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Historic Building Details

HB Ref No:

Extent of Listing:
Harbour office, lamp standards and boundary railings

Date of Construction:
1840 - 1859

Address :
Belfast Harbour Office Corporation Square Belfast Co. Antrim BT1 3AL

Town Parks

Survey 2:

Date of Listing:
26/06/1979 00:00:00

Date of De-listing:

Current Use:

Former Use

Conservation Area:

Industrial Archaeology:





OS Map No:

IG Ref:
J3435 7497

Owner Category

Exterior Description And Setting

A freestanding symmetrical two-storey Italianate Palazzo style Harbour Office with attics to wings, and partial basement, built in stages; east front was built c.1852 to designs by George Smith; south entrance front and west wing added 1895 to designs by W.H. Lynn. Located between Clarendon Dock and Corporation Square, overlooking Donegall Quay, the building has a U-shaped footprint, facing south with east wing being wider and longer, and attached by link block to a substantial modern wing which extends to north towards Clarendon Dock; west block is abutted to rear by a lower return. Complex arrangement of hipped and pitched natural slate roofs with leaded hips and ridges, with pitched rooflights over stairwells; concealed by parapet. Stone cupola to internal angle of central and east blocks has polygonal leaded roof; it comprises square ashlar sandstone base with filleted corners having full-height round-headed 2/2 sashes to each face (partially infilled with a timber sheeted door to east face), each flanked by pilasters piercing a cornice and rising to a clock (ornate replacement stone carving now over south clock only); rising to a polygonal lantern stage with rebated round-headed openings to each facet; impost mouldings and keyblocks, all topped by a moulded stone architrave and overhanging cornice. Variety of tall ashlar sandstone chimneystacks rising from parapet with tapered stone caps. Leaded parapet gutters and cast-iron downpipes. Walling is ashlar sandstone except where otherwise stated. Band-rusticated ground floor on deep plinth; narrow string courses to cill level and heavy moulded string between floors; heavy overhanging cornice supported on stone console brackets throughout, topped by attic storeys to wings and a balustraded parapet to central block and east elevation. Attics with dentil cornice and balustraded parapet. Windows are round-headed 1/1 sashes with panelled aprons, to ground floor, in alcoved surrounds with keyblocks; first floor windows are rectangular side-hung casements with top-lights, generally with projecting bracketed cills and pediments over; Diocletian windows to attic storey, in moulded reveals surmounted with carved stone festoons. Details described with elevations. Entrance elevation faces south and is symmetrically arranged, comprising recessed central block, six windows wide and fronted by a portico, flanked by projecting wings with attic storeys. The portico is Ionic prostyle tetrastyle in antis, topped by a balustraded parapet, accessed by six stone steps and having round-headed statuary alcoves to antae with scallop shell motif to heads. Stone flagged platform with door to either end flanking three irregularly spaced casement windows with chamfered cills; coffered ceiling. Double-leaf half-glazed principal access doors to left; single varnished timber door to right. To right end is a staged recessed opening descending to basement; window to left end. First floor windows are arranged as an arcade, set in round-headed recesses with ornately carved tympana, archivolt and keyblock. Flanking wings are three windows wide to each floor; first floor windows having outer triangular pediments and central segmental pediments on console brackets. Attic storeys are terminated by panelled piers supporting clustered chimneystacks, Diocletian windows (leaded and stained to west wing) are divided by dwarf piers. West elevation is symmetrical, dominated by a full-height bowed bay with balustraded parapet. Detailing as south, three windows to each floor at bowed bay, flanked by two windows to either side. Cast iron ventilation grilles at low level. North elevation of west wing is abutted by the lower return beneath attic level, plainly detailed with ruled-and-lined rendered walling and plain parapet over a cornice; dentilled cornice between ground floor and mezzanine level, and upper storey. Irregular arrangement of windows to each elevation of return, all 1/1 sashes with plain reveals; continuous stone sill course to upper floor. Four-panelled timber door to north; lift shaft extension and modern glazed porch to east. Main rear (north) elevation comprises L-shaped arrangement (rear of central block and west elevation of east wing); detailing varies slightly having lighter cornice supported on small reeded brackets with paterae between, over dentil course; balustraded parapet over; continuous sill course to first floor; chamfered sills to ground floor. Plain reveals to windows and tall undercut plinth. To right side at each floor is a leaded-and-stained glass Serliana window; two round-headed windows to left over two pairs of narrow rectangular windows with multi-paned square lights over. Multi-facteted corner beneath cupola. West facing section has three 2/2 sash windows to each floor (margin paned to left side first floor) and camber-headed openings to basement plain rectangular openings to right side. North elevation of east wing is abutted by the modern extension; single window to each floor at right; two windows to each floor at left, multi-paned basement openings at ground level (blind to right side). East elevation is symmetrically arranged over basement (cupola forms central feature when viewed from east); comprises recessed central section, four windows wide, flanked by projecting end bays one window wide; first floor windows to projecting bays have segmental pediments and balustraded balconettes to first floor windows; square-headed sidelights to ground floor windows. South cheek of left projecting bay is one window deep, recessed behind principal elevation when viewed from south. Setting: Belfast Harbour Office is set on the west side of Belfast Harbour, accessed from Corporation Square, set back from Donegall Quay and forming part of the Clarendon Dock complex, which includes two late eighteenth- and early nineteenth-century graving docks and the Clarendon Buildings (HB26/50/090A-E). The area to east comprises a car park and a vacant lot enclosed by steel security fencing; views to the Odyssey and Titanic Quarter. To west is Sinclair Seamen’s Presbyterian Church (HB26/50/093), and to north are car parks and the Clarendon Dock development. The front of the building is bounded by cast-iron railings having matching entrance gates; similar railings to entrance steps terminated by granite pedestals supporting lamp standards. Roof: Natural slate Walling: Ashlar sandstone Windows: Timber sash and casement RWG: Lead gutters, cast-iron downpipes.


Smith, Gerald Lynn, William Henry

Historical Information

The Belfast Harbour Office in Corporation Square was constructed between 1852 and 1854 to designs by George Smith; the Builder states that the office cost £7,000 to erect and was designed with a clock tower in an Italianate style. Smith (c. 1792-1869) was employed as Belfast’s harbour engineer between 1839 and 1863 and before coming to Ireland he worked as engineer to the Leeds & Selby Railway. During his time in the position, Smith was also responsible for the Cut which created Queen’s Island as well as the channel between the twin islands, Clarendon Dock, Queen’s Quay and the timber wharfs that line the River Lagan (Builder, p. 693). The Harbour Commissioners Office was first depicted on the second edition of the Ordnance Survey map in 1858 which recorded that only the south-east wing of the building had been constructed at that time; the current entrance and west wings were not added until the end of the 19th century. The contemporary Griffith’s Valuation (1860) valued the completed office at £460. The value of the building remained unaltered for three decades until the Harbour Office underwent its first major extension in 1890-95; the Irish Builder states that the current extension, including the grand portico entrance, was designed by William Henry Lynn; Lynn’s design, sympathetic in style to the original 1854 edifice, was carried out by builders H. & J. Martin (Irish Builder, p. 295). Lynn (1829-1915), a Belfast-based architect went into partnership with Charles Lanyon in 1854; Lanyon & Lynn were responsible for a number of Belfast’s most important civic and public buildings including the Custom House (HB26/50/062). The partnership was dissolved in 1872 at which time Lynn began his own practice; the extension to the Harbour Office occurred late in Lynn’s life, however he continued to work into the early-20th century, notably constructing the extension to Queen’s University in 1910, five years prior to his death (Dictionary of Irish Architects). The extension work of 1890-95 consumed part of Smith’s original block and resulted in an increase in the value of the building to £1,050. There was no subsequent alteration to the value of the Harbour Office by the end of the Annual Revisions in 1930, however, by the First General Revaluation of property in Northern Ireland (1935) the value of the site had risen to £1,650 as a result of general inflation and changes to the valuation system. McCreary states that the new Harbour Office was erected on the site of William Ritchie’s shipyard in Corporation Square. Ritchie (1756-1834) was born in Ayrshire in Scotland; he was invited to Belfast in 1791 and established a pioneering shipbuilding business with his brother Hugh, the first major shipbuilding enterprise in the city. As part of the reorganisation of the land on the Co. Antrim side of the River Lagan, Ritchie cut a long ‘wet’ dock into Donegall Quay; this dock was covered over by Corporation Street by at least 1860 (when the street can be seen on the Ordnance Survey map), however it was here, between the river and the dock that the new Harbour Office was erected in the 1850s (McCreary, pp29-30). Sweetnam writes that it was not until ‘1851 that the Harbour Board decided to build a new office on the former site of Ritchie’s Shipyard at Corporation Square beside the new Clarendon Dock’ (the wet dock had been completed in that year). Prior to the construction of the new building, the Harbour Commission met at the Ballast Office (Larmour noted that this building was ‘both too small and less conveniently placed up river) which was subsequently demolished and replaced with the Custom House (Larmour, p. 55; Sweetman, p. 11). Dixon wrote of the new Harbour Office, ‘like many of the mid-century public buildings in Belfast that were concerned with trade or commerce, the model for the architecture was the renaissance palaces of Italy, homes of many of the great merchants and financiers of early modern Europe … [the office appears] as if it were standing in Florence’ (Larmour, p. 39). The extension work carried out three decades after the office’s completion, resulted in the absorption of two-thirds of Smith’s original design; the seaward elevation, however remains mostly intact. The new extension to the Harbour Commissioners Office was opened on 18th January 1896; McCreary states that the original building had been previously unable to cope with the volume of trade and commerce entering Belfast’s expanding port. The extension work cost a total of £14,369, the stated aim was to improve the offices to a level of splendour and grandeur that reflected the confidence and success of the time; the Ionic portico entrance, Grand Staircase and immense Public Hall were all inaugurated during this extension (McCreary, pp. 123-24; Larmour, p. 55). Brett, writing in 1985, acknowledged the splendour of the interior writing that ‘the Board Room is one of the handsomest rooms in Belfast, with excellent stucco design;’ however he was also critical of the later extension work noting in particular that the ‘huge multi-columnar Public Room and the entrance hall are too consciously splendiferous to be entirely successful’ (Brett, p. 29). There was little change to the site until 1971 when the second major improvement was made; in that year the modern extension was completed to the north of the original Victorian blocks. This extension block was named ‘THE WILLIAM RITCHIE BUILDING’ in reference to the shipbuilder who established the first major shipbuilding industry at the site; Ritchie is also commemorated by an Ulster History Circle on the modern façade which reads ‘William RITCHIE / 1756-1834 / Pioneer / Shipbuilder’ (Sweetnam, p. 22). The Belfast Harbour Commissioners Office was listed category A in 1979; the mid-Victorian building has maintained its original character despite the late-Victorian extension work, however Patton states that the modern extension contributes little to the overall appearance of the site, calling it ‘a mundane four-storey office block’ (Patton, p. 85). References Primary Sources 1. PRONI OS/6/1/61/2 – Second Edition Ordnance Survey Map 1858 2. PRONI OS/6/1/61/3 – Third Edition Ordnance Survey Map 1901-02 3. PRONI OS/6/1/61/4 – Fourth Edition Ordnance Survey Map 1931 4. PRONI OS/6/1/61/5 – Fifth Edition Ordnance Survey Map 1938 5. PRONI VAL/2/B/7/2A – Griffith’s Valuation 1860 6. PRONI VAL/12/B/43/B/4 – Annual Revisions 1862-1881 7. PRONI VAL/12/B/43/B/10 – Annual Revisions 1882-1896 8. PRONI VAL/12/B/43/B/14 – Annual Revisions 1897-1905 9. PRONI VAL/12/B/43/B/19 – Annual Revisions 1906-1915 10. PRONI VAL/12/B/43/B/21 – Annual Revisions 1916-1930 11. PRONI VAL/3/B/3/8 – First General Revaluation of Northern Ireland 1935 12. Builder, Vol. 17 (20 Oct 1852) 13. Irish Builder, Vol. 32 (15 Dec 1890) 14. Ordnance Survey Map – 130-13SE (1959) 15. First Survey Record – HB26/50/094 (1994) Secondary Sources 1. Brett, C. E. B., ‘Buildings of Belfast: 1700-1914’ Belfast: Friar’s Bush Press, 1985. 2. Dixon, H; Walker, B., ‘In Belfast Town: 1864-1880’ Belfast: The Friar’s Bush Press, 1996. 3. Larmour, P., ‘Belfast: An illustrated architectural guide’ Belfast: Ulster Architectural Heritage Society, 1987. 4. Patton, M., ‘Central Belfast: An historical gazetteer’ Belfast: Ulster Architectural Heritage Society, 1993 5. McCreary, A., ‘Titanic Port: An illustrated history of Belfast Harbour’ Belfast: Booklink, 2010. 6. Sweetnam, R; Nimmons, C., ‘Port of Belfast: 1785-1985’ Belfast: Belfast Harbour Commissioners, 1985. Online Resources 1. Dictionary of Irish Architects -

Criteria for Listing

Architectural Interest

A. Style B. Proportion C. Ornamentation D. Plan Form H+. Alterations enhancing the building I. Quality and survival of Interior J. Setting K. Group value

Historic Interest

V. Authorship W. Northern Ireland/International Interest


Belfast Harbour Office is a two-storey Italianate Palazzo style building with attics to wings, and partial basement, built in stages; the east front was built c.1850 to designs by George Smith; south entrance front and west wing were added in 1895 to designs by W.H. Lynn. The building is one of the finest set pieces in the city, defined by fine detailing throughout, representative of the confidence and aspiration in the industrial and commercial development of the city, which was focussed on the developing port. Of particular interest among the opulent interior features are the hand-painted stained glass windows, defining the ideals of the Victorian industrial era in Belfast, and representing the status of the City as a beacon of international trade and commerce. Its architectural, historic and craft skills make the Harbour Office is one of Belfast’s landmark buildings, defining an era, and the importance of maritime heritage within the context of the developing Victorian City.

General Comments

Date of Survey

26 July 2012