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Historic Building Details

HB Ref No:

Extent of Listing:
Church & railings

Date of Construction:
1780 - 1799

Address :
First Presbyterian Church 41 Rosemary Street Belfast County Antrim BT1 1QB

Town Parks

Survey 2:

Date of Listing:
03/06/1975 00:00:00

Date of De-listing:

Current Use:

Former Use

Conservation Area:

Industrial Archaeology:





OS Map No:
130-13 NE

IG Ref:
J3383 7444

Owner Category

Church - Presbyterian

Exterior Description And Setting

Free-standing double-height brick First Presbyterian church, dated c.1783, to the designs of Roger Mulholland, with symmetrical stucco and stone fronted two-storey entrance block added c.1833. Elliptical on plan with two-storey entrance block to the south front elevation and double-height rear projection. Natural slate roofs throughout, elliptical with flat central section over sanctuary, hipped behind balustrated parapet to entrance block. Moulded eaves cornice throughout supporting cast iron rainwater goods on large iron brackets. Walling is rebrick, handmade in English garden wall bond to elliptical section, machine-made redbrick laid in Flemish bond to side walls of entrance block. Facade is stucco over band-rusticated ground floor, separated by a plain tooled stone platband simply incised with ‘First Presbyterian Church’. Windows are round headed throughout with exception of those to the classically detailed first floor of the entrance block, which are square-headed with plain stucco architraves having drip mould. Original windows comprising 1/1 timber sashes with horns to entrance block, stained glass windows to sanctuary having rendered reveals, brick voussoirs and projecting painted masonry sills; margin panes to gallery. Symmetrical entrance block faces south and is classically styled, three openings wide at each floor about a central round-headed double-leaf timber-panelled entrance door incorporating semi-circular transom; the central voussoir reads ‘FOUNDED XVII CENTURY / REBUILT 1783’. Flanking ground floor windows are set in recesses. First floor openings each framed by paired Ionic pilasters supporting a plain entablature with dentil moulding to cornice. Returning elevations of the entrance block have original flush panelled doors to ground floor and a window to first floor. Elliptical west side elevation is six windows wide with plain glazed windows to the upper level having margin lights and stained glass to the lower level with weather glazing over. Rear elevation abutted by two-storey redbrick projection housing the organ, Minister’s room and daise, built c.1900 with lean-to projections to either side. The upper level has a Venetian type window opening with stone sills and weather glazing to stained glass windows. Elliptical east side elevation as per west elevation. Setting Located on the north side of Rosemary Street in the centre of commercial Belfast encroached by taller and later commercial buildings with a walled bitmac parking area to the rear and railed bitmac are to the front. Partial original nineteenth-century railing on moulded plinth wall remains to the west of the front area. Roof: Natural slate RWG: Cast-iron Walling : Redbrick / stucco / sandstone Windows : Timber sash / fixed-pane / leaded stained glass


Mulholland, Roger

Historical Information

The First Presbyterian Church in Rosemary Street was built in 1781-3 to designs by Roger Mulholland and is now the earliest surviving place of worship in the city. (Patton) The building was designed on an elliptical plan for the Unitarian congregation of Dr Crombie at a cost of £2,300 and opened on 1st June 1783, replacing an earlier meeting house on the site. Francis Hiorne of Warwick who was involved in the design of St Anne’s Church also contributed plans, for which he was thanked, and may have designed the interior layout of pews. (Walker) The church is shown, uncaptioned, on the first edition OS map of 1832-3. An early meeting house on the site was built in 1672, and a second congregation built another behind it in 1708. A third Presbyterian church, to the east, was added in 1722. (Brett) The congregation who built the present church and its antecedent was established in 1644, meeting in John Street or Hercules Street before the first meeting house was built. Rev Samuel Haliday, minister in 1719, refused to subscribe to the Westminster Confession of Faith and the church has been non-subscribing since that time. Dr Crombie who built the present church, was the son of a Perth stone-mason and according to Patton, an ‘enthusiastic Volunteer who sometimes preached in uniform’. (Patton) The Rosemary Street Presbyterian church was rebuilt to designs by Mulholland, the first native architect to have a significant influence in Belfast. (Larmour) The building was much admired in the late eighteenth century, John Wesley, who preached in the church in 1789 calling it, ‘the completest place of worship I have ever seen…so finely proportioned that it is beautiful in the highest degree’. (Patton) The Earl Bishop of Derry who was engaged in constructing a number of curved structures himself, donated fifty guineas towards the building fund. (Walker) Brett suggests that Mulholland learned his craft from the Gibbsian architect Michael Priestley of Derry and would have been familiar with classical pattern books. The minutes of the building committee show a clear desire for an elliptical structure but also reveal the difficulty of roofing such a building. (Perspective) The present pulpit was a gift from the ‘Ladies of Belfast’ of various denominations in 1783 and cost £27.18s.4d. (Information Leaflet) The original pedimented portico was replaced in 1833, (and the pediments over windows removed) the new deeper portico allowing easier access to the gallery and sessions room. The church was listed in Griffith’s Valuation of 1856-64 at £550. A Venetian window marking the fiftieth anniversary of the ordination of Rev William Bruce was installed in 1862 (later replaced due to bomb damage) and a sounding board behind the pulpit was removed to allow the window to be more easily seen. The board was re-used as a table which has been retained in the sessions room. (Walker) Boundary walls and gates (now gone) were built to designs by Samuel Patrick Close in 1899. ( More significant alterations were made in 1906-7 when the church was extended to the rear to plans by Young & Mackenzie, in order to accommodate an organ. ( The organ, by Messrs Lewis of London was the gift of the Misses Riddel and was designed and ‘played-in’ by the blind organist Dr Alfred Hollins. The action is the rare tubular pneumatic, originally powered by mains water but eventually replaced by an electric blower following complaints from the water authority. The church installed an organ as early as 1853 and prior to this music was provided by an unaccompanied choir. (Information Leaflet) The church contains a number of fine neo-classical monuments. Notable among these are the monument to John Holmes Houston who died in 1843 and that to Rev William Bruce (d 1841) which was designed by Charles Lanyon. Patrick MacDowell of Belfast, who carved the figure of Europe on the Albert Memorial in Hyde Park, carved the William Tennent (d 1832) memorial. Tennent is stated to have been ‘firm when exposed to the reactions of power’, a reference to the 1798 rebellion when meetings of United Irishmen are said to have taken place in the church. The church’s First World War memorial was carved by Rosamund Praeger. (Walker) The stained glass windows are thought to be the work of Meyer of Munich and include a memorial to Samuel Martin, founder of the Sick Children’s Hospital. Two 1920s lights are by Ward & Partners. (Patton) A more modern window behind the organ is a replacement due to bomb damage in the 1970s. (Walker) Restoration under the supervision of G F Ellis, took place in the mid 1970s, following bomb damage, during which the varnish on the oak fittings was removed as were the flagstones in the aisles, which was replaced by carpet. (Information leaflet) By 1984 the wooden floor was suffering from severe rot and Heritage Repairs Ltd were engaged to dismantle and replace the box pews, replace the rotted timbers and lay a new concrete floor. (Heritage Repairs) Larmour judges the interior ‘delightful’ and notes the ‘curving and swaying balcony on Composite columns’ while Brett calls the church, ‘an enchanting boat-like composition’. References: Primary Sources 1. PRONI OS/6/1/61/1 – First Edition OS Map 1832-3 2. PRONI OS/6/1/61/3 – Third Edition OS Map 1858 3. PRONI OS/6/1/61/4 – Fourth Edition OS Map 1901-2 4. PRONI OS/6/1/61/6 – Sixth Edition OS Map 1931 1. Griffith’s Valuation online 2. Heritage Repairs Ltd, 1985 3. Perspective Vol 17, Iss 1, Jan/Feb 2008 p30-4

Criteria for Listing

Architectural Interest

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

Historic Interest

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


Free-standing double-height brick First Presbyterian church dated c.1783 to designs by Roger Mulholland with symmetrical stucco and stone fronted two-storey entrance block added c.1833 and further extended to the rear to plans by Young & Mackenzie in 1906-7. Often cited as the oldest church in Belfast, this contains one of the few Georgian church interiors in the City. The site represents significant history with respect to the Presbyterian Church here: there was an earlier meeting house on the site from 1672, and a second congregation built another behind it in 1708. A third Presbyterian church, to the east, was added in 1722. In this latest building much historic fabric and detailing of fine quality survive and the later changes represent the ongoing development of the site. The volume of the main space is an assured exercise in church design with its oval plan form and full balcony. There are several monuments to major citizens of the City, including Samuel Martin, founder of the Sick Children’s Hospital, and the work of sculptors of note, including Patrick MacDowell of Belfast (associated the Albert Memorial in London) and Rosamund Praeger. The stained glass is thought to be the work of Meyer of Munich and there are later designs by Ward & Partners. The organ is unusual with a rare tubular pneumatic action. Altogether, the church is one of the finest examples of the type containing much in the way of original architectural and historic detail and representing part of the early development of the City as well as the work of an architect of note.

General Comments

Date of Survey

03 October 2012