Saturday, 16 January 2021

Ross's Auction-House

It's ages since I paid Ross's a visit. I enjoy wandering round their sale-rooms, simply looking for anything that catches my eye.

There always seem to be one or two dealers about. On one occasion I recognized Peter Maxwell (Lord de Ros).

One of the proprietor's sons was a participant in the BBC series The Apprentice quite a few years ago (a young gentleman with a singularly flamboyant pair of braces).

Ross's premises at 22-26 May Street, Belfast, were built about 1873 for the Presbyterian Church.

This building comprises two storeys over a ground-level basement, and is built of red brick and matching sandstone.

Windows are paired.

The centre bay on the May Street elevation protrudes slightly, with an arcaded balcony, corbels and Venetian-style capitals.

The door is fan-lighted with a rose window below.

Montgomery Street Elevation

The pediment at the top of the building has the carved burning bush emblem of Presbyterianism.

At the Montgomery Street side, there was a four-storey, ecclesiastical-style tower with a pyramidal roof (now the main entrance), though its top has been shorn off.

May Street Elevation

The section of the building at the corner of Montgomery Street and Music Hall Lane is of four storeys, with a large rose window at the top.

It's thought that the premises ceased to be church property post 1905, when the new Church House was built at Fisherwick Place.

This building has been occupied by Ross’s Auctioneers and Valuers for several decades.

It was originally constructed to house the General Assembly of the Presbyterian Church in Ireland.

When originally constructed the building was owned outright by the Assembly, serving as its headquarters and other Presbyterian organisations and offices.

Ecclesiastical Entrance, with Tower lopped off

In 1877 there were also offices for the Bible & Colportage Society, the Presbyterian Orphan Society and the Sabbath School Society in Ireland.

Offices in the building were also leased out to private businesses and, in 1877, a land and rent agency office operated from the site.

Similar to the construction of Belfast’s Old Town Hall on Victoria Street, the General Assembly found the building on May Street to be too small and inadequate for its needs.

Following the town’s promotion in 1888 to city status, the Assembly sought a new location for their headquarters.

A suitable plot of land was selected on Fisherwick Place (the former site of Fisherwick Presbyterian Church before moving to south Belfast). 

Church House ca 1907, with Tower

The current Presbyterian Assembly Building was constructed between 1899-1905, during which time the offices on May Street continued to be occupied by the various ecclesiastical organisations.

In 1905 the former headquarters in May Street were vacated.

22-26 May Street remained vacant until 1912, when it was occupied by John Wilson & Son and was renamed Downshire House.

Wilson & Sons were linen, damask, handkerchief, ladies underclothing, gentlemen’s shirt and collar manufacturers.

About 1935, John Wilson & Sons vacated the site.

The current occupants of the former Presbyterian Assembly Building, John Ross and Company, came into possession of the site ca 1937.

22-26 May Street survived the heavy bombardment of Belfast’s city centre during the 1941 Blitz.

In 1956 the ground and first floors were occupied by a Mr (or Mrs) D W Gray, who utilised the space as offices, showrooms and stores for John Ross & Co.

This Victorian building has since been the auction-house of John Ross & Company, of whom Daniel Clarke has been proprietor since 1988.

First published in January, 2013.


Anonymous said...

On my walking tours of this part of Belfast once my group left Joy Street I would point out this building and in particular its pediment which as mentioned above depicts a carved burning bush , the symbol of Presbyterianism and one can still read the carved latin wording " Ardens sed Virens " being their motto " Burning but Flourishing ".

Des M'Dromic said...

How come Ross's still finds such a building usable? The problems and cost of carrying stuff in and out must be immense. I would be the first to regret the loss of such an iconic business in the city but am amazed that it has not moved to a modern, warehouse-type building in a commercial estate, out-of-town.