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Historic Building Details

HB Ref No:

Extent of Listing:
School, wall & railings

Date of Construction:
1800 - 1819

Address :
Royal Belfast Academical Institution College Square East Belfast Co Antrim BT1 6DL

Town Parks

Survey 2:

Date of Listing:
27/11/1975 00:00:00

Date of De-listing:

Current Use:

Former Use

Conservation Area:

Industrial Archaeology:





OS Map No:

IG Ref:
J3342 7405

Owner Category


Exterior Description And Setting

Detached symmetrical multi-bay three-storey pilastered Georgian brick school, dated 1810, to the designs of Sir John Soane. Rectangular on plan facing east with a three-storey red brick wing abutting the rear elevation to the south, built c.1915, and a further four-storey wing abutting the rear elevation to the north, built c.1960. Detached multi-bay three-storey brick block to the north fronting onto College Square North, built c.1835. Set well back from College Square East with a large front lawn, paved rear yard and terminating the vista of Wellington Place, with its front elevation partially obscured by the former Municipal Technical Institute (HB26/50/222). Natural slate roof, hipped to either end with clay ridge tiles and leaded hip ridges. Four rendered profiled chimneystacks to the ridge with clay pots. Roof set behind sandstone ashlar parapet with moulded cornice and plain sandstone frieze. Circular cast-iron hoppers breaking through parapet with replacement metal downpipes. Handmade red brick walling laid in Flemish bond with some original pointing and a plain projecting sandstone plinth course. Gauged brick flat-arched window openings with sandstone sills and timber sash windows without horns, recently re-glazed with cylinder glass. Symmetrical front elevation is 23 windows wide with the central 13 forming a shallow breakfront defined by four pairs of Giant Doric order painted sandstone ashlar pilasters. Gauged brick round-headed window openings to the ground floor set within round-headed recesses having 6/6 timber sash windows, spoked to the upper sashes; 6/6 to the first floor with continuous moulded sill course, 6/3 to the second floor. Tripartite central entrance bay with a large painted masonry panel to the second floor having raised lettering stating; ‘ACADEMICAL INSTITUTION. / MDCCCX’. Central window to the first floor is set within a arched moulded surround. Tripartite Doric portico in antis with two columns and responding engaged Doric piers to either end supporting a full plain entablature. A central square-headed door opening has double-leaf timber doors with raised-and-fielded panels and an architrave surround flanked by scrolled console brackets supporting a cornice. Door opening flanked by round-headed window openings with architrave surrounds and spoked upper sashes. To the re-entrant angles are a pair of secondary door openings detailed as per principal entrance (with single-leaf panelled doors), all opening into the portico with replacement stone paving. South side elevation is largely blank with two irregularly placed windows to ground and first floors. Rear elevation is 11 windows wide, abutted by a three-storey red brick wing to the south and a four-storey wing to the north. Walling, parapet and windows detailed as per front elevation, without pilasters and having a shallow breakfront to the central entrance bay. Breakfront built in machine-made brown brick with a round-headed window opening to each level and a shallow door surround with concrete lintel and glazed hardwood doors. Door opening flanked by bronze memorial plaques commemorating the Great War and the Second World War. The south wing is built in machine made red brick with gauged brick segmental-headed window openings having red sandstone sills. UPVC windows to the south elevation, 6/6 timber sash windows to the west and north elevations. Two square-headed door openings to the south elevation with red sandstone architrave surrounds and latticed overpanels. The north side elevation is abutted by a recent single-storey extension, built c.2000. Connecting the 1960s north wing and the rear elevation is a single-bay five-storey red brick block, built c.1915, housing a staircase. North side elevation is three windows wide with a steel walkway connecting the principal block to the north block. Setting Located within its own extensive grounds to the east of College Square North with a large front lawn enclosed to the street by a low brick wall and decorative iron railings, erected c.1950. The three-storey north block is six windows wide, detailed as per the principal block with original timber sash windows throughout. Roof: Natural slate Walling: brick / stone Windows: Timber RWG : metal


Soane, Sir J

Historical Information

The Royal Belfast Academical Institution, a lengthy three-storey Georgian educational building located on College Square, was originally constructed between 1810 and 1814. The original block was designed by Sir. John Soane (1753-1837), a London-based architect; the Institution is Soane’s sole surviving commission undertaken in Ireland, however the completed design differs from his original plans. Soane completed a number of alternate plans for the building in 1808 which he provided without charge. Soane’s plans show that he originally envisaged a much grander complex for the Academical institution. The design depicted a number of Greek Doric buildings arranged so as to provide two large courtyards; the main facade, facing onto College Square East would have possessed grand columns supporting a monumental roof with entablature. Due to financial restrictions Soane’s original design was scaled back to the current less ambitious plain brown-brick structure. George Benn’s History of Belfast (1823) included a later illustration of the building after the current design had been adopted; however the plan depicted a central bell-cote on the roof of the building which was never constructed (Benn). The foundation stone of the Institution was laid on 3rd June 1810; construction work was completed in 1814 and during that period the execution of Soane’s design was by John Boyd and John McCutcheon, local architects (Dictionary of Irish Architects). Incorporated by an Act of Parliament in 1810, the school was officially opened in 1814 having raised an estimated £25,000, largely gained by voluntary subscription. When completed the Royal Belfast Academical institution consisted of a number of school departments which included classrooms for the teaching of English, writing, Arithmetic, Classics, Languages and Chemistry; apart from classrooms, the school building also originally possessed two dwelling houses utilised by boarders (Belfast Street Directory – 1819). P. D. Hardy in his Twenty-one views in Belfast and its neighbourhood’ was slightly critical of the design, describing the building (in 1836) in the following manner: ‘The edifice erected for this Institution is an extensive range of building surrounded by a wall, with an iron railing in front, situated at the western end of the town, apparently designed to form the centre of a square, on three sides of which, , houses, many of them of a very elegant description, have already been erected. The building itself, however, though presenting rather a good front, is by no means of that architectural character which such an institution would demand’ (Twenty-one views – Brett, p. 20). The Royal Belfast Academical Institution was first depicted on the Ordnance Survey map for Belfast in 1832-33 which recorded the building as an oblong structure possessing west-facing wings to its north and south elevations (these have both been replaced by wings constructed in the 20th century). The map simply captioned the building as ‘College’ and noted that, aside from the construction of the main school building and Christ Church (HB26/50/025) to the northwest of the site, none of the remaining land in College Square had been developed at that time. The contemporary Townland Valuations set the rateable value of the Institution at £320 in the 1830s. Lewis, also writing in the 1830s, noted that the schoolhouse was completed at a total cost of £28,954 3s. 8d. including furnishings and teaching apparatus and in 1837 the Institution provided education for approximately 410 pupils. Lewis also noted that the majority of candidates for the Presbyterian ministry in Ireland received their university education at the Institution which, at that time, was patronised by the Seceding Synod of Ireland and the Synod of Ulster. Until the mid-19th century the Institution was capable of bestowing a Masters Degree upon its students seeking a career in ministry (Lewis). In 1834 the detached three-storey extension was erected to the north of the original building; this was erected in a sympathetic style in brown-brick and was designed by John Millar (c. 1811-1876), a local architect who designed a number of Presbyterian churches throughout Ulster (Dictionary of Irish Architects). By the second edition of the Ordnance Survey map (1858) there had been little alteration to the layout of the Square, however Millar’s northern extension was first depicted on that map. In 1860 Griffith’s Valuation increased the total value of the Institution to £345. The main alteration to Royal Belfast Academical Institution between 1860 and c. 1900 was the erection of a detached Mathematics House and Common House (situated in the rear of the school in the middle of the Square), and three additional classrooms and a science laboratory block (which extended from the original west-facing wing on the north side of the building). These additions were completed 1878 by Thomas Jackson & Son, a Belfast-based partnership that operated between 1867 and at least 1878, making the alteration work one of the last contracts undertaken by the family firm (Irish Builder, 353; Dictionary of Irish Architects). By the 1900 Belfast Revaluation the total value of the Academical Institution had been greatly increased to £1,579 as a result of the additional work carried out at the site during the late-19th century; however, a plan included by the valuer notes that the 1878 block extending from the school, was no longer utilised as classrooms but was a recreation and administration wing including a swimming bath, ball alley, gymnasium and offices for the school’s administrators. Additional minor alteration work was carried out to the school in 1901 when Blackwood & Jury inserted a physics laboratory into one of the rooms of the school; however the next significant change came in 1900-07 when, due to financial difficulties, the governors of Royal Belfast Academical institution sold a portion of College Square directly in front of Soane’s original building; this was acquired by the Municipal Technical Institute who constructed the five-storey Municipal Technical Building on the site. Further change came in 1914-1915 when Watt, Tulloch & Fitzsimons added the current three-storey redbrick block extending from the southern elevation of the original school building. The construction resulted in the demolition of the original wing that had been erected in 1810-14 (Irish Builder, p. 327). By the cancellation of the Annual Revisions in 1930 the total value of the Royal Belfast Academical Institution had been adjusted to £1,092, however under the First General Revaluation of property in Northern Ireland (1935) the value of the site was increased to £1,735, partially due to an expansion of the recreation and administration block by Robert Hanna Gibson in 1932 (Irish Builder, p. 614). There was no further valuation to the site undertaken for over two decades due to the disruption caused by the Second World War; however in 1956 the second revaluation increased the value to £2,160. The current edition of the Ordnance Survey map records that by 1959 the northwest extension work (carried out by Thomas Jackson & Son in 1878) had been demolished. In that year the map recorded that the original west-facing wing (extending from the northern elevation) had been demolished along with the recreation and administration wing; the former buildings were replaced with the modern four-storey wing that currently abuts the rear elevation to the north of Soane’s building. Further, the former detached Mathematics House in the centre of College Square had been replaced by the current modern block that extends westwards towards Durham Street; this was erected in 1957 and was designed as a dining hall for pupils and teachers. By the end of the second revaluation of property in 1972 the total value of Royal Belfast Academical institution had been increased to £8,240 as a result of the alteration of the site in the mid-20th century. Brett states that the development of a residential district surrounding the White Linen Hall in the late-1780s was marred by the natural boundary of the Blackstaff River which forced the development of the city to move westwards; the establishment of the square and its associated streets took place in the early-19th century, led by the erection of the Royal Belfast Academical Institution which acquired the lease for the central square in 1808. College Square concluded the Wellington Place development of the 1790s and both areas were laid out to provide ‘superior terraces’ bounding idyllic residential boulevards and the large Georgian square (Brett: Georgian Belfast, p. 30). The Royal Belfast Academical Institution was established by a hastily-formed Management Committee whose agent, Adam McClean, approached John Soane to design a building ‘combining the functions of a school and a university college.’ Soane’s complex Doric Greek designs exceeded the expectations of the committee but also far exceeded their budget; Soane revised his original design and construction of the current simplified facade commenced in 1810 when the foundation stone was laid by the 2nd Marquess of Donegall who provided the plot of land. Brett states that the work went slowly due to the disruption caused by the Napoleonic Wars which resulted in material shortages; however the school was finally opened on 1st February 1814 (Brett, Twenty-one views, p. 20; Brett, Buildings of Belfast, p. 15). Primarily utilised as an educational establishment since 1810-14 (and also acting as a university until the mid-19th century), during the cholera epidemic of 1832 and an outbreak of Typhus in 1847, the Institution was used as an emergency hospital (Patton; Belfast an illustrated yearbook). Throughout its 200 year history, the Royal Belfast Academical Institution has been greatly extended from its original form; the availability of an expanse of undeveloped land in College Square allowed the school administrators to build westwards, however the eastern portion of the square facing onto College Square East was maintained as school grounds and playing fields. Jamieson states that, due to the existence of the grounds, the Institution was often approached with offers to sell off a section of its land for building purposes; after the granting of city status in 1888 the administrators greeted a request to sell a portion of their land towards the erection of a new Cathedral in College Square. The negotiations fell through, but in 1900, due to mounting debts, the administrators sold off the north-west corner of the square to the Belfast Corporation at £1,350 per annum (Jamieson). The erection of the Municipal Technical Institute in 1900-07 has been described by Brett as ‘an environmental disaster,’ whilst Larmour stated that ‘the full effect of the main facade, closing the vista along Wellington Place and setting the tone for the later Georgian development of College Square, was spoilt’ by the erection of the monumental five-storey building (Brett, Twenty-one views, p. 20; Larmour, p. 3). Extension work carried out in 1914-15, 1932 and the construction of additional school buildings in 1957 greatly increased the capacity of the school, however no discernible alteration had been made to the main facade of the building by the First Survey Image in 1971. Royal Belfast Academical Institution was listed in 1975 and since that time has continued to operate as a local Secondary Grammar School. The school possesses a distinguished Alumni list of which John Miller Andrew (2nd Prime Minister of Northern Ireland), Thomas Andrews (Chief designer at Harland & Wolff), Michael Longley (a local poet) and Dawson Stelfox (the first Irishman to climb Mount Everest) are only a small number. In recent decades a number of modern school buildings have been constructed to the west of the main building, however these are of no historic importance. Christ Church (HB26/50/025), a Church of Ireland house of worship dating from 1833, was acquired by the Institution in 1996 having lain vacant and in a state of disrepair for several years; the former church was restored by Consarc Design Group in 2001-03 and is currently utilised as the school’s computing library and information centre (Rodgers). The facade of Soane’s original Georgian building was recently restored and refurbished in 2012. 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/6/1/61/3 – Third Edition Ordnance Survey Map 1901-02 4. PRONI OS/6/1/61/4 – Fourth Edition Ordnance Survey Map 1931 5. PRONI OS/6/1/61/5 – Fifth Edition Ordnance Survey Map 1938 6. PRONI VAL/1/B/720A-B – Townland Valuation c. 1830 7. PRONI VAL/2/B/7/4B – Griffith’s Valuation 1860 8. PRONI VAL/12/B/43/E/1-13 – Annual Revisions 1862-1896 9. PRONI VAL/12/B/43/15-22 – Annual Revisions 1897-1930 10. PRONI VAL/7/B/12/49 – Belfast Revaluation 1900 11. PRONI VAL/3/B/3/14 – First General Revaluation of Northern Ireland 1935 12. PRONI VAL/4/B/7/38 – Second General Revaluation of Northern Ireland 1956-72 13. Irish Builder, Vol. 20 (1 Dec 1878); Vol. 43 (6 Jun 1901); Vol. 56 (23 May 1914); Vol. 74 (2 Jul 1932). 14. George Benn’s The History of the town of Belfast (1823) 15. Lewis’ Topographical Dictionary of Ireland (1837) 16. Belfast Street Directories (1819-1943) 17. First Survey Record – HB26/50/023 (No Date) 18. First Survey Image – HB26/50/023 (1971) 19. Ordnance Survey Map – 130-13SE (1959) Secondary Sources 1. Brett, C. E. B., ‘Buildings of Belfast: 1700-1914’ Belfast: Friar’s Bush Press, 1985. 2. Brett, C. E. B., ‘Georgian Belfast, 1750-1850: Maps, buildings and trades’ Dublin: Royal Irish Academy, 2004. 3. Brett, C. E. B; Hardy, P. D., ‘Twenty-one views in Belfast and its neighbourhood’ Belfast: Ulster Architectural Heritage Society, 2005 (being a reprint and update of Hardy’s 1836 work). 4. Jamieson, J., ‘The history of the Royal Belfast Academical Institution: 1810-1960’ Belfast: Royal Belfast Academical Institution, 1959. 5. Larmour, P., ‘Belfast: An illustrated architectural guide’ Belfast: Ulster Architectural Heritage Society, 1987. 6. Patton, M., ‘Central Belfast: An historical gazetteer’ Belfast: Ulster Architectural Heritage Society, 1993. 7. Patton, M., ‘Belfast: An illustrated yearbook’ Belfast: Appletree Press, 1993. 8. Rodgers, R. J., ‘The history of Royal Belfast Academical Institution: 1960-2006’ Belfast: Royal Belfast Academical institution, 2007. Online Resources Dictionary of Irish Architects -

Criteria for Listing

Architectural Interest

A. Style B. Proportion C. Ornamentation D. Plan Form H-. Alterations detracting from building I. Quality and survival of Interior J. Setting

Historic Interest

V. Authorship W. Northern Ireland/International Interest Z. Rarity


Detached symmetrical multi-bay three-storey pilastered Georgian brick school, dated 1810, to the designs of Sir John Soane. Rectangular on plan facing east with a three-storey red brick wing abutting the rear elevation to the south, built c.1915, and a further four-storey wing abutting the rear elevation to the north, built c.1960. Detached multi-bay three-storey brick block to the north fronting onto College Square North, built c.1835. This austere Georgian building stands as the only example of Soane’s work in the city of Belfast and constitutes one of the grandest civic structures in the city. Although compromised by more recent alterations, much historic fabric and detailing survive, both internally and externally, and it continues in use as an academic institution. While the partial loss of its front grounds detracts from its original setting, the school survives as a representative of the lost Georgian character of Belfast city centre. It is a fine example of the type and the work of a significant and important architect.

General Comments

Date of Survey

21 December 2012