Sunday, 23 February 2020

Upper Crescent, Belfast

Upper Crescent in 2014

Lower Crescent and Upper Crescent, both in the University Quarter of south Belfast, have inspired me since childhood.

Lower Crescent, which runs from 4 University Road to Botanic Avenue, is to the north of the Upper Crescent; whereas Upper Crescent runs from 28 University Road to Crescent Gardens.

Most of the 2nd Marquess of Donegall's Belfast estate was sold in the early to mid-19th century, thereby freeing 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.

13-15 Upper Crescent in 2014

These new, grand terraces were occupied by the city's professional and business classes, who vacated their older residences in the centre of the town (like College Square North); which, in turn, eventually became shops and offices.

Upper Crescent was perhaps the grandest terrace development undertaken in south Belfast.

This was an elegantly curving row of three-storey dwellings in a late Regency style, built in 1846 by the timber merchant Robert Corry.

It has been suggested that the celebrated Belfast architect Sir Charles Lanyon may have been involved in the design of the crescents.

Corry himself undertook the building work and took up residence at 16 Upper Crescent.

For the first few years of its existence it was known as Corry's Crescent.

To the immediate north of Upper Crescent, where Crescent Church now stands, there was a large, grassed area which formed part of Mr Corry's gardens.

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

To the north of this garden ran an old water course; to the east, some smaller gardens (belonging to other residents of Upper Crescent); and further to the east and to the north-east, 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, called Lower Crescent, was much in the same vein as that to the south and was occupied by the same mix of professional and business men; though, by as early as 1860, the ground floors of some of the properties were utilized as offices.

In the late 1860s, a railway line was laid 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 railway line cut across Albion Lane and presaged the laying out of a new, broader thoroughfare, to be named Botanic Avenue.

Upper Crescent was further extended 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 at this end.

In 1885-7, a 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 residences.

By 1960, however, many had become businesses; while others were divided into flats, and Rivoli House (later Dreenagh House) became a hotel.

This trend continued and by the beginning of the 21st century none of the properties 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 was built in their place.

In 2000, the railway cutting to the south of Lower Crescent was built over in preparation for a new development.

Originally named Crescent House, was built in 1869 to designs by William Hastings. Its original resident was Dr Wilberforce Arnold, whose family remained there until the early 1900s. The next occupant was Dr John Campbell, who was followed by a Dr William Campbell (presumably his son). Both Campbells (and possibly Dr Arnold before them) appear have used the University Road section of the property as a surgery. In the 1970s, the building was acquired by Queen's University and served as the University's Institute of Professional Legal Studies. In 2001-02 the property was converted to a branch of the Bank of Ireland (and practically rebuilt in the process), with half of the first floor and all of the second floor converted to offices, linked to the large modern office block to the east.
Built in 1849, occupied by Robert Workman, who remained there until the mid-1850s, when he was followed by John Coates, secretary of the County Antrim Grand Jury. By 1860, the building was in the hands of a John P Corry, a relative of the builder of the Crescent, Robert Corry. At this stage (according to valuation records), the ground floor was used as offices. James P Corry remained in residence until 1877, when he was succeeded by MrWilliam Dobbin. John Morrow, of the Ayr Steamship Company, is listed as the householder in 1899 and 1910; with P T Crymble in 1920. In the later 1920s, the property was acquired by a Miss Wallace, who remained there until the 1970s; and for part of this time used the premises as a nursing home. Thereafter the property was converted to offices. The current occupant acquired the building in 1983.
Occupied, in 1849, by a merchant named Edward Tucker, who was followed by the Rev William Patterson (Professor of Mathematics, Queen's College) in the early 1850s; Peter Keegan, wine merchant, in the later 1850s; James Glass from ca 1860-77; and then Mrs Shillington. In the 1899 directory, Robert Workman, Junior, is listed as the occupant; William Harper in 1910; Joseph Walsh, 1915-40s; then H M Hamilton; and Herbert Kearney. In the 1970s the property was converted to offices.
Mrs Grueber; followed in the mid 1850s by Professor Charles McDowell, who remained there until the early 1880s. In the 1899 and 1910 directories, a W H Ward (of the Ulster Damask & Linen Company) is listed as the occupant; with a Robert Robinson in 1920-30. By 1951, the property had become converted to offices, occupied firstly by the Forestry Division of the NI Department of Agriculture, and then by a firm of quantity surveyors.
Mrs Murdock in 1849; followed in the 1850s by James Green and then James P Corry (a relative of the above mentioned Robert). Corry was succeeded by Jane Vance, who remained there until the later 1870s. The next resident was Alexander Taylor; with a solicitor, J S Mahon, listed in the 1899 and 1910 directories. About 1918, the property was acquired by a family named Matthews, who remained there until the 1950s, when the building was converted into offices (financiers, then a travel agent).
James Greene, (1st clerk, Custom House); followed by Mrs Herdman; and, by 1860, William McNeill; and, by the late 1870s, James Festu. By 1899, the building was home to William Yates; then, pre-1920, the Rev William Beatty; and then T Bell, who remained there from the mid 1920s to the 1960s. By 1970 the property had been converted to an office.
Between 1849-1910/20, the house was occupied by Robert Boag, of Albion Clothing Company, possibly the same person, though likely a father and son. By 1920, it had become The Crescent Private Nursing Home, but had reverted to an conventional dwelling again by 1930, with Miss Mabel Simms in residence. Miss Simms remained there until at least 1960, but by 1970 the building had been converted to an office.
William Brown, of Day, Bottomley & Company, who, in the 1850s, leased the house to Mrs Esther Orr, who remained there until about 1880. The next occupant was James Hyndman; followed in the early 1900s by Mrs Cron. Mr E Matthews and his family remained there from the 1920s until the 1960s. By 1970, the house was being used by a group of elocution teachers, but appears to have reverted to a private dwelling in the late 1970s. The property appears to have become offices from the mid 1980s.
Mrs Dickey; Henry Smith, linen manufacturer, by 1852; and Jane Millford by 1860. The Rev W S Darley became resident in the later 1870s; with Mrs Thompson listed in the 1899 directory; William Galloway (damask designer) in 1920; and the Rev R H White in 1930. In the 1950s, this building and its two neighbours to the east (nos.15 & 16) served as the Ulster Nature Cure Clinic. In the 1960s all three were acquired by Queen's University and converted to student residences. It was probably at this point that the major internal changes to the buildings were carried out; however, it's not improbable that the earlier presence of the Ulster Nature Cure Clinic probably entailed some alterations, perhaps the creation of doorways between the formerly separate properties.
Robert Cassidy, solicitor, who remained here until about 1853, when he moved to the newly-built Lower Crescent; followed by the Rev Robert Wilson, whose family in turn were followed by Mr John Downing. By 1899, Mrs Manley was in residence; and by 1920 a "druggist" named John Clarke; Mrs Rankin, by 1930. A decade later the property served as a nursing home. In the 1950s, this building and its two neighbours to each side (nos.14 and 16) were the Ulster Nature Cure Clinic.
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.


John Arnold said...

Susanna Corry, sister of Robert Corry the builder of Upper Crescent, married my great great grandfather, John Arnold. They were also the parents of Dr Wilberforce Arnold, the first occupant of 1 Upper Crescent, and younger brother of my great grandfather, the Rev Robert Arnold. John Corry, a son of Robert Corry was an amateur architect. He designed inter alia, the former Elmwood Presbyterian Church now the Queen's University concert hall and the original Dunmurry Presbyterian Church where the Rev Robert Arnold was the first minister. In 19th century Belfast, the Arnold and Corry families were clearly very close. The Corry name remains in the Arnold family and is currently carried by my eldest son and by one of my first cousins. I have in my possession the original portraits of my great great grandparents.

Roger corry said...

My great great grandfather was Robert Corry, brother of Susanna your great great grandmother.

Anonymous said...

Roger, greetings from your fifth cousin! If there is a discrete channel, I would be pleased to send you a photo of Susanna's portrait.

Anonymous said...

Great information, thanks for putting it up.

Anonymous said...

Yes, excellent. Thank you for sharing.

mem said...

Robert Cassidy was the brother of my GGG Grandfather Rev Frederick Cassidy who emigrated to New Zealand . Hiss house looks in a sad state . Do You know where he moved to in Lower Crescent ?

cynthia babb said...

Hello to the Arnolds, I have photos of two Alexander Arnolds with wives also John Arnold, Margaret Arnold, Hugh Arnold, Wilberforce Arnold & David Patton Arnold, they are related to my family through Agnes Arnold who married Samuel Boyce and emigrated to the USA. I would like to swap information and photos. please contact me