Tuesday, 3 November 2020

Stormont House

Entrance Front

SPEAKER'S HOUSE (now Stormont House) is a neo-Georgian two-storey red-brick building of 1926, located within the Stormont Estate to the south-east of Parliament Buildings.

A stepped-stone, paved rear terrace is enclosed to the rear garden by a rough-hewn sandstone wall.

Speaker’s House was the first building to be erected as part of the redevelopment of the Stormont Estate in east Belfast.

Following the Government of Ireland Act (1920) Stormont Castle estate was selected as the home of the newly-formed Northern Ireland Government and Parliament.

The Stormont Estate was acquired by the Commissioners of Public Works and Buildings of HM Government in 1921 at a cost of £20,334 (ca £900,000 in 2015).

However, the Parliament Buildings were not completed and opened until 1932.

The architect chosen to design Speaker’s House was Ralph Knott (1878-1929), a partner in Knott & Collins.

Knott is best known for designing London County Hall opposite Westminster, and was originally selected by the Board of Works to design the Parliament Buildings.

He was, however, replaced as architect by Arnold Thornely.

Despite losing the contract for designing the main block of Parliament Buildings, Knott was still contracted to design a pair of parallel administration blocks that would accommodate the civil service offices.

Garden Front

Knott did, nevertheless, complete Speaker’s House in 1926.

Following the partition of Ireland, architecture in Ulster did not immediately follow modern trends but embraced a neo-Georgian revival.

Hugh Dixon, MBE, states that buildings of this type possessed their own distinct identities, but derived some elements from earlier buildings in Ulster.

Speaker’s House, along with T F O Rippingham’s contemporary series of police stations, possesses features such as a hipped roof, Georgian multi-pane glazing and side chimneys.

Focussing on Rippingham’s police stations, Mr Dixon wrote that neo-Georgian architecture was popular in newly-formed Northern Ireland as the style ‘was an environmental success, blending with the older buildings along the streets of Ulster’s towns, or taking its place quietly in more isolated country situations." 

In the case of Speaker’s House, it was clear that the neo-Georgian style could also be successfully applied to state buildings, remarked Mr Dixon.

Speaker’s House was the official residence of the Speaker of the NI House of Commons until 1945, when the present Lord Dunleath's grandfather, Sir Harry Mulholland Bt MP, retired.

Thereafter, it became the residence of the Prime Minister of Northern Ireland, Sir Basil Brooke Bt (Sir Harry Mulholland's brother-in-law).

Sir Harry purchased Sir Basil's town residence, Storbrooke, on Massey Avenue, thereby effectively doing a house-swap.

Since the devolution of government, Stormont House is no longer the Speaker's residence.

It is now used by the Northern Ireland Office.

The building was extended in the 1970s when a large two-storey administration complex was added to its eastern side.

First published in October, 2014.  Acknowledgments: The Lord Dunleath and DOENI Historic Buildings Branch.

1 comment :

Lord Dunleath said...

The Speakers House was used as such until I believe 1945 when the then speaker Sir Harry Mulholland retired. It then became the residence of the Prime Minister, and I visited Viscount Brookeborough there on a number of occasions in the early 1960s. Sir Harry had in the meanwhile bought Lord Brookeborough's town house, Storbrooke, so it was essentially a swap of houses.