Thursday, 12 November 2020

Gelston's Corner

 2-4, BELMONT ROAD, BELFAST (also known as Strandtown Hall), is a four-bay, two-storey, red-brick corner building with curved entrance facade facing west.

It was built ca 1902.

There is an elaborate entrance with pillars, sculpted pediment, clock, open-work balustrade to a parapet with hipped roof behind.

The building is located on the northern corner of the junction of the Belmont Road and Holywood Road, known locally as Gelston's Corner.

It has a hipped, natural slate roof with terracotta ridge, hips and finials at each end; and cast-iron ogee guttering.

The main entrance is curved and faces west.

Pairs of Corinthian-style marble pilasters frame either side of the shop front, with curved bay plate-glass windows, and timber frames supported on splayed marble stall-riser to north and south of the entrance doors, rendered and painted fascia.

What happened to the cupola that crowned the building, above the clock?

Prior to the erection of the current building, the corner site was occupied by a local post office.

When the Belfast Corporation Bill was passed in 1896, Belfast’s municipal boundary was extended to include a number of townlands in east Belfast such as Ballyhackamore, Ballycloghan and Strandtown.

2-4 Belmont Road was constructed at Gelston’s Corner on land leased by Braithwaite & McCann, spirit dealers who owned one of the largest chain of public houses in the city.

The building cost £1,500 to erect (about £166,000 today).

The local historian Keith Haines states that Braithwaite & McCann originally intended to use the building as a hotel, though it remained vacant from about 1902 until the 1st World War.

The building was simply described as ‘new shop – vacant’ by the Ulster Town Directories during this period.

It was not until during the 1st World War that ownership of 2-4 Belmont Road passed to Greenhill & Craig, electrical engineers, who leased the building out to its first occupants.

In 1915 the building was divided between W J Balmer, a local pharmacist who established his business on the ground floor.

Strandtown & District Unionist Club, whose club rooms were located on the floor over Balmer’s pharmacy (No 4) were accessed by the ground floor entrance on the Belmont Road (located next to the war memorial).

A contemporary photograph of 2-4 Belmont Road (dated ca 1918) depicts the building along its current layout and shows that few major structural changes have been made to the building since the end of the 1st World War.

The Portland stone war memorial was installed adjacent to the building in the aftermath of the conflict as a memorial to the residents of Strandtown who gave their lives during the war.

The memorial, which is 10ft 6in in height and 4ft 6in in width, was commissioned by the Strandtown & District Unionist Club (the name of the organisation was carved in the ribbon at the top).

Throughout this period the building continued to be occupied by Balmer’s pharmacy and as club rooms for the Strandtown & District Unionist Club.

Balmer vacated the ground floor of the building in the late-20th century when the ground floor retail unit became a bicycle shop.

The Holywood Road side was occupied by the dental surgeon, James McIlroy.

The offices located on the upper floor of the building continued to be utilised by Victoria Unionist Association.

In 2008 the Ulster Unionist Party established its headquarters at the former club-rooms which are also occupied by the Victoria Ulster Unionist Association.

The Belmont Road side is occupied today by the restaurant Bennetts on Belmont.


oldmanofthewest said...

This piece mentions Braithwaite and McCann. The final episode, last night, of the BBC Four art programme, Britain's Lost Masterpieces, concentrated on two paintings donated to the Ulster Museum by William T Braithwaite. He actually gave a lot more than that and encouraged the Belfast Philosophical Society to hand over its entire collection. The programme, as always, was very interesting and did some detective work on Braithwaite. It also interviewed members of the Philosophical Society which is still going. Worth watching on iplayer for those who missed it.

Timothy Belmont said...

Many thanks. I'll download it on BBC iPlayer for the flight. Tim.

Unknown said...

Hi Timothy - the Strandtown & District Unionist Club took over the whole block (with the exception of Balmenr's) in 1919 and the building was altered to become a war memorial hall and was in operation from, at the latest, August 1920. I have not been able to identify the precise date of the opening of the new hall and the dedication of the external War Memorial. Any information would be appreciated as the building/memorial will feature in my East Belfast War Memorials tour on 11th August 2018 as part of the East Side Arts Festival (


Nigel Henderson
Researcher, History Hub Ulster

Unknown said...

Nigel. Are you looking for the date of the Hall being opened at the extensive refurbishment it went through in the 2000's?

Kind regards


Unknown said...

Nigel. Are you looking for the date of the Hall being opened at the extensive refurbishment it went through in the 2000's?

Kind regards


Robin said...

Hi, Tim

Have you noticed that the dates for the Great War are given as 1914 - 1919 on the memorial. This is so on a number of memorials, the one in Central Station being another (from memory). This is because the Armistice was signed in 1918 but the war officially ended in 1919.