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Historic Building Details

HB Ref No:

Extent of Listing:
Church and railings

Date of Construction:
1860 - 1879

Address :
St. Matthew's Church of Ireland Shankhill Road Belfast Co. Antrim BT13 3LA


Survey 2:

Date of Listing:
25/09/1987 00:00:00

Date of De-listing:

Current Use:

Former Use

Conservation Area:

Industrial Archaeology:





OS Map No:

IG Ref:
J3185 7505

Owner Category

Church - C of I

Exterior Description And Setting

A High Victorian gabled brick church in a mix of Byzantine, neo-Gothic and Celtic-Revival styles dating from 1869-72 to designs by the Dublin based architects Welland & Gillespie and constructed by the local firm John Lowry & Son. Irregular shaped plan that could loosely be described as cruciform with rounded ends to three sides and two hipped roof single storey extensions to SE and NE corners. The west elevation is gabled elevation and a circular tower with a conical spire sits on the SW corner. The church is located within its own grounds to the N side of the Shankhill Road, where it meets the Woodvale Road. Pitched natural slate roof with projecting eaves having roll-top black-clay ridge tiles and metal finials. Hipped natural slate roof to extensions with angled black clay ridge tiles. Raised crow stepped verge to gable. Semi-circular cast iron guttering and polygonal hoppers discharging to circular downpipes. Walling laid to buff brick in Flemish bond with decorative red brick banding and projecting plinth. Elongated lancet window openings, with feint cusping to form trefoil arches in buff brick headers and splayed cills having stained leaded glazing (unless noted otherwise). Trefoil door openings with curved buff brick surrounds having wrought iron gates with stylised flower heads and quatrefoil cut-outs to square panels at base. Principal elevation: The gabled principal elevation faces W. Three-stage round tower to S end with tall narrow lancet windows to belfry stage and topped by a conical brick spire with eaves highlighted in continuous foliated carved stone cornice. Two stepped projecting brick strings and projecting brick band at cill level of Belfry windows. Double-height gable to centre with three lancet windows to GF and a large plate tracery rose window formed in brick above. Semi-circular two-storey stair tower to N end with raised parapet. Twin projecting string courses run just below eaves height in a continuous band of red brick headers. North elevation: N elevation consists of the semi circular stair tower to W end, a double-height bay immediately to E, a semi-circular apse to centre and a single storey three-bay wide extension to E end. The semi-circular stair tower has a door facing E opening onto a stone step. Lancet windows at differing heights, flush red brick string courses and polychromatic banding and a projecting angled brick string course at just above plinth height and just below eaves height . Seven window openings to apse. The extension to N is built in polychromatic brickwork, with buff brick walling and red and black brick dressings. A modern square-headed door opening with concrete head and toothed yellow brick jamb to W bay having a modern metal gate and opening onto a curved ramp with buff brick retaining wall that steps to align with the ramp. Pointed arch window openings formed in brick headers to remaining bays with stained leaded glazing. East elevation: The E elevation consists of two angled faces of the single-storey extension with hipped roof to N, a semi-circular apse to centre and a three-bay wide single-storey extension to S. Two pointed arch windows to east face of the extension to the N. Seven windows to apse. Three pointed arch windows to extension to S. South elevation: The S elevation consists of the three-bay wide single storey extension to E, a semi-circular apse to centre, a two-storey bay and a single storey lean-to porch to the foot of the tower to W end. Two window to extension and a door opening to two steps to W bay. Seven windows to apse. Pointed arch windows to the bay immediately to W. Pointed arch opening to porch entrance having a recessed trefoil arch door opening. Leaded roof and decorative stone carving at eaves level to porch. Setting: Narrow tarmaced area to S and lawned around, the site is enclosed by painted wrought iron railings to S and E and rendered walling to N and W. Railings are wrought iron with circular section railings and pointed heads; double gates supported on square section standards with scrolled finials. The church is located within its own site to the N side of the Shankhiil Road, where it meets the Woodvale Road, between Olive Street and Cambrai Street, with Yew Street at the back. Materials: Roof: Natural slate RWG : Cast iron Walling: Buff brick with red brick string courses Windows: Stained glass windows, with storm glazing


Welland & Gillespie Seaver, Henry

Historical Information

St. Matthew’s Church of Ireland, a mixed-style church possessing an Irish round tower is located on the north side of the Shankhill Road where it joins the Woodvale Road. The church was constructed in 1869-72 in one of Belfast’s most ancient ecclesiastical areas. Shankill, from the Gaelic word ‘seanchill’ meaning ‘old church,’ was the site of St. Patrick’s, the medieval parish church of Belfast. St. Patrick’s was first recorded in the Papal Taxation of Pope Nicholas in 1306 and continued to be utilised as Belfast’s parish church until 1776 when St. Anne’s Church was constructed on Donegall Street. Shankill Graveyard (HB26/37/005) was located next to St. Patrick’s Church and served as the burial ground for the inhabitants of the parish for many hundreds of years. There are no surviving remnants of the original medieval parish church which had been completely demolished by the early-19th century. However, in 1957 the Director of Parks and Cemeteries for Belfast (Reginald Wesley) stated that ‘there is evidence that the graveyard has been used as a burial place for over 1,000 years as in 1858 pieces of the bronze covering of a Bishop’s staff were dug up and by the spiral carving have been identified as belonging to the 9th century.’ The current building was the second St Matthew's Church to be constructed along the Woodvale Road in the 19th century. A report from the Down & Connor Church Accommodation Society recorded that the first St. Matthew’s was constructed in 1839. The church could accommodate a congregation of 240, cost upwards of £480 and was opened on 4th August 1839. Photographs of the original church show that it was a Gothic building and the second edition Ordnance Survey map (1858) depicted the building as a T-shaped structure located to the east side of Shankill Graveyard (on the current site of St. Matthew’s Parish Hall). Griffith’s Valuation set the value of the church at £40 and noted that it also possessed school rooms (DIA). The current church was constructed in 1869-72, facilitated by the development of the area in the mid-19th century. The growth of the linen industry resulted in the urbanisation of the formerly rural townland of Edenderry. Clarke states that ‘there were bleach works, beetling mills, bleach greens [and] at least ten bleaching complexes in the West Belfast area in the opening decades of the 19th century … the majority of these used the waters of the Farset and Forth.’ The industrialisation of the area and the construction of rows of workers houses resulting in the growth of the local population and necessitated the construction of a larger church (Clarke, p. Viii-ix). The Church Extension and Endowment Society commissioned the construction of the current church. The High Victorian building was designed by Welland & Gillespie, a Dublin-based architectural partnership between William Joseph Welland and William Gillespie who had been appointed joint architects to the Ecclesiastical Commissioners in 1860, holding the position until the disestablishment of the Church of Ireland on 1st January 1871 (St. Matthew’s Church of Ireland was one of the final churches that the pair designed before the disestablishment). The new church, which was able to accommodate a congregation of 700, was constructed by the local building firm of John Lowry & Son and was consecrated on 11th March 1872 (DIA). Several commentators have noted the unique design of St. Matthew’s Church. Brett states that the building ‘is a wholly astonishing church … and [when completed] nobody even then seemed sure what its style was. It is shaped like a trefoil; to Bishop MacNeice this appeared “an enlarged shamrock,” and Lavens Ewart says that it was irreverently spoken of as the ace of clubs [whilst] the Belfast News Letter, in total bafflement, thought it must be French-Gothic, but the better view seems to be that it is Byzantine, with the addition of an Old Irish round tower (executed entirely in yellow brick).’ Larmour similarly praised the ‘remarkable Neo-Gothic’ design stating that the ‘exterior is a masterpiece of consummate brickwork, smooth paned and striped in red on white, whilst the open tri-apsal space of the interior with smooth coved ceilings is a real surprise in an age of dark-stained timber trussed roofs on more traditionally laid out plans.’ The church represents a merger of Gothic-Revival, Byzantine and Celtic Revival elements, leading Brett to conclude ‘whatever its source, St. Matthew’s has an originality and a structural daring that make it stand out from the ruck of boring Victorian churches’ (Brett, p. 40; Larmour, p. 41). Field inspection of the interior of the church has found that St. Matthew’s Church of Ireland possesses a variety of stained glass windows by the Belfast-based firm of Clokey Stained Glass Studios. A guidebook published by the congregation records that there are seven windows by Clokey which were installed in the sanctuary of the church between 1957 and 1961. These windows depict scenes from Jesus’ life including his birth, baptism, the Last Supper, the Ascension, the resurrection, Jesus with Mary Magdalene, Pentecost and the Epiphany. In the south apse of the church is a stained glass window by Daniel Braniff (also a Belfast-based glazier) which depicted the Crucifixion and was gifted to the congregation by the children of Anne Eliza Robinson following her death in 1966 (Saint Matthew’s Church Guide). Upon its completion, the value of St. Matthew’s Church was set at £150. The original church of 1839 was converted into a parochial hall and continued to be used until c. 1940. The first major change to the church came in 1918 when the oak reredos were installed to designs by Sir. Thomas Graham Jackson (1835-1924), an English architect who had also designed a mission hall for St. Aiden’s Church on the Donegall Road in 1898 (Irish Builder, p. 192; DIA). The original communion table was replaced with the current altar, which was gifted to the church by the congregation of St. Peter’s Church (HB26/46/015) in 1924. The pulpit, oak panelling and reading desk were all installed in c. 1918 as a memorial to those who gave their lives during the First World War (the names of the dead are inscribed on the pulpit). The only major structural change to the building was carried out in 1933 when the north vestry of the church was added to designs by Henry Seaver (1860-1941), a local architect who designed a number of churches in Belfast for the Church of Ireland over his long career. The design of the vestry was one of the final contracts Seaver undertook before his retirement in c. 1934 (Irish Builder, p. 566; DIA). The original church of 1839 was demolished in c. 1940 to make way for the current red-brick church hall which had been erected by 1941. Under the First General Revaluation of Property in Northern Ireland (1936-57) the value of St. Matthew’s Church was increased to £400 with the new church hall being valued at £127. The original church organ, which had been installed in 1885 by Harrison of Durham, was replaced by the current organ in the early-1960s. By the end of the Second Revaluation (1956-72) the value of the church had been increased to £704 whilst the church hall was valued at £256 (Saint Matthew’s Church Guide). St. Matthew’s Church of Ireland was listed in 1987. The NIEA HB Records note that the church underwent a major renovation in 2002-2003 to include the repointing of its brickwork and the reslating of its roof. The Connor Diocese website records that the renovation was assisted by the Heritage Lottery Fund and also included the ‘restoration of the interior, and its adaptation for modern liturgical use. The sanctuary was re-modelled to create a dais in front of the Communion rail. The area to the back of the church, under the organ gallery, was enclosed with a glass screen (to create the St. Patrick Room – dedicated in memory of the late Archdeacon McDonald).’ The memorial window depicting St. Patrick was added in 2006 in memory of Helen Baird, a prominent former member of the congregation (NIEA HB Records; Connor Diocese website). References Primary Sources 1. PRONI OS/6/1/61/1 – First Edition Ordnance Survey Map (1832-33) 2. PRONI OS/6/1/61/2 – Second Edition Ordnance Survey Map (1858) 3. PRONI OS/8/30/1/20 – 25 inch Ordnance Survey Map (1858) 4. PRONI OS/6/1/61/3 – Third Edition Ordnance Survey Map (1901-02) 5. PRONI OS/6/1/61/4 – Fourth Edition Ordnance Survey Map (1931) 6. PRONI OS/6/1/61/5 – Fifth Edition Ordnance Survey Map (1938) 7. PRONI VAL/2/B/7/3J – Griffith’s Valuation (1859) 8. PRONI VAL/12/B/43/C/7-16 – Annual Revisions (1863-1896) 9. PRONI VAL/12/B/43/M/1-7 – Annual Revisions (1897-1930) 10. PRONI VAL/3/C/3/22 – First General Revaluation of Property in Northern Ireland (1936-57) 11. PRONI VAL/4/B/7/35 – Second General Revaluation of Property in Northern Ireland (1956-72) 12. PRONI LA/7/3/E/18/5 – Documents pertaining to the conversion of Shankill Cemetery into a Rest Garden (1957-58) 13. Fourth and final report of the Down & Connor Church Accommodation Society (1843) 14. Belfast Street Directories (1852-1943) 15. Irish Builder (19 Apr 1919; 1 Jul 1933) 16. First Survey Record – HB26/37/006 (1986) 17. NIEA HB Records – HB26/37/006 Secondary Sources 1. ‘Saint Matthew’s Church Guide’ Belfast: Belfast City Council, c. 2010. 2. Brett, C. E. B., ‘Buildings of Belfast: 1700-1914’ Belfast: Friar’s Bush Press, 1985. 3. Clarke, R. S. J., ‘Gravestone Inscriptions: Belfast Vol. 1’ Belfast: Ulster Historical Foundation, 1982. 4. Larmour, P., ‘Belfast: An illustrated architectural guide’ Belfast: Ulster Architectural Heritage Society, 1987. Online Resources 1. Dictionary of Irish Architects - 2. Connor Diocese website -

Criteria for Listing

Architectural Interest

A. Style B. Proportion C. Ornamentation D. Plan Form E. Spatial Organisation J. Setting

Historic Interest

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


An unusual brick church in a mix of Byzantine, Neo-Gothic and Celtic-Revival styles dating from 1870-72 to designs by Welland & Gillespie and built by the local firm John Lowry & Son. The tri-apsal plan together with polychromatic brickwork and round tower combine to form a unique composition in Northern Ireland. Well articulated volumes, detailed with a simple and rational understanding of material and with a restrained use of ornamentation and elaborate ironwork to gates. Single storey extensions with hipped roofs were added by Henry Seaver in the 1930s; they continue the polychromatic brick detailing and are carefully stitched in to the original fabric so that the church has retained its distinct trefoil-like shape. The interior, which has been recently refurbished, is impressive though modestly detailed for the most part. Stained glass windows by both Clokey and Daniel Braniff enhance the worship space. St Matthew’s church is constructed in one of Belfast’s most ancient ecclesiastical sites: St. Patrick’s medieval parish church (now demolished). The current building was necessitated by the industrial development of the linen industry and was intended to serve the growing population who came to live in rows of workers houses nearby in the early 19th Century. It is located within a prominent site to the N side of the Shankhill Road where it meets the Woodvale Road and it occupies a generous plot, bound to the North and West by rendered low walling and to the South and East by wrought iron railings that add further interest. The generous grounds are landscaped with lawn and mature trees and the perimeter is visually open to the main road and to the surrounding densely populated streets on the other three sides. The scale of the church when considered in this context is striking, as are the pale bricks and curved forms in an area where red brick terraced houses and rectilinear structures are prevalent. Shankill Graveyard (HB26/37/005) and Woodvale Park (HB26/38/002) are within close proximity.

General Comments

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

Date of Survey

30 July 2014