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Historic Building Details

HB Ref No:
HB26/25/001 D

Extent of Listing:
Vaults & steps

Date of Construction:
1860 - 1879

Address :
Vaults Belfast City Cemetery Falls Road Belfast County Antrim BT12 6DE


Survey 2:

Date of Listing:
04/02/1988 00:00:00

Date of De-listing:

Current Use:

Former Use

Conservation Area:

Industrial Archaeology:





OS Map No:

IG Ref:
J3107 7293

Owner Category

Exterior Description And Setting

Gothic-revival style steps and vaults built in sandstone dating from 1869 to designs by English landscape designer William Gay of Bradford and constructed by local firm Monk &Co, located in the central part of the Belfast City cemetery. Steps leading up to a row of memorial plaques. Coursed, rock-faced sandstone basalt walling with square-plan piers and sandstone dressings and quoins (Giffnock sandstone). Engraved polished granite slabs (Newry granodiorite) to plaques set within pointed sandstone (Giffnock sandstone) arches and divided by red granite columns with Corinthian capitals and two-stage sandstone buttresses. Sandstone quatrefoil balustrade on top of the vaults, now missing in many parts and substituted by simple metal railings.



Historical Information

In the course of the nineteenth century Belfast expanded at a phenomenal rate. As Belfast’s population rose, there was increasing pressure on its existing burial grounds, exacerbated by outbreaks of cholera and the Great Famine. Both Shankill graveyard and Friar’s Bush graveyard were becoming overcrowded, the while the New Burying Ground, Clifton Street, was also filling up. The opening of a new Presbyterian cemetery at Balmoral only partly alleviated the situation. Responding to this situation, in the autumn of 1865 Belfast Corporation decided to accept Thomas Sinclair’s offer of 101 acres on the Falls Road for municipal purposes. The purchase of the site was completed in December of that year for £12,000 with an annual ground rent of £73 5s. 4d. Of this site, 45 acres would be used as a cemetery, with most of the remainder being given over to what would become Falls Park. On 25 January 1867 the Cemetery Committee of Belfast Corporation awarded the contract to design the new cemetery to William Gay of Bradford. At an advanced stage in the laying out of the cemetery there arose a dispute between Dr Patrick Dorrian, Catholic bishop of Down and Connor, over the ground reserved for the burial of Catholics. No satisfactory settlement could be reached with regard to the Catholic portion of the Corporation’s new cemetery and as a result a new Catholic cemetery – Milltown – was opened a short distance away on the opposite side of the Falls Road in November 1869. ‘The Belfast Cemetery’, as the name had been agreed on 29 September 1868, opened on 1 August 1869, with the first burials taking place there three days later. In December 1867 the Cemetery Committee advertised for tenders to carry out various works at the Cemetery, among them the construction of the ‘central steps’. Though the vaults were not specifically mentioned, the tenders submitted did include mention of both the steps and the vaults. William Gay seems to have prepared the plans of the vaults; certainly he had argued that the topography of this part of the cemetery was suitable for the construction of vaults in connection with the steps. These features were to form the centrepiece of the new cemetery. In February 1868 a point of clarification was issued that the vaults were to be faced with polished granite slabs. In his report to the Cemetery Committee of 13 May William Gay made clear that ‘the central steps with the vaults in connection will require to be executed at the same time as the wok before specified [the laying out of the grounds] otherwise the communication between the upper and lower portion of the cemetery would be very incomplete.’ For reasons that are not altogether clear there was then a delay and it was not until May of that year that Messrs Monk & Co. was asked to produce a tender for the steps and vaults exclusive of capitals, finials, panels, etc. The firm’s tender of £1,138 19s. was accepted, with the Cemetery Committee confident that the sale of the vaults would cover the cost of their construction. A separate tender for the stone carving at the vaults submitted by Fitzpatrick Brothers of Great Victoria Street, Belfast, was accepted in June 1868. The value of this tender came to £33 and comprised 16 small bosses (£4), 12 capitals (£12), 8 finials (£8) and 12 spandrels (£9). A difficulty later arose when the Fitzpatricks complained that Monk & Co. was using someone else to execute the stonework. The Town Solicitor was instructed to ensure that Fitzpatricks were able to carry out this work unhindered. As there is no further mention of this dispute, it may be assumed that they were allowed to complete the stonework. On 21 September 1869 the Cemetery Committee agreed that the vaults would be put up for sale by auction on 5 October. There were seven vaults offered at this time, numbered consecutively from north to south. It would appear that the only vault sold at this time was number 4 which was purchased by James Carlisle for £150. In February 1870 the vaults were again advertised for sale, but with no takers. In May the Committee agreed to reduce the price of the vaults to £110 for the three central vaults and £100 for the others. In August 1870 the Committee decided to discontinue the public advertising of the vaults and instead have a notice placed in the Cemetery indicating that there were vaults for sale. In late 1870/early 1871, vaults were sold to William Spotten, James Carlisle (to add to the vault he had purchased in 1869) and John Browne jun., each for £110. In August 1876 Edward Harland bought a vault for £80. What is clear is that the income from the sale of the vaults fell a long way short of the expenditure in creating them. The Central Steps are now generally referred to as the Gallaher Steps after Thomas Gallaher (see below). The seven vaults from left to right commemorate the following individuals and families: 1. Thomas Gallaher The son of Thomas Gallagher (the spelling of the surname was emended in the 1870s), a successful farmer and miller, Thomas Gallaher was born at Templemoyle, near Eglinton, County Londonderry, in 1840. Apprenticed to a firm of general merchants in Derry, he became familiar with tobacco manufacture and in 1857 he established his own business in Derry. The business was transferred to Belfast in 1863 and by 1881 he was employing 600 people there. In addition he established factories in London and the United States. The new headquarters in York Street Belfast, opened in 1896, was said to be the world’s largest tobacco factory. He died on 3 May 1927 at his home, Ballygoland House, Greencastle, Belfast. 2. James Gallaher A younger brother of the above Thomas Gallaher, James Gallaher was a wealthy grain merchant. His wife Jessie Robertson Gallaher died in 1890 at the age of 37. He died at his home, Malone Park House, on 4 February 1929 at the age of 87. 3. Blank Possibly this was one of the two vaults purchased by James Carlisle. 4. James Carlisle Born at Castledawson in County Londonderry, James Carlisle began his career as a journeyman carpenter and rose to become one of Belfast’s wealthiest building contractors. Among his many building projects was the courthouse on the Crumlin Road. He served on the Belfast Corporation from 1859 to his death in 1882, representing Dock Ward. A strong supporter of the Methodist Church, he contributed £25,000 towards the construction of the Carlisle Memorial Church at Carlisle Circus which was built in memory of his son James who had died in 1870. He lived at Enfield House in north Belfast. 5. John Browne A merchant who lived at Ravenhill House in Belfast, Browne died on 16 September 1893 aged 76. He made his fortune in the timber trade and also acquired an extensive property portfolio in Belfast and elsewhere in Ireland. He was a member of the Belfast Corporation for nearly two decades, serving for a time as chairman of its Improvement Committee. He was also mayor in 1879-80, during which time he hosted a visit by former US President, Ulysses S. Grant. He was noted for his philanthropy especially during the severe winter of 1885-6. Had been a member of May Street Presbyterian Church, but towards the end of his life joined Ballymacarrett Presbyterian Church as it was closer to his home. 6. Rev. Robert Knox The son of a ruling elder in Urney Presbyterian Church, near Strabane, County Tyrone, Robert Knox was born c. 1815. He studied in Belfast and Glasgow and was licensed to preach by the Presbytery of Strabane. He spent a short period as a missionary in the south of Ireland before being ordained minister of New Row Presbyterian Church in Coleraine in 1842, moving the following year to Linenhall Street Presbyterian Church in Belfast. He is credited with being a major influence on the formation of three Presbyterian churches in Belfast as well as one at Ballynahinch, County Down, while he was responsible for founding at least five National schools in Belfast. He was a noted philanthropist and established the Sabbath School Society of Ireland, and was active in the Belfast Town Mission. His death on 16 August 1883 was put down to overwork. 7. Edward Harland A name that will always be associated with Belfast’s industrial heritage, Edward Harland was born in 1831 in Scarborough, Yorkshire. Having been interested in engineering from an early age, he was apprenticed to an engineering works in Newcastle upon Tyne, becoming interested in ship design. In the mid 1850s he became manager of a shipyard in Belfast and in 1857 Gustav Wolff became his assistant. Having acquired control of the shipyard, he and Wolff went into partnership and the world famous firm of Harland & Wolff was created. Harland made a major contribution to public life in Belfast, serving as chairman of Belfast Harbour Commissioners, mayor of Belfast, and MP for North Belfast. He died on 24 December 1895. References Public Record Office of Northern Ireland Ordnance Survey 6-inch map, 1901 – OS/6/1/60/3 Ordnance Survey 6-inch map, 1920-39 – OS/6/1/64/6 Belfast Corporation records: Minute Book of the [City] Cemetery Committee, 1867-87 – LA/7/11/AB/2 Northern Ireland Environment Agency First Survey Record – HB/26/25/001 HB Records – HB/26/25/001D Ulster Historical Foundation Card index of gravestone inscriptions in Belfast City Cemetery Birth, marriage and death databases Published sources Belfast Newsletter, 27 May 1868, 17 August 1883, 18 September 1893 Paul Larmour, Belfast: an illustrated architectural guide (Belfast, 1987) Tom Hartley, Written in Stone: The History of Belfast City Cemetery (Belfast, 2006) Dictionary of Irish Biography, 9 vols (Cambridge, 2009) Online sources Natural Stone Database: Dictionary of Irish Architects: 1901 and 1911 census returns:

Criteria for Listing

Architectural Interest

A. Style B. Proportion C. Ornamentation D. Plan Form H-. Alterations detracting from building J. Setting K. Group value

Historic Interest

Y. Social, Cultural or Economic Importance Z. Rarity V. Authorship X. Local Interest


Gothic-revival style steps and vaults built in sandstone dating from 1869 to designs by English landscape designer William Gay of Bradford and constructed by local firm Monk &Co. Located in the central part of the Belfast City cemetery the are one of its most prominent features. The seven vaults commemorate Thomas Gallaher, James Gallaher, James Carlisle, John Browne, Rev. Robert Knox and Edward Harland. They have group value with the other listed structures within the cemetery; the entrance gates (HB26.25.001A); the gate lodge (HB26.25.001B) the fountains (HB26.25.001C) and the other memorials (HB.25.26.001E - K).

General Comments

Listing Criteria R - Age; S - Authenticity; T - Historic Importance and U - Historic Associations also apply. .

Date of Survey

04 March 2014