Skip to content

Historic Building Details

HB Ref No:

Extent of Listing:

Date of Construction:
1880 - 1899

Address :
Bank Buildings Castle Place Belfast Co Antrim BT1 1BL

Town Parks

Survey 2:

Date of Listing:
27/06/1980 00:00:00

Date of De-listing:

Current Use:

Former Use

Conservation Area:

Industrial Archaeology:





OS Map No:

IG Ref:
J3378 7430

Owner Category


Exterior Description And Setting

Attached symmetrical multi-bay five-storey with attic red sandstone and polished granite classically-styled department store, built between 1885 and 1900, to the designs of W.H. Lynn. Rectangular on plan facing east onto Castle Place with multi-bay side elevations fronting onto Castle Street and Bank Street. Largely gutted by bomb damage in 1975, extensively refurbished c.1979. Replacement natural slate half-hipped roof to the front block set behind balustrade parapet with tall stepped profiled chimneystacks (or ventilation shafts) rising from the four corners. Replacement mansard type roof to the remainder with natural slate steep pitches to the attic storey having dormer windows. Copper-lined segmental-pedimented clock dormer breaking through the parapet to the centre of the front elevation with a metal clock face set in a decoratively carved stone surround and a cartouche to the pediment stating completion date ‘1900’. Dormer flanked by scrolled brackets set on swagged panels and flanked by a pair of urns. To the centre of both side elevations to the front block is a further segmental-pedimented dormer with cartouches to the pediment and paired windows framed by Doric pilasters. All dormers have slated cheeks with dentilled cornices. The roofs to the side elevations have segmental-pedimented dormers with single-pane timber sash windows. To the west end of the south elevation is a tripartite attic block having oculi with swag surrounds, dentilled cornice and surmounted by two chimneystacks. Red sandstone ashlar walling with polished red granite walling to the ground floor and to the first floor of the front block and polished black granite plinth course. Continuous cornice over the ground and first floors with a dentilled and modillioned crown cornice over the third floor and a further dentilled cornice over the attic storey. Square-headed window openings with single-pane timber sash windows to the side elevations, bipartite timber casement to the front elevation and large display windows to the ground floor. Symmetrical front east elevation is six windows side with a series of paired window openings to the attic storey having torus moulded surrounds flanked by squat Doric pilasters having a scallop detail to the base. Giant Corinthian order of polished red granite engaged columns frame the second and third floor windows set into sandstone Doric pilasters with fluted egg-and-dart capitals. Decorative lintel panels between the second and third floors having floral festoons and supported on quarter-engaged Doric pilasters. The two central windows are divided by a polished granite Doric pilaster with the lintel panel having gilded lettering; ‘THE BANK BUILDINGS’. The first floor has a central large thermal window with glazed oculi to the spandrels flanked by polished granite pilasters rising to the full-span cornice and corresponding to the principal entrance below. To either side is a large bipartite fixed-pane display window. Central double-height glazed entrance screen to the ground floor and shop display window to either side all framed by channel-rusticated polished granite Doric pilasters with the cornice rising slightly above the entrance having a scrolled centrepiece and a bronze plaque to the fascia stating; ‘ROBERTSON. LEDLIE. FERGUSON & Co.Ltd.’. South side elevation is twenty windows wide with the easternmost three windows continuing the detailing of the front elevation. The second and third floor windows are framed by Giant Ionic order sandstone pilasters. Architrave surrounds to second and third floor windows with projecting moulded sills supported on brackets. The first floor windows are deeply recessed with a continuous moulded sill course having raised-and-fielded apron panels and splayed outer sills. The ground floor has a series of large display windows (as per front elevation) with ceramic tiled walls. Rear elevation abutted by a six-storey office building built c.1950. North side elevation has the three easternmost windows detailed as per front elevation with the following four windows (now blind) detailed as per the south side elevation. The central section to this elevation is rebuilt in red brick c.1980 with the remainder detailed as per south elevation built in red brick with red sandstone ashlar ground floor and mouldings. All windows to this elevation are blind with the ground floor having ceramic tiled bays to the eastern half. Setting Located on a prominent city centre site at the junction of Royal Avenue, Castle Place, Castle Street and Donegall Place and facing east. Roof: Natural slate RWG: internal Walling : Red sandstone ashlar / polished red granite Windows: timber


Lynn, William Henry

Historical Information

The Bank Buildings, situated at Castle Place and facing towards High Street, is a five-storey turn-of-the-century red sandstone building, designed in 1895 by William Henry Lynn (1829-1915). Lynn, one of the preeminent Belfast-based architects of the late-19th and early-20th centuries, was a former pupil of Charles Lanyon with whom he entered into partnership in 1854 (forming the firm, Lanyon & Lynn); the partnership was dissolved in 1872 after which time Lynn established an independent practise. The Bank Buildings is amongst Lynn’s later contracts; construction of the building commenced as early as 1885 when Lynn rebuilt part of the former buildings on the site in Dumfries Stone. Lynn continued to build along Castle Street; however the main block facing onto Castle Place was not constructed until 1899-1900. Between 1885 and 1900 all of the construction was undertaken by James Henry & Sons of the Crumlin Road (Irish Builder, 1888, p. 16; 1900, p. 394; Dictionary of Irish Architects). In 1885 the initial block of the Bank Buildings was valued at £650; this was raised to £2,050 by 1891 when the last stage of construction ceased prior to the work of 1899-1900. In 1901, with the completion of Lynn’s monumental classical facade, the total value of the Bank Buildings was set at £4,000. In that year the Belfast Street Directory noted that the Bank Buildings were occupied by Robertson, Ledlie, Ferguson & Co. Ltd., textile merchants who utilised the Bank Buildings as a commercial warehouse; the directory described the firm as ‘wholesale and retail linen merchants, woollen drapers, silk merchants and general house furnishers’ (Belfast Street Directory – 1901). Robert, Ledlie, Ferguson & Co. Ltd., continued to trade from the Bank Buildings until the 1970s; by the cancellation of the Annual Revisions in 1930 the value of the building had been increased to £5,750, partially due to the incorporation of buildings on Castle Street in 1925. In 1932 the foundations of the building were repaired whilst alterations to the shop fronts were carried out in 1938 by Hobart & Heron; as a result of the repair work the value of the Bank Buildings was increased to £8,000 by the First General Revaluation of property in Northern Ireland (1935). No further valuation of the structure was undertaken for over two decades due to the outbreak of the Second World War; during the Belfast Blitz of 1941 the Bank Buildings narrowly avoided demolition by falling bombs which levelled much of neighbouring High Street. Despite the war the Bank Buildings continued to operate; by 1943 the commercial property was utilised as a general store, furniture warehouse, linen emporium and had a clothing department for ladies and gents (Belfast Street Directory – 1943). In the aftermath of the war an extension was added on Castle Street in 1952 and as a result the Bank Buildings were increased in value to £10,520 under the second general revaluation which ended in 1972. The Bank Buildings derives its name from Cunningham’s Bank which was founded in 1787 but only operated as a bank until its closure in 1798; Patton states that the former back was converted into a number of dwellings, one of which was utilised by the Bishop of Down as his palace (prior to moving to St. Patrick’s Presbytery in the early-19th century – see HB26/50/158). In 1855 the dwellings were replaced by a four-storey Italianate building by Hawkins, Robertson & Co., a textile firm that became Robertson, Ledlie, Ferguson & Co. Ltd. in the late-19th century. The current building, therefore, is the third known structure to occupy the current site (Patton, p. 55). Already established as one of the most successful architects of the Victorian-era, Brett states that in his later years, W. H. Lynn ‘was determined to produce a building more appropriate to the new century [and] the Bank Buildings do indeed constitute a bridge to the twentieth century,’ made possible by the employment of a steel-framed construction method. Brett commended the ‘successful compromise between a classical style in the upper part of the building and a great expanse of plate glass below [however] the effect is somewhat spoiled’ by the way the Corinthian columns were installed; ‘a most alarming and vertiginous feature of an otherwise dignified design’ (Brett, p. 63). Larmour, writing in 1987, went further in criticising the design, calling Lynn’s Bank Buildings ‘an ungainly looking stone brute in a heavy classical mode [which is] not the pioneering steel framed structure that has been sometimes claimed; rather it is in the conventional manner of the time with cast iron piers inside.’ The clock, which was added upon the buildings completion in 1900, was installed by Sharman D. Neill, a local clockmaker who later had offices at 36-38 Donegall Place (HB26/50/031). Larmour states that the last major block added to the Bank Buildings was the modern six-storey extension on Castle Street which was added in 1952 and was designed by Hobart & Heron who had previously undertaken alteration and repair work at the site (Larmour, p. 65). Robert, Ledlie, Ferguson & Co. Ltd. continued to operate from the site until 1969 when their shares were sold to House of Frasier; however the site was acquired by Boots in 1973 when the company bought over House of Frasier. The facade of the Bank Buildings was damaged in 1975 when three bombs exploded outside the building, resulting in a fire that damaged much of the interiors. The building was not repaired and reopened until 1979 when the Dublin clothing firm, Primark, took over the property and restored the facade and the fire damage. The Bank Buildings were listed in 1980 and have continued to be occupied by Primark for over three decades. 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/12/B/43/E/1-24 – Annual Revisions 1862-1930 7. PRONI VAL/3/B/3/18 – First General Revaluation of Northern Ireland 1935 8. PRONI VAL/4/B/7/36 – Second General Revaluation of Northern Ireland 1956-72 9. Belfast Street Directories (1880-1943) 10. Irish Builder, Vol. 30 (15 Jan 1888); Vol. 42 (15 Jun 1900); Vol. 80 (14 May 1938) 11. First Survey Record – HB26/50/153 (1979) 12. First Survey Image – HB26/50/153 (1980) Secondary Sources 1. Brett, C. E. B., ‘Buildings of Belfast: 1700-1914’ Belfast: Friar’s Bush Press, 1985. 2. Larmour, P., ‘Belfast: An illustrated architectural guide’ Belfast: Ulster Architectural Heritage Society, 1987. 3. Patton, M., ‘Central Belfast: An historical gazetteer’ Belfast: Ulster Architectural Heritage Society, 1993. Online Resources 1. Dictionary of Irish Architects -

Criteria for Listing

Architectural Interest

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

Historic Interest

X. Local Interest V. Authorship


Symmetrical multi-bay five-storey with attic red sandstone and polished granite classically-styled department store, built between 1885 and 1900, to the designs of W.H. Lynn. Rectangular on plan facing east onto Castle Place with multi-bay side elevations fronting onto Castle Street and Bank Street. Occupying the site of a former bank founded in the late eighteenth-century, Bank Buildings replaced a four-storey Italianate bank dating from 1855. Often cited as Ireland’s first steel-framed building, the structural method is clearly expressed through the grid-like fenestration and high window to wall ratio, while the decorative stonework is still clearly of the late nineteenth-century. This is a fine example of High Victorian style reflecting the aspirations of Belfast as a mercantile centre well as a testimonial to the achievements of W.H. Lynn.

General Comments

Date of Survey

29 November 2012