Sunday, 21 February 2016

Lower Crescent, Belfast

Lower Crescent looking towards Botanic Avenue

Lower Cresent and Upper Crescent, both in the University quarter of south Belfast, have always incurred my admiration, even since childhood.

Somewhat ironically, Lower Crescent, which runs from 4 University Road to Botanic Avenue, is to the north of its Upper sibling.

Whereas Upper Cresent runs from 28 University Road to Crescent Gardens.

Number 5 for sale in 2014, with demolition consent

The sale of much of Lord Donegall's Belfast estate in the early to mid-19th century opened up large areas of land around the town for development.

The lands to the south, along the Malone Ridge, were particularly attractive to developers, and fostered the construction of many fine late Georgian-style terraces from the mid 1830s onwards, a trend accelerated by the establishment of the prestigious Queen's College (Queen's University) in the area, in the later 1840s.

These new grand terraces were occupied by the city's professional and business classes, leaving their older residences in the centre of the town, which, in turn, were gradually turned into shops and offices.

Upper Crescent was perhaps regarded as the grandest terrace development undertaken to the south of the town, an elegantly curving row of three-storey dwellings in a late Regency style, built in 1846 by the timber merchant Robert Corry.

The authorship is uncertain, but Dr Paul Larmour has suggested that the hand of Charles Lanyon may have been involved.

Corry himself undertook the building work and took up residence at 16 Upper Crescent. For the first few years of its existence, this row was known as Corry's Crescent.

To the immediate north of Upper Crescent, where Crescent Church now stands, there was a large lawn which Corry had as a garden.

Shortly after this garden was laid out, however, Corry had it ploughed up and used for the cultivation of vegetables for relief of local workers suffering as a result of the Great Famine.

To the north of this garden ran an old water course; to the east, some smaller gardens (belonging to other occupants of Upper Crescent) and further to the east and to the north-east, ran Albion Lane.

In 1852, Robert Corry built another terrace to the north of his garden and just south of the old water course.

This new development, incongruously named Lower Crescent, was much in the same style as that to the south and was occupied by the same mix of professionals and businessmen; though, by as early as 1860, the ground floors of some of the properties were used as offices.

In the late 1860s, a railway line was cut to the immediate north of Lower Crescent (along the line of the old water course).
In 1873, the large sandstone building, (originally Ladies Collegiate, later Victoria College), was added to the west end of the terrace, with two houses added to the east end by the end of the decade, the most easterly of which, Rivoli House, originally contained a dance academy run by a Frederick Brouneau.
The new railway line cut across Albion Lane and presaged the laying out of a new broader thoroughfare, to be named Botanic Avenue.

Upper Crescent also witnessed further building in the 1860s and 70s, with two large William Hastings-designed properties erected to the west end in 1869, one of which, Crescent House (latterly a bank) also fronted on to University Road.

In 1878-79, two further houses were added to this end, on the ground between those of 1869.

In 1885-7, the large Presbyterian church (the present Crescent Church) was erected to plans by the Glasgow architect, John Bennie Wilson, on the west side of Robert Corry's former garden, with a two-storey terrace, the present Crescent Gardens, built on the site of smaller garden plots to the east end, in 1898.

During the first half of the 20th century, most of the properties of Upper and Lower Crescent, as well as Crescent Gardens, remained private dwellings.

However, by 1960 many were given over to business use; others divided into flats, with the former Rivoli House, (later called Dreenagh House), becoming a hotel.

This trend continued, and by the beginning of the 21st century none were occupied as private dwellings.

In the mid 1990s, three of the 1860-70 houses at the west end of Upper Crescent were demolished and a modern office block built in their place; whilst in 2000 the railway cutting to the south of Lower Crescent was built over, in preparation for a new development.

1 LOWER CRESCENT:
occupied by Frederick Gee, commission merchant. Gee appears to have remained there until at least 1882, though a Charles McDowell is listed by 1877. By 1899, it was in the hands of neighbouring Victoria College. When the Victoria College building changed hands to become the Crescent Arts Centre in 1978, this property remained associated with it, becoming The Octagon Gallery. It is largely used as a store by the Arts Centre.
2 LOWER CRESCENT:
One of the eleven houses which made up the original 1852 section of Lower Crescent. In 1858, it was occupied by John Savage, flax merchant. John Corry (a relative of the abovementioned Robert Corry) is listed as resident in 1862; Mrs Cuppage in 1877; and Mrs McDowell in the 1890-1900. The property came into possession of Victoria College at some time between 1910-20 and remained as such until that institution left Lower Crescent in the 1970s; however, for much of this period, it appears to have been leased to various businesses and private tenants. In the 1980s, it became a health centre (which appears to have been integrated with its neighbour, number 3); then a stationery shop; and later, offices.
3 LOWER CRESCENT:
In 1858, was listed as vacant, but was occupied by Henry Smith in 1860; the Rev John Moore in 1861; and William Moffat, 1877. In the 1890s and early 1900s, it was occupied by Mrs Margaret Byers, ounder of Victoria College. It was still in possession of Victoria College for some years after Mrs Byers' decease in 1912, but was either sold or leased out by the school by 1930, for by this date it had become a private dwelling once again. The property remained a dwelling house until the 1970s.
4 LOWER CRESCENT:
Thomas Hanlon, of Messrs George McTear & Company, Steam Packet Agents, Donegall Quay; Miss Jane Vance, by 1860. Miss Vance was followed a few years later by Dr Peter Redfern, who remained there until ca 1915. The property appears to remained a private dwelling until the 1950s, when it was divided into flats. It remained as such until the early 1980s, when the flats were converted to offices. The return is recorded as two storey in the valuation of 1860. The decoration to the second floor landing (which matches that to the first floor) suggests that it may have been raised a storey not long after this date.
5-6 LOWER CRESCENT:
Number 5 was occupied by Mrs Andrews; Henry Dickson resided at number 6. By 1860, number 5 was occupied by Aylward Connor, with its ground floor used as offices. Connor appears to have remained there until the late 1870s, when the property became home to Colonel Audain. Number 6 passed to Mrs Charnock in 1870, with both she and the Audain family occupying both houses until 1910 at least. Both buildings appear to have remained private dwellings until the 1970s, but by 1980 number 6 was an office. In the late 1980s, number 5 was coverted to a bar and night club, The Fly. In the late 1990s, this bar was greatly expanded, when its owners acquired number 6 and added a large extension to the rear of the newly-created single property.
7 LOWER CRESCENT:
Robert Cassidy, a solicitor, who, (by 1860 at least) used the ground floor as an office. In 1870,  James Campbell is listed as resident; Henry F Thomas in 1877; Samuel Alexander in 1882; and Mrs Orr in 1910. The property appears to have been divided into flats in the 1960s, but had become an office (once again) by 1980.
8 LOWER CRESCENT:
Tobias Porter, Belfast Flour Mills Manager, who appears to have remained there until at least 1882. In 1899, Mrs Lyons is recorded as resident; with Miss Lyons in occupation from about 1910-40s. From the mid 1950s until the late 1970s, this property and number 9 served as the canteen for Victoria College. No doubt much of the internal changes to both buildings date from this period. The building has housed various offices from the late 1970s onwards.
9 LOWER CRESCENT:
Samuel Delacherois, gentleman. In 1860, it was occupied by a John K McCausland, who appears to have remained there until at least 1882. The next occupant was Miss Vance, who was followed by Mrs Jackson about 1915. In the 1940s, the property came into the possession of Victoria College; and in the following decade became, (along with neighbouring number 8), the college's canteen. After the departure of Victoria College from Lower Crescent in the late 1970s, the property was converted to offices.
10 LOWER CRESCENT:
And its neighbour to the east (11) were used as offices for the Ordnance Survey, but by 1860, number 10 was a private dwelling once again, occupied by Robert W Corry. Corry was followed in 1862 by John Arnold, who remained there until the mid 1880s at least. In 1899, Mrs McKnight is listed as resident; Miss Warner in 1910; Mr T Kernaghan, linen merchant, in 1920. By 1940, the property appears to have been divided into two flats. In 1960, three flats are recorded, with four in 1970. These fluctuating divisions of the property appear to have changed again in the later 1970s, when the first floor became amalgamated with the first floors of numbers 8 and 9 to form a large office suite.
11 LOWER CRESCENT:
Was, by 1860, occupied by Charles Gaussen, who was followed in 1861 by Henry Cuppage, who remained there until at least 1882. In 1899, William Pedlow, District Inspector, National Schools, Belfast South, is listed as resident; then David Wright, bottle merchant and representative of the Chilean Nitrate Committee; T  Kernaghan in 1920; and Mr S E Fitchie, wholesale stationer, in 1930. By 1940, the property became a nursing home; then a guest house in 1951; but reverted to a private residence from the late 1950s to the 1970s. By 1980, the property was converted to offices.
12 LOWER CRESCENT:
Built in 1877-78 to designs by architect William Hastings, who had also worked on the larger property to the east (13) two years earlier. The building was originally occupied by William J Morrison, with William Campbell in residence in 1899. Campbell remained there until some time between 1910-20. Miss Gardener occupyed the house in 1921. In 1930, a journalist named Alex Riddle and Professor Ivor Arnold are recorded as residents; with three occupants listed in 1940, two in 1951 and three in the 1960s and 1970s. Clearly the property must have been split into flats ca 1930. In the late 1980s, the building was converted to a restaurant, linked with the neighbouring hotel (13), with hotel rooms to the upper floors. In the late 1990s, the restaurant was converted to a public bar. 
Sources: Henderson's Belfast Directory; Belfast & Province of Ulster Directory; ST Carleton, The Growth of South Belfast (QUB MA thesis, 1967); John Caughey, Seize Then The Hour: A history of James P Corry & Compnay (Belfast, 1974), pp.28-29; David Evans, Historic buildings of Queen's University (revised edition, 1980); Alison Jordan: Margaret Byers, Pioneer of Women's Education (QUB Institute of Irish Studies).

First published in March, 2014.

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