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Historic Building Details

HB Ref No:

Extent of Listing:

Date of Construction:
1840 - 1859

Address :
Ulster Hall 1-7 Bedford Street Belfast Co. Antrim BT2 7FF

Town Parks

Survey 2:

Date of Listing:
22/03/1984 00:00:00

Date of De-listing:

Current Use:
Entertainment Building

Former Use
Entertainment Building

Conservation Area:

Industrial Archaeology:





OS Map No:

IG Ref:
J3382 7379

Owner Category

Local Govt

Exterior Description And Setting

A two-storey Italianate entertainment hall with double-height auditorium, built to designs by W.J. Barre and dated 1862, prominently located on Bedford Street in Belfast city centre. The building is rectangular on plan with modern accommodation to rear contained within a facade retention to east side (fronting Linenhall Street); it abuts Bryson House (HB26/30/058) to north. Restored and extended 2009. Hipped natural slate roof to auditorium (concealed by parapets); concealed gutters to classical frontage, cast iron downpipes with box hoppers. Principal elevation is rendered with band rustication to ground floor and rusticated quoins to first floor, auditorium and Linenhall Street elevation are red brick laid in Flemish bond; stone plinth and quoins and yellow brick dressings to Linenhall Street. Windows are generally 1/1 timber sashes; round-headed to classical front and segmental-headed in rebated yellow brick reveals to Linenhall Street; all have painted stone sills. Auditorium is lit by a clerestorey of tall round-headed multi-pane replacement timber windows. The classical facade faces west onto Bedford Street, spanned at ground floor by a projecting single-storey band-rusticated vestibule with cornice and balustraded parapet. Central breakfront is abutted by an ornate cast-iron porte cochere (1882) embracing the street and three double-leaf six-panelled entrance doors in moulded architraves with Art Nouveau bronze handles, each accessed by two terrazzo steps. Moulded imposts and lintel cornices are surmounted by three semi-circular glazed transoms with archivolts. The breakfront is flanked by a single window to either side. The porte cochere consists of a glazed roof supported by slender circular columns on polygonal pedestals; the geometric frieze is fixed with gold lettering ('Ulster Hall'); ornate filigree spandrel brackets and acroteria. Vestibule cheeks are each one window wide. Upper storey is five windows wide with Corinthian columns (paired outer columns) framing central breakfront three windows wide with entablature. Frieze bears painted letters 'Ulster Hall'; the parapet has lozenge-shaped recesses flanking a painted date of 1862; a central pedestal is surmounted by mid-twentieth century Red Hand shield in concrete (replacing original coat-of-arms). Windows have moulded archivolts crowned with figurative plaster mouldings. The north elevation is generally concealed from the street with the exception of the extreme right bay (detailed as classical front) which opens onto a paved recess off Bedford Street. The space between the auditorium and neighbouring Bryson House (HB26/30/058) is infilled with a corridor wing and further recessed extension (blank with the exception of double-leaf access doors). The corridor wing is a single bay deep and gives the appearance of three storeys; similar but subservient detailing with segmental headed windows having plain reveals and simple apron panels; ground floor contains a panelled fire door with plain transom. The upper storey is a dummy without roof, serving to conceal the utiltarian north elevation of the auditorium from the street below. The auditorium clerestorey comprises six modern round-headed timber-framed windows. The east elevation opens onto Linenhall Street and comprises a symmetrical facade retention ostensibly three-storeys high (concealing five storeys) and five windows wide, extended to either side by a single-bay modern redbrick extension (slightly set back), all crowned by a modern glazed and aluminium-framed clerestorey. Detailing is simple, consisting of cogged yellow brick string courses between floors and sandstone corbelled eaves. The south elevation is generally as north, largely comprising new extensions with the exception of the auditorium clerestorey. There is a modern glazed disabled access entrance located at the left bay, accessed from the paved recess off Bedford Street. Setting: The Ulster Hall is street fronted to west and east, occupying a dense high-quality urban environment close to Belfast city centre, generally comprising nineteenth-century warehouses and commercial buildings with occasional high-profile modern buildings. Setting features of note include two ornately embellished three-light cast-iron lamp standards flanking the porte cochere. Materials Roof: Natural slate Walling: Stucco, redbrick Windows: Generally timber sash RWG: Cast iron


Barre, William J

Historical Information

The Ulster Hall was completed in 1862 to the designs and under the supervision of William Joseph Barre. A source of immense civic pride on its opening, the building was a sign of Belfast’s growing maturity as a town and an acknowledgement among its industrious merchants of the importance of ‘relaxation, pleasure and enjoyment’. Having played host to entertainers and public figures of worldwide repuation over the last century and a half, the Hall has been at the centre of city life for generations. (Belfast Newsletter) In February 1859 the formation of ‘The Ulster Hall Company Limited’ was announced in the Belfast Newsletter. It had been felt for some years that Belfast, which was undergoing a period of giddying and sustained growth, was in need of a public hall large enough to accommodate the numbers of people that wished to attend concerts and other public events. It was proposed that the company would raise £10,000 by the issuing of £2 shares, the object of the company being to ‘erect in Belfast a spacious Hall, with the necessary minor apartments affording accommodation for between 2,000 and 3,000 persons and suitable for Concerts, Lectures, Exhibitions of Art, Balls, Dinners and all other public purposes to which such buildings are generally applied.’ (Belfast Newsletter) The site chosen, after negotiations had fallen through for a site in Howard Street, was a new road called Bedford Street that had been laid out in the 1850s in an area formerly known as McLean’s fields. Adam McLean was a linen draper and property developer who came into possession of the area between 1805 and 1826. It was slow to develop, however, the damp floodplain of the river Blackstaff making the site unattractive. However, spinning and weaving factories had colonised the western side of Bedford Street by the second edition OS map of 1858 and empty plots were available on the eastern side. (Brett) A competition was organised in October 1859 and advertisements inserted in English, Scottish and Irish newspapers offering prizes of £50 and £25 for the best designs for the hall. Members of the building committee of the Ulster Hall Company, which was composed of many of the most prominent citizens of the day, visited Music Halls in Manchester, Bradford, Birmingham and London before considering the submitted designs. William Joseph Barre, a young Newry architect, was the winner of the competition and was then asked to prepare slightly altered plans in order for building to proceed. Protracted discussions took place, however, on the exact form of the final plans, in particular whether the most suitable shape for the hall was circular or horseshoe rather than the parallelogram proposed by Barre. English experts were consulted and Barre’s plans were ultimately agreed, although the projected cost of the building eventually increased to £20,000 necessitating further investment. (Belfast Newsletter) Attempts were made to relieve Barre of the responsibility of supervising the works, but he successfully resisted these and retained control over the construction. (Walker and Dixon) In May 1860 building work commenced, the contractors were Messrs David and John Fulton. (Dublin Builder) The opening concert took place on Monday May 12th 1862 to considerable fanfare and effusions of civic pride, the Belfast Newsletter commenting that, ‘To it pre-eminence must be given thoughout the whole province and the province will be glad, no doubt, to recognise it as their own, and feel proud that Ulster can boast of possessing the largest public building for popular purposes which has hitherto been erected in Ireland.’ The Dublin Builder was moved to comment that, ‘the good people of Belfast have now admittedly the advantage of us Dubliners.’ (Dublin Builder) The Ulster Hall was to be a place of entertainment for all and proof that Belfast was not only a place of industry, ‘The monotonous hum of the spinning-jenny and the continuous clack of the power-loom can be hushed to silence, in order that the rich and the poor, the manufacturers and the sons and daughters of toil, may meet together beneath the arched roof of the new Hall to listen to sweeter sounds and more melodious strains than industry can produce, and to spend there a few short hours of relaxation, pleasure and enjoyment.’ The hall could accommodate an audience of 2,000 together with 250 performers. (Belfast Newsletter) In the February previous to the grand opening, the Belfast Newsletter had reported that an anonymous donor, later stated to be Andrew Mulholland of York Street Flax Spinning Company, had proposed to meet the cost, £3,300, of an organ for the Hall. ‘The contractors are Messrs Hill & Sons, the eminent builders of the organs at York Minster and Birmingham, and of the famous Panopticon organ now in St Paul’s cathedral’ (Belfast Newsletter) However, the organ was not installed in time for the opening of the Hall and a separate ‘ Inauguration of the Grand Organ’ took place on 17th December 1862. Attached to the instrument is a silver plate manufactured by Messrs Hunt & Roskell, London, bearing the words, ‘Presented to the Ulster Hall Company by Andrew Mulholland Esq, Springvale’ The organ was reconstructed and refurbished in 1903 and again in 1982. The organ is one of the oldest examples of a functioning classic English pipe organ. (Belfast Newsletter; 1903 alterations; restoration of organ) The ‘Ulster Hall’ first appears, captioned, on the 1871-3 town plan of Belfast. The building is listed in Griffith’s Valuation of 1859 at a valuation of £550. The occupiers are the Ulster Hall Company of which the secretary is John Dunn and the landlords are Adam and J McLean. The rent charged was £225 annually. In 1872 the valuation was reduced to £330 ‘by order of council on statement of accounts by company’. A cast-iron verandah was added c1882, Larmour states to the designs of W H Lynn and this is shown on the street plan dating from 1883-4. (Larmour) An early photograph of the hall, dating from the 1860s, shows the Hall as it appeared when first built, with an open porte-cochere to the front façade. This was closed when the cast-iron verandah was added in 1882. (Walker and Dixon) The crest which then appeared atop the façade was changed in 1959 to the present shield and red hand. (Patton) In 1902 the hall was purchased by Belfast Corporation for £13,500 and the following year extensive restoration and improvements to the building by contractors H & J Martin under the supervision of Young and Mackenzie raised the valuation to £480. The cost was £4,000. A series of thirteen painted scenes from Belfast history and mythology by J W Carey were part of this refurbishment. (Brett) Changes were carried out c1933 under the supervision of Robert Buchan Donald which involved the construction of additional blocks on each side of the porte-cochere. ( A second major renovation was carried out by the corporation in 1957 which included the covering in of the open metalwork balcony railings ‘ at the request of the ladies who felt their dignity might be compromised’. (Perspective) The Hall has hosted a wide range of events in the past 150 years, musical, sporting, political and religious and has seen many of the most significant figures and prominent entertainers of their time taking to its stage including Caruso, Charles Dickens, Lord Carson, the Dalai Lama, Barry McGuigan, and the Rolling Stones. The Ulster Group Theatre made its home in the Minor Hall from about 1940 and was a nursery for Ulster dramatists such as Sam Thompson and Joseph Tomelty and also for local actors Stephen Boyd, James Ellis and Denys Hawthorne. The Group Theatre was removed in recent refurbishment. (Perspective; Street Directory; In 1992 the front of the Hall was damaged following an explosion. Contractors, Downhill Enterprises Ltd, were retained to make good the damage and as part of the reinstatement a specialist company was commissioned to rebuild and install the metal canopy, originally designed by Lynn, which had been completely destroyed. Andy Thornton Architectural Antiques Ltd of West Yorkshire carried out the work. The ornamental lamp standards outside the building, formerly sited outside the house of Belfast’s Lord Mayor, were restored by J &L Ornamental Casings of Belfast. (Specify) Between 2004 and 2009 the Hall underwent a £7.43m refurbishment under the supervision of Consarc and became the permanent home of the Ulster Orchestra. Re-fitting and redecoration of the main hall took place with new removable seating, artists' dressing rooms and an education suite. Other improvements included new stage lighting systems, upgraded heating systems, fire escape routes and toilet facilities. A new floor has been inserted and staircases have been added in new brick wings to either side of the original structure. The original metal balustrade on the balconies was restored and a new glass porch added to the front facade. Some of Carey’s artwork of 1903 was replaced with decoration similar to that originally proposed by Barre, but never executed in the 1860s on the grounds of cost. (Perspective) References: Primary Sources 1. PRONI OS/8/30/1/36 – Belfast Street Map (1858) 2. PRONI OS/8/30/2/36 – Belfast Street Map (1871-3) 3. PRONI OS/8/30/3/36 – Belfast Street Map (1883-4) 4. PRONI VAL/12/B/43/A/1 – Annual Revisions (1863-1930) 5. PRONI VAL/12/F/3/14/1 – Annual Revisions (1930-1935) 6. PRONI VAL/7/B/14/B – Belfast Revaluation Fieldbooks (1900-1) 7. PRONI D2194/25/6 – Alteration of 1903 by H & J Martin Ltd 8. PRONI D4179/8/5 – Restoration of organ 1969-1982 9. Belfast Newsletter, 8th February 1859 10. Belfast Newsletter, 9th February 1859 11. Belfast Newsletter, 7th February 1860 12. Belfast Newsletter, 27th March 1860 13. Belfast Newsletter, 28th May 1860 14. Belfast Newsletter, 11th January 1861 15. Belfast Newsletter, 5th February 1861 16. Belfast Newsletter, 17th April 1861 17. Belfast Newsletter, 12th November 1861 18. Belfast Newsletter, 4th February 1862 19. Belfast Newsletter, 13th May 1862 20. Belfast Newsletter, 24th November 1862 21. Belfast Newsletter, 18th December 1862 22. Dublin Builder, 1st November 1859 23. Dublin builder, 15th January 1861 24. Dublin Builder, 1st May, 1860 25. Dublin Builder, 15th May 1862 26. Belfast Street Directory (1940) 27. Specify, November/December 1995, p29-30 28. Perspective, Vol 18, Iss 3, May/June 2009, p30-8 Secondary Sources 1. Brett, C.E.B. “Buildings of Belfast 1700-1914” Belfast: Friar’s Bush Press, revised edition 1985 2. Brett, C.E.B., Gillespie, R. and Maguire W.A. “Georgian Belfast, 1750-1850, Maps Buildings and Trades” Dublin and Belfast: Royal Irish Academy and Belfast Natural History and Philosophical Society, 2004 3. Larmour, Paul “Belfast – An Illustrated Architectural Guide” Belfast: Friar’s Bush press, 1987 4. Patton, M “Central Belfast: An Historical Gazetteer” Belfast: Ulster Architectural Heritage Society, 1993 5. Walker, Brian M and Dixon, Hugh “In Belfast Town – Early photographs from the Lawrence Collection” Belfast: Friar’s Bush Press, 1984 6. – Dictionary of Irish Architects online 7.

Criteria for Listing

Architectural Interest

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

Historic Interest

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


The Ulster Hall is a mid Victorian entertainment hall, built 1862 to designs by W.J.Barre and occupying a prominent city centre location between Bedford Street and Linenhall Street. The principal public face of the building is in the classical Italianate style representative of the predominating style of public architecture in Belfast at that period. It contrasts with the restrained Linenall Street facade and the utilitarian double-height main auditorium which is carefully screened from public view by extended parapets. The interior has been fully restored and contains some fine and ornate detailing, particularly within the Grand Hall. The centrepiece of the hall is the contemporary Mulholland Organ, and remaining one of the largest and most original examples of a classical English organ in existence. The building is of exceptional social significance, representing the developing social infrastructure of the industrial city at its fastest period of growth, and having played host to a number of high profile performances spanning over a century. The building is home to the Ulster Orchestra and previously the Group Theatre, one of Northern Ireland's leading twentieth century theatre companies. The Ulster Hall is a rare example of a Victorian building still fulfilling its original function, and forms a unique asset of exceptional cultural significance within a national context.

General Comments

Additional listing criteria apply- R- Age, S- Authenticity, T- Historic Importance

Date of Survey

20 April 2011