Thursday, 24 June 2021

Ormiston House


ORMISTON HOUSE, Belfast, was built in 1867 to designs by David Bryce of Edinburgh for James Combe, a Scots-born iron-founder and linen manufacturer (Combe Barbour).

Falls Foundry, North Howard Street, Belfast

This is a Scottish-Baronial style mansion house with crow-stepped gables, a bartizan turret and gargoyles.

There is a central three-storey tower-house with two-storey wings on each side; a pitched slate roof; pedimented dormers; and a decorated, pedimented doorway.

Two gate lodges still stand at the Belmont and Hawthornden roads.

There were probably lodges at the Wandsworth and Upper Newtownards roads, too.

The illustration above depicts the visit of the Lord Lieutenant of Ireland, the 5th Earl Spencer, to Ormiston; His Excellency's carriage passing the triumphal arch at one of the gate lodges.

The Belmont Road gate lodge, still standing, is at the junction of the aptly-named Pirrie Road, possibly the shortest road in Belfast.

Lord Lieutenant's Carriage passing Belmont Road Lodge

This is rather an extravagant little lodge, with crow-stepped gables, and emblems of the three kingdoms at the apexes, viz. sculpted rose, shamrock and thistle.

Belmont Road Gate Lodge in 2019

In 1876, the grounds comprising 62 acres were bounded by Belmont Road, Wandsworth Road, Upper Newtownards Road, and Hawthornden Road.
The Falls Foundry was one of the main foundries in Belfast. It was set up in 1845 by Combe, to supply equipment for the railways, which were expanding at the time. By the 1850s the firm had moved into the textile machinery business and was making carding machinery for long staple flax fibres. 

The name of the firm was later changed to Combe, Barbour and Combe and, in 1900, became a part of Fairbairn Lawson Combe Barbour Ltd. For a period from about 1880 to the end of the first world war, the Falls foundry also made large steam engines as part of their service to mill owners.

Although they occasionally tried to diversify by making specialist machinery for other trades, the firm was best known as a major manufacturer of spinning and twisting frames until 1955, when the parent company ceased business in Belfast. 
The school photograph below was taken outside Ormiston about 1973 and, indeed, features the young Timothy William.

Spotted me yet?

Click to Enlarge

The property was sold to the shipbuilder Sir Edward Harland Bt ca 1880, who remained there until 1887, when it was acquired by his business partner William, later 1st Viscount Pirrie.

I think the Pirries would only have used Ormiston for a part of the year, because they owned a number of other homes, including Downshire House in London.

Downshire House, Belgrave Square

Ormiston must have been used a lot for entertaining visitors, senior executives having ships built and others.

Pirrie, who later became the Chairman at Harland & Wolff, retained the house until his death in 1924; however, by this stage the property was partly owned by the shipyard itself and between 1911-20, it appears to have been used to house various company directors, among them George Cuming who is recorded as resident there in 1918. 
Shortly after Lord Pirrie's death Harland & Wolff came into sole ownership of the property, selling it in 1928 to Campbell College, which remained there until the mid-1970s.

Since then the property has served as government offices, but is presently vacant.

The stable block appears to have originally consisted of the U-shaped building centred around the small courtyard.

This block was undoubtedly built at the same time as the main house (1865-67); however, as the valuation records give no indication of the original extent of the property, and as no original plans appear to have survived, we cannot be completely certain of this.

The small hipped roof extension to the eastern side of the stables was added some time before 1901, as it shown on a map of that year, as are the garden sheds and large walled garden to the south.

The latter, which included a large glass house is of uncertain date also; however the appearance of both the sheds and the extension suggests that both were added ca 1880s-90s, possibly by Lord Pirrie, who extended the house itself in 1896-97 (when he was Lord Mayor of Belfast) and made changes to the grounds, creating, amongst other features, a nine-hole golf course.
During the mid to late 20th century, much of the southern half of Ormiston's grounds was sold off for housing development with the walled garden and glass house were demolished in the process.

The garden sheds survived and were utilised by Campbell College as changing rooms serving a swimming pool (installed by the school some distance to the south of the house itself), with the stables converted to quarters for the groundsman and stores.

A Valuation Notebook of 1903 still exists which includes an entry, dated 1903, showing the changes believed to have been made by Lord Pirrie in 1896-97, including the large timber-built ballroom to the rear of the house and some additional glass-houses to the south-east of the formal garden.

The garden and the stable extension are all shown, suggesting both were added prior to 1896.

Ormiston has recently been restored to its former glory by its new owner Pete Boyle, proprietor of Argento Jewellers.

First published in July, 2010.


Sandy said...

It is a fantastic, historic property apparently being allowed to decay due to Civil Service neglect. There is a celbration of William Pirrie's achievments going on next year, the hundredth anniversary of the launching of the Titanic. I'm going to see if we can bring the house's plight to the fore.

Anonymous said...

The building belongs to the NI Assembly that had plans to make it into an extension of our glorious devolved 'government' - so I fear it is doomed

Unknown said...

This is very sad to see such a fine hose in decay. My great great grand uncle and aunt lived there from 1880 to 1887 (The Harlands).

Anonymous said...

Interestingly, the Barbour and Combe Ltd. company, which went on to merge with several other Enlglish firms at the beginning of the 20th century, got itself into a spot of legal bother at the beginning of WWII:

Maruth said...

Went past Ormiston about 10 minutes ago. Lovely to be able to see the house now the solid fence has been removed.

Anonymous said...

Working in Ormiston house at present restoring original windows preserving as much as possible. It is a pleasure to be involved in this huge restoration with historical interest and one man's vision and determination.

Unknown said...

Recently visited the beautiful house only last week. It is in the process of being fully restored by a young business man. He has a great personal regard and interest in bringing the building back to its former glory. I may have some work on the exterior of the building regarding reinstatement of the lettering panels and some new crests and coats of arms. This is depending on the Heritage office and if they deem the works appropriate.

Anonymous said...

I have just completed a landscape gardening course and lately have been accepted in employment to be apart of project to reinstate the former gardens..I am so freaked out by the connection that i own a springer spaniel that shares his birthday as 15.4.12 ( which he was born on the 100th day anni of Titantic)
I am entralled to witness daily, the owners desire and how Belfast trades people are wanting this property back with all its traditional features.
I am currently working on soft landscape features and general maintenance.
I hope that one day the new owners will have a public garden party opening like other Estates do for appreciation viewing.
Im so proud this is my very first job and to be apart of this restoration project.

Anonymous said...

So amazing to see the outstanding transformation of this property by not just a local business man, but by his wife who I understand was involved in every aspect of its restoration. I've been lucky enough to see both outside and inside the property, as I completed some restoration work there, and it is beyond beautiful! The job they have done is second to none. I believe they continue to have a hard time from planners at BCC who have not been at all co-operative, and a small minority of locals who have made every step a near impossibility. Sad to see a lack of respect for what these people have done.

Anonymous said...

The restoration of Ormiston House has been put forward for an award by the Ulster Architectural Heritage Society and we can vote for it here! The owners have done a magnificent job, please lend your support: