Friday, 28 May 2021

Belfast Courthouse

THE COURTHOUSE, situated at 88-92, Crumlin Road, Belfast, was built by James Carlisle in 1848-50, to designs of SIR CHARLES LANYON.

The clerk of works was W H Lynn.

The building cost £16,500 (almost £2 million in today's money).

The figure of Justice at the apex of the portico was sculpted by William Boyton Kirk, of Dublin.

The building was enlarged in 1905-06 to the designs of Young & Mackenzie, architects, with McLaughlin & Harvey, builders.

The primary designs for the court-house were produced in 1847, though subsequently revised as they were too costly to proceed.

It was built due to the transfer of the assizes from Carrickfergus to Belfast.

The building was formally opened as the County Antrim Court-house at the Summer Assizes in 1850.

It was closed as a court-house in June, 1998.
Lanyon's original building of 1850 comprised a portico and steps; the Main Hall, with the Record Court to the east, and the Crown Court to west; and the remainder of the building to the south of those three main spaces, except the single storey wings to the side of the Record Court and Crown Court, and the minor insertion of toilet facilities in the open areas or light wells.
It also included a tunnel from the dock in the Crown Court, passing below the Crumlin Road, to link with the gaol opposite; and a tunnel from the rear basement area to the street at the south.

The boundary railings and piers were also part of the original building, erected in 1850, when similar railings and piers were erected in front of the gaol.

In 1905-06, the front face of the court-house to each side of the portico was brought forward to create front offices, two-thirds of the depth of Lanyon's original portico.

It was extended at each extremity, beyond the line of the Record and Crown courts, to form wings, with single-storey blocks returning to the rear of the wings to flank the courts on the east and west sides.

A pair of staircases was added, one in each wing to each side of the Main Hall at the front of the building, with new arched windows on a raking line to each staircase.

Lanyon's twin staircases were replaced to the rear of the portico by the Postal Office and Switch room to each side of the triple-arched open entrance vestibule.

Sir Charles's raking first floor gallery to the front of the Main Hall was removed and replaced by a transverse first-floor corridor, with four rooms overlooking the covered area within the portico.

Five new first-floor windows were inserted for the new rooms in the rear wall of the portico immediately above the triple-arched entrance.

TODAY the front fa├žade of the building is by Young & Mackenzie, 1905-06, excepting the original portico of 1850.

The windows in the rear wall of the portico were all inserted by Young & Mackenzie.
The entire mid-portion, or main block, from the east wall of the Record Court to the west wall of the Crown Court, together with the broad central rear return, are all by Lanyon and are mostly intact, containing a number of important original interior spaces, including the Main Hall, the Record Court, the Crown Court, the central arcaded corridor, and the western back stair-hall; the former Sheriff's Room and Grand Jury Room in the ground floor of the rear return; the arcaded landings and the former Grand Jury dining-room on the first floor of the rear return.
The two-storey elevations to the south of the long front block (or wings) are thus essentially all by Lanyon, except for the first bay at the north end on each side.

The projecting single-storey blocks are by Young & Mackenzie.

THE COURTHOUSE closed in June, 1998, after almost 150 years of continuous usage.

The two acre site was sold to Ewart properties for the nominal sum of £1, though tied to the construction of the new Laganside court building at Oxford Street, Belfast.

A planning application was submitted in June, 2003, to convert the building into offices, including the demolition of a rear section and construction of a new extension.

This was approved in November, 2004; however, Ewart's sold the building for £35,000 to Barry Gilligan when he left his position within Ewart's in 2003.

In September, 2006, a new planning application was submitted seeking to convert the building into a 161-bed hotel with ten suites, a health suite, conference facilities (within the original Crown court-room) and 92 parking spaces.

Planning permission for the £25m proposal was granted in November, 2007; but in March, 2009, a malicious fire caused extensive internal damage.

A further two fires on the 15th and 16th August, 2009, caused grave damage to the roof.

Consequently, Mr Gilligan claimed that a re-appraisal of the development plans was required, as the lack of grant aid and resulting levels of damage made the hotel project unviable.

In January, 2013, it became apparent that the Northern Ireland Department of Social Development (DSD) was to complete an options appraisal on the future of the court-house, including the vesting or purchase of the building.

In June, 2013, Belfast City Council considered acquiring the old court-house for European Peace IV Capital Funding, to include its renovation as a "Shared History Belfast Story" museum, built heritage centre, and destination point for the North Belfast cultural corridor.

The project could also include the development of Crumlin Road Gaol as a cultural industries space in one of two vacant wings, in partnership with the Arts Council of Northern Ireland and the Office of the First and Deputy First Minister.

This would be in the context of a DSD master-plan for the cultural corridor, as well as Belfast City Councils own master-plan.

To progress this funding option, Belfast City Council was required meet full information requirements by September, 2013, and address the ownership of the building.

DSD thereafter completed their options appraisal.

In August, 2013, the Minister for Social Development announced that Turley Associates had commenced work on a development study.

The Belfast Telegraph reported in 2017 that the Signature Living hotel group had acquired the building and intended to convert it to hotel use.

The old courthouse, which has planning permission for conversion to a hotel, was for sale again in 2019.

(Image: Northern Ireland Fire Service, June, 2020)

It suffered another serious fire in June, 2020.

This historic building remains derelict and neglected today (May, 2021).

First published in February, 2015.  I am grateful to Gary Potter of Future Belfast for information.

1 comment :

Anonymous said...

How's the develop study coming along --- it's now August 2016 ----- 3yrs on !!!!