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Historic Building Details

HB Ref No:

Extent of Listing:
Parliament building, walls & lamp standards

Date of Construction:
1920 - 1939

Address :
Parliament Buildings Northern Ireland Assembly Stormont Estate Belfast BT4 3XX


Survey 2:

Date of Listing:
13/03/1987 00:00:00

Date of De-listing:

Current Use:
Parliament Building

Former Use
Parliament Building

Conservation Area:

Industrial Archaeology:





OS Map No:

IG Ref:
J4014 7514

Owner Category

Local Govt

Exterior Description And Setting

Detached symmetrical multi-bay four-storey over basement Neoclassical Portland limestone parliament building with central portico and attic block, completed in 1932, to the designs of Arnold Thornely, and opened by the Prince of Wales Edward VII. Quadrangular on plan, facing south and arranged around a central wing and two courtyards. Set on an elevated site at the north end of the Stormont Estate encircled by a paved terrace with a large flight of stone steps to the front. Flat roofs hidden behind blind parapet wall. No rainwater goods to the external elevations. Cast-iron ogee hoppers and round downpipes to the internal courtyards. Portland limestone ashlar walling, channel-rusticated to the ground floor over raised and moulded plinth course (partial raised basement). Crown cornice to base of parapet comprises; architrave and frieze having wreaths surmounted by dentilated course and drip cornice embellished with anthemion and palmettes interspersed with lion heads. A platband with Vitruvian scroll over the ground floor and first floor sill course serve as a continuous apron and a plinth course to the colonnaded elevations. Square-headed window openings with flush sills and largely 8/8 timber sash windows with slender ogee horns. Sill blocks to the ground floor only with rosettes. 8-pane swivel timber windows to basement level with cast-iron grilles. Symmetrical front elevation is 27 windows wide with the central seven windows forming a shallow breakfront, fronted by a pedimented Ionic portico and rising as a prominent attic block surmounted by a statue depicting Britannia. The attic block is embellished with an elaborate frieze decorated with Irish elk heads and anthemions, surmounted by a drip cornice with anthemions and scrolls. The prostyle hexastyle Ionic portico rises from a rusticated ground floor base with six fluted Giant Ionic order columns set on plinth blocks within pierced balustrade. Responding pilasters flank the window openings. The cornice is detailed as above and the tympanum of the pediment is filled with carved statuary depicting Ulster presenting a flame of loyalty to Britain and the Commonwealth. The first floor windows are aediculated with architrave surrounds and flanked by scrolled console brackets supporting hood cornice. Three square-headed door openings to the ground floor flanked by a pair of window openings with multi-pane bronze windows. The door openings have decorative architrave surrounds flanked by scrolled console brackets supporting hood cornices and housing double-leaf hardwood paneled doors with fish-scale brass glazed panels. Doors open onto raised paved platform with universal access ramps to either side and steps to the front. Inscribed stone to portico states; “This foundation stone / was laid by his grace the / Duke of Abercorn K.G., K.P., / the first governor of / Northern Ireland. On / the 19th day of May. 1928. Arnold Thornley / Architect. Stewart & Partners Ltd. / Builders”. Symmetrical west side elevation is 11 windows wide with a central colonnaded shallow breakfront (7 windows wide). The parapet to the breakfront is balustraded. The central five windows (above ground floor) are recessed with the central three windows framed by engaged Giant Ionic order fluted columns while other windows are framed by shallow Giant Doric pilasters. To the central bay is an advanced entrance porch comprising an original hardwood swivel door with fish-scale brass glazing and overlight, framed by an architrave surround embellished with rosettes. Large foliate scrolled console brackets flank the opening supporting a deep cornice surmounted by athemions and a central carved shield. Door opens onto paved raised platform and nosed steps with two cast-iron standards lamps flanking the door opening. Porch is flanked by a pair of square-headed door openings with architrave surrounds, doors as per above and multi-pane overlights. Rear elevation is 27 windows wide with the central five windows forming a breakfront. Largely detailed as per front elevation with the end bays to both the breakfront and entire elevation framed by Giant Doric order pilasters. Symmetrical east side elevation is 11 windows wide and detailed as per west side elevation. Roof Not visible RWG Cast-iron Walling Portland limestone ashlar Windows Timber sash Setting: Set on an elevated site at the north end of the Stormont Estate encircled by a large terrace paved in granite and enclosed by a balustraded wall having elaborate cast-iron standard lamps. Bitmac parking areas to east and west with a recently installed steel retaining wall to the rear embankment and the Craigavon memorial garden to the east (HB26/13/018). Large flight of limestone steps descend through the front terraced lawns and a bitmac front area all enclosed by steel railings. Five roads converge at a roundabout to the front of the parliament with Lord Carson memorial to the centre (HB26/13/019) with the central avenue opening onto Newtownards Road at the principal entrance gates (HB26/13/020) and a further lodge and entrance screen to the west on Massey Avenue (HB26/13/021), both also designed by Arnold Thornley. The principle avenues from the Newtownards Road and Massey Avenue are lined with pairs of well-proportioned, fluted, cast-iron lamp standards, with bronze and glass lanterns with foliated detailing; there are 20 pairs lining the avenue to the main entrance steps from Newtownards Road and 4 pairs on the avenue from Massey Avenue with 8 laid in a circle around the statue of Lord Carson (HB26/13/019).


Thornely, Sir Arnold

Historical Information

Following the Government of Ireland Act (1920) Northern Ireland was established as a self-governing part of the United Kingdom with Belfast as it’s provincial capital. A public building scheme was subsequently initiated in the decade following the partition of Ireland, to construct headquarters and venues for many political, judicial and cultural institutions that had previously had their bases in Dublin. The Royal Courts of Justice (1928-33) and the Ulster Museum (1929) are examples of this initiative, but by far the most ambitious and necessary project was the construction of the Parliament Buildings at Stormont in East Belfast, which provided a central meeting place for the new Northern Ireland Government. Brett states that Parliament Buildings was a politically significant edifice in the early formation of Northern Ireland. Together with public building such as the City Hall and the Law Courts, ‘architecturally they constitute the corporate expression of embattled Unionism, and of an effort (perhaps largely unconscious) to convert a brash and sprawling industrial centre into a politico-religious capital city … [an outward expression that Belfast required] as the capital of a subordinate government’ (Brett, p. 54). The search for a site for the new parliament began almost immediately after the passing of the Government of Ireland Act, although it would be a decade before the Northern Ireland parliament would meet at the new site. In the interim period temporary accommodations were found to house the parliament and the various government departments; in the decade prior to Stormont’s opening, the parliament met at Belfast City Hall (HB26/50/001) and at the Presbyterian Assembly College on Botanic Avenue (HB26/27/004). The new ministries and government departments were housed in various office buildings scattered around Belfast’s city centre. There were originally a number of potential sites for the establishment of the new parliament buildings, all of which were located in Belfast. Belvoir Park, Belfast Castle and Orangefield were rejected and a proposal to buy the Assembly College outright was quickly voted down. In September 1921 the estate and manor house at Stormont Castle was selected as the perfect site. The parliament voted in approval of the decision on 20th September 1921 noting that ‘the place where the new Parliament Houses and Ministerial Buildings shall be erected and as the place to be determined as the seat of the Government of Northern Ireland as and when suitable provision has been made therefore.’ In December 1921 the Stormont Estate was purchased by the Commissioners of Public Works and Buildings of the Imperial Government at a cost of £20,334 (UAHS). Stormont Castle (see HB26/13/014 for full history) was established in c. 1830 as the residence of the Rev. John Cleland. Cleland’s original dwelling was converted into the current Scots Baronial mansion house in 1858 and remained in private ownership until 1920 when the estate was placed on the market and subsequently acquired by the Northern Ireland Government. The original intention was to demolish the mansion in order to make way for the new parliament buildings. Stormont Castle was ultimately incorporated into the plans for the estate and, from 1932, was used as the official residence of the Northern Ireland Prime Minister and the meeting place for the Cabinet of the Northern Ireland Government (Stormont Castle booklet). Although a site had been selected and acquired in 1921, it would be over a decade before the new buildings would be officially opened. The construction of the Parliament Buildings was to be funded by the Imperial Government with building work placed under the supervision of the Board of Works who were responsible to the Treasury. The selection of an architect to design the Parliament Building was the subject of a small controversy. The Board of Works selected Arnold Thornely (1870-1953), a Liverpool-based architect who had designed the Mersey Docks and Harbour Board Building in 1903-07. Members of the profession, both local and in Britain, were angered that such a significant project was granted to an English architect without an open architectural competition. Despite vociferous complaints on both sides of the Irish Sea, the Board of Works kept Thornely as architect as he had been selected from a shortlist (UAHS; DIA). The neo-classical design of Parliament Buildings underwent some change before the current appearance was agreed upon. The first plans of the building were overly grandiose; the Builder notes that the original design consisted of a central four-storey block (which incorporated a massive tower and dome) flanked by two smaller blocks that would accommodate civil service offices. By 1925 the estimated cost of constructing the parliament buildings had risen to over £1,750,000. The Board of Works, the Treasury and the Northern Ireland Government met to revise the designs and cut costs. The cost of construction was lowered to £1,125,000 by merging the formerly separate blocks into a single four-storey building and by sacrificing the central dome of the building. Gallagher’s Stormont: The House on the Hill records that despite only one large building being constructed, the intended name ‘Parliament Buildings’ was retained in the plural as a number of offices were originally envisaged (UAHS; Gallagher, pp 30-31). Preparation of the site had begun as early as March 1923, although it was not until 19th May 1928 that the foundation stone was laid by the Governor of Northern Ireland, the Duke of Abercorn. The construction work was undertaken by Stewart & Partners Ltd. of Belfast, Dublin and London who submitted a £300,000 tender for the work and had also been responsible for the construction of the Royal Courts of Justice. The Natural Stone Database records that the façade of Parliament Buildings was primarily constructed of Portland Limestone with locally-quarried Mourne Granite employed for the plinth. The UAHS records that the Portland Stone (which was used for many public buildings in Belfast), ‘was required at a rate never before demanded in Ireland’ with over 135,000 cubic feet utilised (Natural Stone Database; UAHS). The main structure of the Parliament Buildings was completed in 1931. Gallagher described the completed building ‘in the Greek tradition with an Ionic temple-front in the centre … from the top of the building, Britannia and her guardian lions look out over Belfast, while a group of statuary on the pediment below depicts Ulster presenting a golden flame of loyalty to Britain and the Commonwealth … lacking in external embellishment, the building gains impressiveness from its imposing scale and proportion.’ The interior layout of the new structure has not been fundamentally altered since the 1930s. Parliament Buildings consists of a Central Hall flanked by wings for the Senate Chamber and Commons Chamber (the Upper and Lower Houses of Parliament). The interior decoration of the building was undertaken by G. Morrow & Son of Clifton Street and was heavily modelled on the inner décor and ornamentation of Westminster. There are a vast number of interior features that deserve mention, but one of the most unique is the chandelier in the Central Hall which was a gift from Kaiser Wilhelm to his English uncle, King Edward VII. The chandelier originally hung in Windsor Castle but it was removed during the First World War and was subsequently gifted to the Northern Ireland Government by King George V (UAHS; Gallagher; DIA). The Parliament Buildings were ceremoniously opened on 16th November 1932 by the Prince of Wales (the future King Edward VIII) on behalf of his father George V. Prior to the opening the various governmental departments had vacated their provisional offices throughout Belfast and had taken up occupancy in their new accommodation at Stormont. The first parliamentary session took place on the 22nd November 1932, less than a week after the official opening and, since that time, the Parliament Buildings has been utilised as the meeting place for the different forms of the Northern Ireland Government. The First Revaluation set the total rateable value of the Parliament Buildings at £21,380 in 1935. Prior to the abolition of the Parliament of Northern Ireland and the establishment of Direct Rule in 1972, Stormont and the Parliament Buildings was viewed as a predominantly Unionist edifice with a number of works of public art celebrating the champions of the unionist movement. In 1933 the bronze statue of Lord Edward Carson (see HB26/13/019) was unveiled in front of the Parliament Buildings by the subject himself. This was followed by the installation of a limestone tomb for the First Prime Minister of Northern Ireland, Lord Craigavon (James Craig), following his death in 1940 (see HB26/13/018). A bronze statue of Lord Craigavon, designed by L. S. Merrifield, was subsequently installed in the Central Hall in 1945 (Gallagher; DIA). During the Second World War the Royal Air Force occupied large portions of Parliament Buildings. The Upper House was converted into an Operations Room for the R.A.F. whilst the Senate were relocated to one of the buildings dining rooms. Due to the bright appearance of the Portland Stone façade and the easily identifiable pattern of the approaching roads it was believed that Stormont would be an easy target for the Luftwaffe and so the R.A.F. coated Parliament Buildings with a combination of asphalt and manure in order to make the building blend in with the surrounding grounds and countryside. Following the war, the building returned to civic use and continued to house the Parliament of Northern Ireland until civic unrest and the escalating political situation in the province resulted in the abolition of the parliament and the introduction of Direct Rule in 1972. In that year the total rateable value of Parliament Buildings stood at £37,600. From 1972 the Parliament Buildings was predominantly occupied by the Civil Service and was closed to the public. Despite brief attempts to restore the Northern Ireland Government in 1973 and 1982, it was not until after the Good Friday Agreement in 1998 and subsequent St. Andrew’s Agreements (2006-07) that legislative authority was returned to Northern Ireland and a new power-sharing parliament (known as the Northern Ireland Assembly) formed at Parliament Buildings (UAHS; Gallagher). Prior to devolution, a major restoration of Parliament Buildings was undertaken due to a fire that completely destroyed the Assembly Chamber (Lower House) in January 1995. The fire provided an opportunity to renovate the entire building and between 1995 and 1998 over £22 million was expended on the restoration. The renovation resulted in the construction of a new Assembly Chamber in which was installed two new viewing galleries and modern audio visual systems. The renovation also included the restoration of the façade’s Portland stone, the refurbishment of the interior fittings (including the chandeliers), and the reorganisation of the interior layout to provide an appropriate venue for state functions, corporate events and trade (for example, the opening up of three former rooms provided a 180ft function room known as the ‘Long Gallery’). The restoration work was predominantly carried out by KARL Construction Ltd., but a number of skilled sub-contractors were employed to carry out the variety of work necessitated by the renovation (UAHS; Gallagher). Since the renovation and the devolution of government, the Stormont Estate and Parliament Buildings has re-established its central role in the affairs of Northern Ireland. Formerly known as a predominantly political institution, the Stormont Estate has been opened up as a public space to the community and in recent years has been used as a venue for charity and community events, sporting matches and music concerts. Gallagher concludes that ‘today, Parliament Buildings remains at the heart of Northern Ireland’s political, social and cultural life, and serves as a symbol of inspiration and encouragement to the community as it strives for a future that is peaceful, inclusive, prosperous, stable and fair.’ References Primary Sources 1. PRONI OS/6/3/5/1 – First Edition Ordnance Survey Map (1834) 2. PRONI OS/6/3/5/2 – Second Edition Ordnance Survey Map (1860) 3. PRONI OS/6/3/5/3 – Third Edition Ordnance Survey Map (1901-02) 4. PRONI OS/6/3/5/4 – Fourth Edition Ordnance Survey Map (1919-20) 5. PRONI OS/6/3/5/5 – Fifth Edition Ordnance Survey Map (1938-39) 6. PRONI VAL/1/A/3/5 – Townland Valuation Plan (c. 1830) 7. PRONI VAL/2/B/3/17 – Griffith’s Valuation (1860-61) 8. PRONI VAL/12/B/17/8A-F – Annual Revisions (1864-1929) 9. PRONI VAL/12/B/17/5A - Annual Revisions (1923-1929) 10. PRONI VAL/3/B/4/4 – First General Revaluation of Northern Ireland (1935) 11. PRONI VAL/4/B/3/21 – Second General Revaluation of Northern Ireland (1956-1972) 12. Ordnance Survey Memoirs of Ireland: Vol. 7, Co. Down II (1832-34; 1837) 13. Lewis’ Topographical Dictionary of Ireland (1837) 14. Ulster Town Directories (1843-1943) 15. First Survey Record – HB26/13/013 (1985) 16. First Survey Image – HB26/13/013 (No Date) 17. NIEA HB Records – HB26/13/013 Secondary Sources 1. ‘Stormont Castle’ Belfast: Office of First Minister and Deputy First Minister, c. 2009. 2. ‘Parliament Buildings Stormont: The building, its setting, uses and restoration 1922-1998’ Belfast: Ulster Architectural Heritage Society, 1999. 3. Brett, C. E. B., ‘Buildings of Belfast, 1700-1914’ Belfast: Friars Bush Press, 1985. 4. Dixon, H., ‘An introduction to Ulster Architecture’ Belfast: Ulster Architectural Heritage Society, 2008. 5. Gallagher, J., ‘Stormont: The house on the hill’ Belfast: Booklink, 2008. 6. Larmour, P., ‘Belfast: An illustrated architectural guide’ Belfast: Ulster Architectural Heritage Society, 1987. Online Resources 1. Dictionary of Irish Architects - 2. Natural Stone Database - 3. Northern Ireland Executive -

Criteria for Listing

Architectural Interest

A. Style B. Proportion C. Ornamentation D. Plan Form I. Quality and survival of Interior J. Setting K. Group value

Historic Interest

V. Authorship W. Northern Ireland/International Interest Y. Social, Cultural or Economic Importance Z. Rarity


Following the Government of Ireland Act (1920) Northern Ireland was established as a self-governing part of the United Kingdom with Belfast as it’s provincial capital. A public building scheme was subsequently initiated in the decade following the partition of Ireland, to construct headquarters and venues for many political, judicial and cultural institutions that had previously had their bases in Dublin. The Royal Courts of Justice (1928-33) and the Ulster Museum (1929) are examples of this initiative, but by far the most ambitious and necessary project was the construction of the Parliament Buildings at Stormont in East Belfast, which provided a central meeting place for the new Northern Ireland Government. A detached symmetrical, multi-bay, four-storey over basement Neoclassical Portland limestone parliament building with central portico and attic block, completed in 1932, to the designs of Arnold Thornely. A late exercise in Greek neoclassicism, spectacularly sited on an elevated site. While the building is of immense political and historical importance to Northern Ireland, the fine craftsmanship both internally and externally contribute to the overall significance of the building that now serves as the seat of government and the focal point of the Stormont Estate. It has group value with the other listed structures (HB26/13/014 -21) set within the extensive landscaped grounds of Stormont Estate.

General Comments

Listing Criteria R - Age; S - Authenticity; T - Historic Importance and U – Historic Associations, also apply.

Date of Survey

13 February 2014