complete gardens by covering with concrete or tarmacadam can also spoil the appearance of the area.

It may sound an ambitious proposal but the designation of the greater part of Malone and Stranmillis as one large Conservation Area would seem to be the most obvious need in this area if it is to survive as anything special. It would certainly be worth it as there is no other suburb in this country with such a rich architectural heritage.

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Danesfort, 120 Malone Road:


(Headquarters of Northern Ireland Electricity, and access now from Stranmillis Road): Designed 1864 by William Barre for Samuel Barbour, a linen thread manufacturer. Originally known as Clanwilliam House but the name was changed in the 1870s. One of Barre's best works, and built of fine ashlar stonework, Danesfort parades features of Italian, French and English styles all rolled into one richly moulded and sculpturesque pile. The most imposing element in the composition is the mansard-roofed square tower over the porte cochere or carriage porch. It originally contained 'retiring rooms'. There is much round-arcading of windows and luxuriant carving to capitals in Early Gothic manner. A highly ornamental feature of the design is the multi-circled pierced and interlaced patterning, of essentially Italian origin, that decorates the balconettes, parapets and friezes, but the most curious detail is the Gothic niche-like treatment of a chamfered corner next to the porch.

Inside, there is a good arcaded and balustraded stairway in the entrance hall with some fine rooms grouped around it. In all the rather Italianate sumptuousness of the interiors, replete with marble fireplaces, elaborate gilt frames to full-height mirrors, arcaded walls, and plasterwork cornices, one minor detail to note is the ceiling rose with a radial arrangement of short stumpy foliated columns which reveals Barre as essentially a High Victorian Goth.

Danesfort was built on what had previously been known as 'Pleasure-House Hill', apparently on the site of an old rath or fort. During the progress of excavating the ground for the building several cinerary urns and some sixteen or so celts or hatchets were found. They were subsequently mounted and exhibited in cabinets in the library by the first owner of the house. When Samuel Barbour died in 1878 Danesfort was left to his widow in trust for their daughter. She married Charles Duffin in 1883 and the property remained in the Duffin name until the 1940s when it was bought by Gallaher Ltd who then sold it to the Electricity Board of Northern Ireland for use as an administrative centre. After some years of neglect and subsequent decay, following the building of the large office block nearby (described under Stranmillis Road), a major and timely restoration of Danesfort was undertaken by Northern Ireland Electricity in 1984-87, and it is greatly to their credit that it now stands secure for the future as one of the best High Victorian houses in Ireland.

Refs: D. Dunlop, Life of WJ Barre, Belfast, 1868; Belfast Evening Telegraph, 20 Sept 1910, p. 3; Larmour, Belfast, p. 24.


Gatelodge to Danesfort:

No date or architect for the building of this has been recorded but a fair attribution would be to William Batt with a date in the 1870s quite likely. Batt went in for this type of steep roofed square tower as can be seen on some of his town hall and Orange hall designs. It was also used on his gatelodge that formerly stood at the entrance to Botanic Gardens. Here it forms a fitting introduction to the main house by William Barre. Good stone piers to the entrance gateway with corner colonnettes and little carved heads.

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