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Historic Building Details

HB Ref No:

Extent of Listing:
Office and Tower

Date of Construction:
1600 - 1649

Address :
The Tower House 34 Quay Street Bangor Co Down BT20 5ED


Survey 2:

Date of Listing:
30/08/1979 00:00:00

Date of De-listing:

Current Use:

Former Use

Conservation Area:

Industrial Archaeology:





OS Map No:

IG Ref:
J5055 8213

Owner Category

Local Govt

Exterior Description And Setting

An attached three-storey three-bay seventeenth-century former customs house with attached tower, located on the west side of Quay Street, Bangor, now in use as a Tourist Information Centre and office. The house is rectangular on plan with crenellated four-stage tower projecting forward slightly at north-west corner. Roof is pitched natural slate with angled clay ridge tiles and a simple rubble stone chimneystack at left gable. Half-round cast-iron rainwater goods over corbelled eaves. Walling is generally random rubble stone bedded in lime mortar, with the exception of the west elevation of the house, which is painted roughcast with smooth rendered base course (slight batter to left side). Windows to house are 1/1 replacement horned sashes, generally with painted stone sills; those to tower are fixed lights. Windows to exposed rubble stone elevations and tower have sandstone rubble jambs and lintels, occasionally dressed; to rear are several cast-concrete replacement cills and lintels. Windows to rendered elevation have plain reveals. Doors are timber sheeted throughout. Principal elevation faces west and has three equally-spaced openings to each floor, with the exception of the ground floor which has two openings to left of the central door. The door has a plain transom over and is accessed by a disabled access ramp. The left gable is crow-stepped and is blank with evidence of a blocked opening at ground floor centre. It is abutted by the tower at right, and there is a further smaller tower (probably a former stair tower) to re-entrant angle, rising from a corbelled sandstone base at first floor level, carried on a relieving arch which spans the angle. Tower openings are irregular and there is a door accessed by two sandstone steps to south projecting side of tower. The rear elevation has three openings to each floor, with an escape door to central bay at each floor. That to second floor has recent sandstone jambs and lintel, and is accessed by a metal fire escape. The right gable is abutted at an angle by an adjoining four-storey building. Setting The building is street fronted, prominently located at the junction of Quay Street and Victoria Road. There is a car park to rear, accessed by electronic gates and bounded by other buildings on all sides. Roof: Natural slate Walling: Stone / roughcast Windows: Timber RWG: Cast-iron


Not Known

Historical Information

The customs house was built in 1637 and has been used for a variety of purposes since its construction, constituting the only surviving link with the foundation of Bangor as a modern town, after its monastic beginnings in the sixth century. According to Patton, this is the only tower house in the province now to occupy an urban site, although Brett takes issue with this and cites tower houses in Ardglass, Strangford and Portaferry (Patton, p.173-4, Brett, p.20) Sir James Hamilton was granted lands in North Down by James I in 1605 and set about rebuilding and developing Bangor. In 1620, he was granted a Warrant to make Bangor a maritime port. In the reign of Charles I attempts were made to improve the Crown’s income from Irish customs and it was in this climate, in 1637, that the customs house with flanking watchtowers was under construction. (Information Leaflet) The Archaeological Survey of County Down comments in 1966 that the house has been considerably altered in recent times “No original ground floor openings can positively be identified but three original lights survive at first floor level in the East wall.” Most of the original lights in the tower are now blocked, and “a modern sash-window has been inserted at first floor level on the North West. Communication between house and tower at ground floor was presumably by a door, now blocked and obscured by plaster, at the N.W. angle of the house (this has now been reopened). Commencing at first floor level of the tower, and originally accessible from the upper floors of the house, was a stair, apparently of timber construction…The stair is lighted by narrow loops at second and third floor levels, and a modern sash window has been inserted at the former stage. The tower and stair turret have a battlemented parapet at roof level…the parapet has been rebuilt throughout.” (Archaeological Survey of County Down, p.227-8) Charles Monck reported on Customs in the north of Ireland in 1637 and wrote that, “There is a fair custom house built but not finished by the Lord of Clanneboy, [Sir James Hamilton] who hath received between two and three hundred pounds of the King towards it, and hath bestowed at least six hundred pounds already and two hundred more will hardly finish it: it is a large pile of stone made with flankers and might serve well for defence of the harbour. There are very large storehouses, lodging chambers for officers, with chimneys, studies and places to lay all sorts of commodities in…if it were finished it were the best customhouse in Ireland, and stands as conveniently as it can be placed to the ground given by his Lordship for a wharf and crane…it is a pity but either the King’s Majesty or his Lordship should finish that work so happily begun by his Lordship of the customhouse.” (quoted in Information Leaflet) In the early 1660’s Bangor began to decline as a seaport and the custom house was leased in 1672 by the owner of a corn mill. In the late seventeenth century William Montgomery remarked that, “At ye end of ye town is a small bay for barques, and on it a large slated house double lofted, intended at first for a custom-house, both built by ye said Lord Clandeboye, from hence is a usual passage to Carrickfergus”. (Montgomery, 1683, p.313) In the eighteenth century the custom-house appears to have fallen into disuse and disrepair. In 1744, Harris comments, “There was formerly a Custom-house in it seated within a Stone’s Cast of the Sea, being an oblong Pile of Building with a Tower at the North End, which is now in Ruins.” (Harris, p.60-1) By the early nineteenth century, the building is in use again. Lewis remarks in 1837 that “Near the quay is an old building supposed to have been used as a custom-house, the tower of which has been converted into dwelling houses”. In the Townland Valuation it is listed as a house, offices and yard valued at £11 and occupied by Hugh Campbell. (Lewis, Vol I, p.183) However, by the mid-nineteenth century the tower and house are being listed separately and the tower is listed in Griffith’s Valuation (1856-64) as a ‘Coastguard watch tower’ valued at £3. The second edition OS map of 1858 captions the building as a ‘Coastguard Station’. The attached house is listed as the residence of Margaret Halliday who leases it from Robert E Ward. It is valued at £17 and the rent is stated to be £20+ taxes. Dimensions are given of 15x8½x2¾. The tower continues to be a ‘Coastguard’s Watch Tower’ until 1903 when it begins to be described as a watch tower, office, yard and hoarding, occupied by RG Ward and leased from Baroness Clanmorris. The house is occupied by a succession of tenants, David Harvey is resident by 1872 and Lyttle comments in 1885 that the, “Tower House so called from the mediaeval-looking castellated building adjoining and forming part of the residence of Mr David Harvey, the late popular and justly respected Harbour Master of the port, at once arrests the eye of a visitor landing at the pier. This Tower is known as the Summer Studio of Mr Robert Seggons Belfast, the celebrated Photographic artist; as from its windows have been taken those many charming marine views which add so much to Mr Seggons’ well-defined eminence in his profession.” This usage of the tower is not reflected in the valuation records but is perhaps not inconsistent with its continued use as a watch tower at this time. (Lyttle, p.32) Alexander Boyd was the occupier in 1888 and the valuation is reduced to £15 in 1903. Samuel Keenan becomes the occupier and Baroness Clanmorris becomes immediate lessor in 1908. In 1923 both parts of the building were bought from Lady Clanmorris by Bangor Urban District Council. Many possible uses were discussed for the building, including a museum or an Information Bureau in the 1920’s but these did not come to fruition and the Council instead opened Hot Sea Water Baths in the building in 1933. A motion to demolish the tower for road widening was rejected at a full council meeting in the late 1920’s. Council publicity declared, “Your doctor will tell you that there’s no need to go to Droitwich when you can soak in a brine bath at home!” Sea water bathing was thought to be beneficial for rheumatism, sciatica and other disorders. The baths were on the ground floor of the house and were priced one shilling, water being pumped from the Central Pier opposite and heated by gas-fired boilers in the back yard. A caretaker lived on the upper two floors. The baths closed in 1954 due to falling revenue. (Information leaflet) In 1955 the house was let to an antique dealer, Mr Angus J Macdonald. Shortly afterwards a wall was removed which enclosed the corbelling of the turret and seats were provided in the alcove thus created. (Information leaflet) The house and tower were listed in 1979 and major remedial work was undertaken in 1982 during which some corbelling was replaced. Messrs Larry Thompson and Partners, Belfast were the architects. In 1983 the council opened a Tourist Information Centre in the house with an exhibition space. (Information Leaflet) References: Primary Sources 1.PRONI OS/6/3/2/1 – First Edition OS Map 1833 2.PRONI OS/6/3/2/2 – Second Edition OS map 1858 3.PRONI OS/6/3/2/3 – Third Edition OS Map 1901 4.PRONI OS/6/3/2/4 – Fourth Edition OS Map 1919-26 5.PRONI OS/6/3/2/5 – Fifth Edition OS Map 1939 6.PRONI VAL/1/B/31 – Townland Valuation (1828-40) 7.PRONI VAL/2/B/3/1C – Griffith’s Valuation (1856-64) 8.PRONI VAL/12/B/23/7A-K – Annual Revisions (1866-99) 9.PRONI VAL/12/B/23/8A-C – Annual Revisions (1894-1923) 10.PRONI VAL/12/B/17/10A-G – Annual Revisions (1867-1930) Secondary Sources 1.Brett, C.E.B. “Buildings of North County Down” Belfast: Ulster Architectural Heritage Society, 2002 2.Harris, W. and Smith, C. “The Antient and Present State of the County of Down” Dublin: A. Reilly, 1744 (Reprinted Ballynahinch: Davidson, 1977) 3.Lewis, Samuel. “A Topographical Dictionary of Ireland, Comprising the Several Counties, Cities, Boroughs, Corporate, Market, and Post Towns, Parishes, and Villages, With Historical and Statistical Descriptions; Embellished with Engravings of the Arms of the Cities, Bishopricks, Corporate Towns, and Boroughs; Of the Seals of the Several Municipal Corporations.” London: S. Lewis & Co., 1837. 4.Lyttle, W.G. “The Bangor Season, What’s to be Seen and How to See It” Belfast: Appletree Press, Facsimile edition of original published in 1885 5.Ministry of Finance, Government of Northern Ireland “An Archaeological Survey of County Down” Belfast: Her Majesty’s Stationery Office, 1966 6.Montgomery “Descriptions of the...Ards, 1683” in “Montgomery Manuscripts”, 1830 7.Patton, M, “Bangor, An Historical Gazetteer” Belfast: Ulster Architectural Heritage Society, 1999 8.“The History of the Old Custom House and Tower, Bangor” Information Leaflet published by Recreation and Community Development Department, North Down Borough Council (n.d.)

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

W. Northern Ireland/International Interest V. Authorship


The Tower House is a three-storey three-bay seventeenth-century former customs house with attached four-stage tower, now in use as a tourist information centre and council offices. The building is plainly detailed, with typical features of the period including crow-stepped gables and corbelling. Most elevations comprise early details such as window dressings and relieving arches. The building has survived almost three hundred years of unbroken and various use. But has been compromised by modern alterations The Tower House is of notable historic significance representing its early origins as a town, and is of considerable significance in the wider context of Northern Ireland as one of few intact seventeenth century buildings remaining in use.

General Comments

Date of Survey

07 July 2010