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Historic Building Details

HB Ref No:
HB26/51/001 A

Extent of Listing:
Castle, including steps, walling and pillars

Date of Construction:
1860 - 1879

Address :
Belfast Castle Antrim Road, Belfast BT15 5GR

Low Wood

Survey 2:

Date of Listing:
16/02/1978 00:00:00

Date of De-listing:

Current Use:
Country House

Former Use
Country House

Conservation Area:

Industrial Archaeology:





OS Map No:

IG Ref:
J3290 7912

Owner Category

Exterior Description And Setting

Detached multi-bay three-storey with attic over basement sandstone Scottish Baronial style castle, built in 1870, to the designs of John Lanyon for the Marquis of Donegall. Rectilinear on plan with west facing entrance front, four-storey over basement tower to the southwest corner and single-storey over basement wing to the northwest. Set on an elevated site on the southern slope of Cave Hill overlooking Belfast City to the south. Bitmac avenue and parking along the west perimeter of the site with formal gardens to the south and east. Multiple pitched natural slate roofs with roll-moulded black clay ridge tiles and lead valleys set behind crow-stepped gables with ball finials and Irish crenellated parapets. Shouldered profiled sandstone ashlar chimneystacks with clay pots throughout. Tourelles to most corners with conical slate roofs surmounted by lead caps and iron finials. Moulded cast-iron guttering to moulded sandstone eaves course and cast-iron downpipes. Random rubble coursed sandstone walling with fine lime pointed joints, projecting plinth course with chamfered sandstone trim, continuous string course over ground floor and ashlar sandstone dressings throughout. Generally square-headed window openings with stop-chamfered smooth sandstone ashlar surrounds, flush splayed sills and single-pane sliding timber sash windows with slender ogee horns. West entrance elevation dominated by three-bay tower to the right with two-storey recessed sections to remaining elevation and central entrance portico. Full-height clasping round tower to the southwest corner and tourelle to the northwest corner of the four storey tower attached to advanced crow-stepped gable on corbels. Colonaded portico with flat roof and arcaded parapet wall supported on Doric columns, paired to the front, having fluting and strapwork set on plinth walls with responding Doric pilasters flanking the entrance. Double-leaf hardwood doors with deeply set panels set within shouldered door surround with decoratively carved tympanum (depicting shield yielding animals and banner stating 'INVITU SEQUITUR HONOR') and framed by engaged pilasters and arch moulding having a crowned ancon over. The arcaded parapet continues along the north face of the entrance bay returning to enclose a glazed roof to the Deerpark Room (G07). The gabled north elevation to the tower rises to a chimney stack with semi-circular tower to the left surmounted by a corbelled out crow-stepped gabled section. To the northwest corner is a clasping corner oriel, set at 45 degrees, with ashlar sandstone hipped roof. The Deerpark wing has a square-headed door opening with timber panelled doors and coloured glazed fanlight with matching window to the left opening onto concrete steps and landing that bridge the basement area. At basement level is a square-headed door opening with timber panelled door and shouldered sidelights all set in smooth sandstone surround with relieving arch over and opening into the northeast basement well. Shouldered fanlight over door, with louvered panel, painted. Single-storey northwest wing set behind decorative screen wall and having steeply pitched roof with louvered dormer and iron finial. This wing has 4/4 panes to sliding timber sash windows. Four-storey gabled north elevation with dominant full-height clasping tower to left (E). The two-storey wing to the right has a full-span crow-stepped gable to both elevations with squat tower to the right, corbelled-out balconette to the left and 2/2 panes to sliding timber sash windows. North elevation opens into enclosed service yard. Five-bay three-storey with attic east garden elevation with clasping tower to the right, tourelle to the left and central semi-circular bay window to the centre, all having conical roofs. Three crow-stepped gables rise above eaves level with a matching wall-head dormer. The central bow is corbelled out to the base with a single supporting pier, a lead roofed dormer to either side of conical roof and 3/3 panes to bowed sliding timber sash windows. The upper ground floor has a pair of door openings to either side of the bay window having double-leaf timber glazed French doors opening onto balustraded corbelled balconies that open onto two flights of curving stone steps with elaborately carved string, supported on diminutive stone arch, joining as a spiral stair in front of the bay window with a central column and terminated by two circular stone newels (added c.1894, also designed by John Lanyon). Three-bay three-storey with attic south garden elevation is dominated by the advanced five-storey crow-stepped gabled corner tower. Central crow-stepped gable rising above eaves level with matching wall-head dormers to either side. Corbelled out oriel window to the right with sandstone openwork parapet. The tower has a full-height clasping corner tower and angled oriel to the right with corbelled balcony spanning the tower. Setting: Located on an elevated site on the southern slope of Cave Hill with formally laid out gardens to the south and east. Circular fountain to the south garden with geometrically-laid out paths and mosaic panels enclosed to the west by tall crenellated sandstone retaining wall and bifurcating stone steps terminating to the south by a turret with conical slate roof and iron finial having a shouldered door opening with sheeted timber door. The west entrance elevation is approached from the south with bitmac avenue passing the south garden and opening onto the Cave Hill Park avenue via iron gates hung on octagonal corniced sandstone pillars with steel lanterns and matching pedestrian gate to west hung on iron posts. The avenue opens onto Cave Hill Park via further pair of gates to the north perimeter, also hung on octagonal stone pillars, while the entire site is enclosed by iron railings and security palisade fencing. Although well designed and in keeping with the style of the castle, it is thought that both these sets of pillars were installed around the 1970s when improvement works were carried out to the castle. The gate screen at the site entrance at the top of Innisfayle Park, which also has octagonal stone pillars, each surmounted by ornate carvings of a hound bearing a plaque, is more likely to be original, although quite possibly relocated. Roof: Natural slate RWG: Cast-iron Walling: Sandstone, coursed random rubble with ashlar dressings Windows: Sliding timber sash


Lanyon, John

Historical Information

Belfast Castle, a Scots Baronial Sandstone Mansion located on the slopes below Cave Hill, was constructed in 1868-70 as a dwelling for the Marquis of Donegall. Although Belfast Castle was constructed in the High-Victorian period in lands outside of Belfast’s municipal boundary, the origins of its history stretch back to the medieval period and the construction of Belfast’s first castle. The Anglo-Normans erected the original castle in Belfast in the late-12th century (believed to have been constructed on land near High Street). The castle was in a state of ruin by the early-17th century when Arthur Chichester (1563-1625), Lord Deputy of Ireland, was given a large grant of land in Antrim that also included Belfast. Chichester was responsible for the Plantation-era development of Belfast and had a new castle constructed on the banks of the Farset River in 1611. Phillip’s 1685 map of Belfast depicted Belfast Castle as a two-or-three-storey square-shaped Jacobean manor house that possessed extensive gardens that stretched south as far as the current sites of Donegall Place and Donegall Square. The castle was utilised by Chichester’s family as their official residence in Ireland and remained in this use for almost a century. Following his death, Chichester’s nephew, also named Arthur, was created the First Earl of Donegall. Belfast Castle was accidentally burned to the ground on 25th April 1708 and was not rebuilt. The only traces of the Plantation castle are the surrounding street names which included Castle Street, Castle Place and Castle Lane (Patton, p. 53; Maguire). From 1608 until the mid-19th century the Earls and (after 1791) Marquises of Donegall were the principal landowners in the area, effectively owning all of the land that made up the town of Belfast but were absent landlords for most of the 18th century as they resided in England. In 1802 the 2nd Marquis of Donegall decided to move in Belfast to escape his escalating debts and acquired a townhouse at the corner of Donegall Place and Donegall Square. In 1807 the Marquis moved to Ormeau Cottage (a thatched dwelling located in land that is now incorporated into Ormeau Park) and in 1823-30 expanded his dwelling into a Tudor Revival Mansion that possessed a number of chimneys and turrets and was known as Ormeau House. Scott states that Ormeau House was 300ft in length and possessed over twenty rooms. The Marquess of Donegall lost much of their land in Belfast by the mid-19th century due to crippling debts. The 2nd Marquis was forced to sell leases in perpetuity for much of the land in the centre of Belfast in order to raise £330,000. Despite this effort the 3rd Marquises of Donegall still found his family to be in debt following his father’s death in 1844. The Marquess of Donegall did not reside at Ormeau House by the mid-19th century (Scott). Brett states that the 3rd Marquis of Donegall, George Chichester, found Ormeau House to be an ‘ill-constructed residence’ and the Marquis himself wrote that ‘his estate was under a disadvantage for want of a more suitable family residence.’ Despite being in constant debt, the 3rd Marquis of Donegall decided to construct a new mansion at lands he still owned in the deer park to the north of Belfast. W. H. Lynn, the prominent Victorian architect responsible for the design of Belfast Central Library and the Bank Buildings, had designed a mansion for the Marquis’ sister-in-law in Tipperary and was approached to design the Marquis’ new mansion at Deerpark. Scott states that proposal to build was announced in 1865 but construction was delayed due to a legal dispute between the Marquis and his neighbour (Donegall wished to build his new mansion too close to his neighbour’s property). In 1870, following the completion of Belfast Castle, Ormeau House was demolished and its grounds were granted by the Marquis to Belfast Corporation for the purpose of creating Ormeau Park, Belfast’s first public park (Brett, p. 46; Maguire; Scott). In 1865 W. H. Lynn was a partner in the architectural firm Lanyon, Lynn & Lanyon (along with Sir. Charles Lanyon and his son John). Despite Lynn’s involvement in securing the commission, the design of the new mansion was the responsibility of John Lanyon. Belfast Castle was designed in the emerging Scots Baronial style which had become popular in the United Kingdom following the reconstruction of Balmoral Castle in the style in 1852-56. The cost of constructing Belfast Castle was originally estimated at £11,000. However, the expense was severely underestimated resulting in the Marquis becoming embroiled in yet more debt and the construction of Belfast Castle becoming threatened. The project was saved by the Marquis’ son-in-law, Lord Ashley, who acted as guarantor and paid the outstanding sums. Larmour states that the construction of the mansion was carried out in 1868-70 and was contracted out to the local building firm of W. B. McMaster. The Natural Stone Database records that Lanyon employed locally-quarried Scrabo Sandstone and Scottish Giffnock Sandstone in the masonry of the mansion with Basalt also employed to a lesser extent (Larmour, p. 36; DIA; NSD). Brett described Belfast Castle as ‘a rugged and determined exercise in the fullness of the Scottish Baronial style, perched on a highly romantic site with a superb view. The great square tower, which closely resembles that at Balmoral, rises a full six storeys [whilst the main body of the house is three-storey-over-basement].’ Belfast Castle was originally valued at £350 and also included a gate lodge at its Antrim Road entrance (see HB26/51/003) and a private chapel (built in 1865-69 – see HB26/51/002), both of which were also designed by Lanyon, Lynn & Lanyon. Brian Walker states that the new mansion consisted of 30 bedrooms, a salon, drawing room, morning room, dining room and billiards room with an extensive servant’s wing. Following the death of the 3rd Marquis of Donegall in 1883, Belfast Castle and its estate passed to his son-in-law, Antony Ashley-Cooper (Lord Ashley) the 8th Earl of Shaftesbury, who had married the Lady Harriet Chichester in 1857. In 1894, as a present to his mother the Dowager Countess, the Earl of Shaftesbury had the Italian Baroque stairway added to the east side of the mansion. The stairway, which was adorned with the crest of the Earl of Shaftesbury, connected the main reception rooms to the garden terraces. The Donegall coat-of-arms were installed on the north wall of Belfast Castle and above its main entrance door in 1868-70. Following the alteration of the building in 1894 the value of Belfast Castle was lowered to £332 (Scott). The Shaftesbury family continued to hold Belfast Castle until 1934 when the 9th Earl of Shaftesbury granted the building and the 200 acre estate to Belfast Corporation on the condition that the corporation would purchase the site for £10,750 and that the mansion would not be utilised as a hospital or institution. Having been utilised as a private dwelling for only 65 years, Belfast Castle was granted to Belfast Corporation on 1st February 1935. Scott states that ‘the corporation made a number of alterations to the castles interior to make it suitable for public use. The most dramatic of these was the combining of the former dining and drawing rooms into one long ballroom with a new maple wood floor laid on top of the original floor. Kitchens and cloakrooms were fitted out, some of the second floor rooms enlarged and tea rooms installed in the cellars (at ground level with the terraces outside).’ Following the conversion of the mansion, Belfast Castle was officially opened to the public by the Lord Mayor on 9th July 1937. Under the First General Revaluation of Property in Northern Ireland (1936-57) the value of Belfast Castle was set at £300. From 1937 until the 1970s, Belfast Castle became one of Belfast’s most picturesque venues to be utilised for wedding receptions, public dances and afternoon teas. By the end of the Second Revaluation (1956-72) the rateable value of the building had been raised to £708. By the 1970s Belfast Castle had fallen into a poor state of repair and in 1971 Belfast City Council decided to sell the property to a private party. Public outcry reversed the decision and determined that the mansion remained a public venue. Following the listing of Belfast Castle in 1978 a restoration scheme was initiated to restore the building to its original grandeur. Belfast Castle was closed between 1978 and 1988 whilst the Scots Baronial mansion underwent its £2 million renovation overseen by Hewitt & Haslam Partnership. The restoration included roof repairs, the eradication of defective roof timbers and the cleaning and repointing of the exterior stonework. William Dowling's were appointed to carry out the renovation of the interior which included the replacement of all 100 doors and the installation of new sashes for all 365 windows (originally one had been installed for each day of the year). Belfast Castle was reopened to the public on 11th November 1988 but work continued at the site until 1990 when the basement of the building was converted into a Victorian streetscape that included a new restaurant, antique shop, bar and a small exhibition detailing the natural history of Cave Hill and the history of Belfast Castle (Scott). During the Second Survey Belfast Castle continued to be utilised as a public venue for weddings, conferences and events and remains one of Belfast’s most picturesque and popular tourist attractions. References Primary Sources 1. PRONI OS/6/1/57/2 – Second Edition Ordnance Survey Map (1857) 2. PRONI OS/6/1/57/4 – Third Edition Ordnance Survey Map (1901-02) 3. PRONI OS/6/1/57/5 – Fourth Edition Ordnance Survey Map (1931) 4. PRONI OS/6/1/57/5 – Fifth Edition Ordnance Survey Map (1936-38) 5. PRONI VAL/12/B/5/8B-8F – Annual Revisions (1867-1897) 6. PRONI VAL/12/B/43/F/1-7 – Annual Revisions (1897-1930) 7. PRONI VAL/3/C/3/3 – First General Revaluation of Property in Northern Ireland (1936-57) 8. PRONI VAL/4/B/7/1 – Second General Revaluation of Property in Northern Ireland (1956-72) 9. Ulster Town Directories (1870-1943) 10. Census of Ireland (1901; 1911) 11. First Survey Record – HB26/51/001 (1970) 12. NIEA HB Records – HB26/51/001 Secondary Sources 1. Brett, C. E. B., ‘Buildings of Belfast: 1700-1914’ Belfast: Friar’s Bush Press, 1985. 2. Dean, J. A. K., ‘The gate lodges of Ulster: A gazetteer’ Belfast: Ulster Architectural Heritage Society, 1994. 3. Dixon, H; Walker, B., ‘No Mean City: 1880-1914’ Belfast: The Friar’s Bush Press, 1984. 4. Larmour, P., ‘Belfast: An illustrated architectural guide’ Belfast: Ulster Architectural Heritage Society, 1987. 5. Maguire, W. A., ‘Belfast: Town and city histories’ Keele: Keele University Press, 1993. 6. Patton, M., ‘Central Belfast: An historical gazetteer’ Belfast: Ulster Architectural Heritage Society, 1993. 7. Scott, R., ‘A breath of fresh air: The story of Belfast’s parks’ Belfast: Blackstaff Press, 2000. Online Resources 1. Dictionary of Irish Architects - 2. Natural Stone Database - 3. Belfast City Council Website -

Criteria for Listing

Architectural Interest

A. Style B. Proportion C. Ornamentation D. Plan Form I. Quality and survival of Interior J. Setting K. Group value

Historic Interest

Z. Rarity V. Authorship W. Northern Ireland/International Interest Y. Social, Cultural or Economic Importance


Detached multi-bay three-storey with attic over basement sandstone Scottish Baronial style castle, built in 1870, on an elevated plateau to designs of John Lanyon as a mansion for the 3rd Marquis of Donegall. This is not the first 'Belfast Castle'; that originated in the city centre in the late 12th century. A replacement was built by Arthur Chichester in the 17th century and this was burnt to the ground in 1708. Chichester's nephew became the First Earl of Donegall and the family owned the majority of Belfast right up until 1802. The four storey tower and complex roofline with stepped gables and turrets of the castle conform to the mid to late Victorian taste for splendour and romanticism. The ornate Baroque staircase was added in 1894 by the 8th Earl of Shaftsbury, son of the 3rd Marquis of Donegal, in order to connect the main reception rooms to the garden terraces. The interior is no less exuberant with well proportioned rooms accessed off a grand stairwell and many fine historic details. Set within the S facing slopes of the Cavehill, Belfast Castle is one of the city's most distinguished landmarks. The Castle and all of its densely wooded grounds were gifted by the Earl of Shaftesbury to the city of Belfast in 1937. Today is used as a wedding and function venue as well as a major tourist attraction and is of siginficant social value to the city. The original gate-lodge (HB 26.51.001B) and chapel (HB 26.51.001C) also survive, and have group value with the castle. Substantial crenulated walling surrounds the formal gardens; this, along with the various steps and the gate pillars at the entrance from Innisfayle Park, enhance the setting considerably.

General Comments

Listing Criteria R - Age; S - Authenticity; T - Historic Importance and U - Historic Associations also apply. Previoulsy recorded as HB26/51/001

Date of Survey

05 June 2014