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Historic Building Details

HB Ref No:

Extent of Listing:
Church, railings and boundary wall

Date of Construction:
1800 - 1819

Address :
St George's Church 105 High Street Belfast Co Antrim BT1 2AG

Town Parks

Survey 2:

Date of Listing:
27/11/1975 00:00:00

Date of De-listing:

Current Use:

Former Use

Conservation Area:

Industrial Archaeology:





OS Map No:

IG Ref:
J3415 7442

Owner Category

Church - C of I

Exterior Description And Setting

A stone-built barn-plan late Georgian Church of Ireland church by John Bowden with a Corinthian-columned stone portico and pediment from the earlier Ballyscullion House on the front elevation, located on High Street in Belfast city centre. Hipped slate roof (concealed behind parapet to main body of church); cast-iron downpipes to hidden gutters. Walling is ashlar sandstone (probably Scrabo) with brick-built chancel (laid to Flemish bond). Windows are timber framed, semi-circular headed 6/6 sash set in architrave surrounds over a cill course to N front; otherwise in plain reveals with projecting stone cills; segmental headed window to ground floor side elevations. Horizontally-divided fixed pane windows to chancel with brick reveals and voussoirs. Front North elevation: Five-bay two-storey elevation consisting of doors alternating with niches on the ground floor and semicircular-headed windows alternating with niches on the first floor, the central bays set forward in a shallow bow. The portico is supported on four Corinthian columns with bases and plain shafts, with corresponding outer columns and fluted inner pilasters behind, matched by fluted Corinthian pilasters enclosing the outer bays of the elevation. In the dentilled tympanum are the coats of arms of the bishopric of Down and Connor and the town of Belfast. The parapet behind the pediment is balustraded and there are stone flags under the portico. East elevation: Five bays long in ashlar stonework (recently redressed to remove damaged and weathered stone). Ground floor windows are shallow six-pane with segmental heads. The elevation terminates at a rendered boiler house and the windows of the recent crèche building, with the brick chancel visible above. Rear elevation: Inaccessible. West elevation: Similar to East elevation, but behind the church is the two-storey chancel and vestry. This has three arched openings at ground floor, a door on the left and two windows; while on the first floor are two round-headed windows set in linked recesses. Beyond that again is a recent rendered building and the entrance to the modern hall extension at the rear. Setting: The building faces the east end of High Street. The church’s
setting has been damaged by events in the last century, so it has no contemporary neighbours; however it is part of a group of important buildings at the foot of the High Street and junction with Victoria Street, notably the Albert Clock (HB26/50/055). Iron railings and gates to front and Victoria Street, with rubble-stone party wall with rear of properties on Church Lane (HB26/50/042A-B). Schedule: Roof: Main roof inaccessible - chancel roof slate; Walls: Ashlar sandstone (probably Scrabo), with brick-built chancel. Windows: Timber framed, mostly fixed. RWG: Cast iron rainwater goods with hoppers at outlets from hidden gutters.


Shanahan, M Bowden, John

Historical Information

St George’s Church dates from the early nineteenth century and is constructed on a site of great antiquity that stood at the heart of the first settlement in the area. It is the earliest episcopal church still standing in the city of Belfast. In the early Christian period, the Celtic-speaking tribes of Erinn called the crossing place at the mouth of the Farset River ‘Beàl Féirsde’ (‘the ford at the sandbank’). A battle between the Cruithin, a people connected with the Picts of Northern Britain and the Ulaid, a warrior caste of the Erinn, took place at the ‘Fearset’ in 666AD giving Belfast its first recorded mention in history. (Bardon) A Papal Taxation Roll of 1306 refers to the ‘chapel of the ford’ as one of six chapelries dependant on the mother church at Shankill. It is likely, however, that worship had already been taking place here for several hundred years and tradition has it that pilgrims used the chapel to pray for a safe crossing of the ford which was dangerous at high tide. (Merrick; Information Leaflet) The parish church at Shankill ultimately became ruinous and the chapel of the ford then took over as the parish church. (Information leaflet) After Belfast received its charter in 1613, a larger church was thought fitting and in the 1650s the church was enlarged by the addition of a central tower, transepts and chancel. It was then known as the Corporation Church and was attended by the Sovereign (Mayor) and Burgesses of the town. Cromwellian soldiers are said to have used the church as a citadel, making musket balls from the roof lead. In 1690 King William III attended a service in the church on his way to the Boyne and a chair he is said to have sat in is still in use. The Corporation Church was in dangerous condition by 1774 and was demolished, although the site continued in use as a graveyard. St Anne’s was built in Donegall Street and the ancient documents and silver belonging to St George’s were moved there, while the bell and charity boards went to the newly-built Clifton Street poorhouse. Henry Joy McCracken, one of the leaders of the United Irish rebellion was buried in the graveyard following his execution in High Street and remains, thought to be his, were re-interred in Clifton Street burial ground in 1909. (Patton) As the population of Belfast began to grow a second parish church became necessary and the foundation stone of the present church was laid on 4th June 1813 by the Earl of Masserene. The opening services took place on 16th June 1816. Initially known as ‘George’s Church’ after George III, the church was ultimately consecrated in the name of the saint. (Patton)The organist of St George’s from 1817 to 1821 was Edward Bunting, celebrated for organising the festival of Irish Harpers in 1792 and subsequently preserving their music. The church has continued to maintain a reputation for musical performance. (Merrick; Information Leaflet) At the time the church was built ships sailed up the river Farset (now culverted) in front of the building, their captains finding lodgings in Skipper Street on the other side of High Street. (Information Leaflet) St George’s graveyard was closed to new burials by Act of the Irish Parliament in 1800 due to persistent flooding and in 1806 nearly all the memorials were destroyed on the orders of the Vicar of Belfast, Rev Edward May. Parts of the yard were sold as building lots in 1811, but in the 1960s a strip of land along the western side of the church was reopened for the interment of ashes. (Merrick) The construction of the church was administered by a Building Committee formed from a group of parishioners and was originally formed as a Perpetual Curacy of the Upper Falls. Ten parishes have since been formed out of the former territory served by the church, leaving what is now known as the ‘Parish Church of St George’ with a small area of the city centre. The church was designed by John Bowden, architect to the Board of First Fruits from c1814 to 1821, and author of several churches during that period including examples at Bovevagh, Drumlane and Maghera. Bowden applied unsuccessfully in 1810 to superintend the building of Belfast Academical Institution to designs by Soane. ( The portico at the front of the building was recovered from Ballyscullion House, Co Londonderry, a building project of the eccentric Earl Bishop of Derry, and dates from 1788. After the Earl Bishop’s death in 1803, his successor preferred the mansion at Downhill and Ballyscullion lay empty. The portico, probably by Michael Shanahan, architect of Downhill, was acquired by the Bishop of Down when St George’s was being built and was transported by horse and cart and then by canal barge. The coats of arms of the See of Down and the town of Belfast were subsequently mounted in the pediment. (Merrick) The church is shown on the first edition OS map of 1832-3, as a simple nave with portico attached. The Townland Valuation gives the dimensions of church and vestry room and values the buildings at £109.7s.3d. A ‘male and female school’ is also listed. Among the monuments in the church is that to Sir Henry Pottinger, a distinguished diplomat who negotiated the Hong Kong treaty of 1842 which expired in 1997. Pottinger’s Entry, not far away from the church, records the prominence of this family in the history of Belfast. (Merrick) The church is listed in Griffith’s Valuation (1856-64) at a valuation of £320 and no further changes are made in Annual Revisions. In 1863 the present organ, built by J W Walker & Son of London, was installed in the west gallery. It is one of the oldest church organs surviving in the diocese and was removed to its present position in 1883 by Conacher of Huddersfield. In 1896 the organ was rebuilt and enlarged by George Benson of Manchester. (Merrick) Welland & Gillespie, who had been appointed joint architects to the Ecclesiastical Commissioners in 1860, designed alterations at the church in 1865-8 including repewing, (box pews remain in the gallery) new doors from the nave to the two stairwells, a new pulpit and reading desk and a new roof and open ceiling, although the work appears to have been supervised by W J Barre. The contractor was James Henry and the church re-opened on 22nd October 1865. ( The new pulpit, replacing what was probably a ‘double-decker’ pulpit occupying a central position was installed in 1867 and the marble font in 1868. The pulpit was repainted in 1962 by Newton Penprase, owner and builder of the idiosyncratic ‘Bendhu’ near Ballintoy. (Merrick) A new parish school was also built at this time and is first shown on the third edition OS map of 1901-2. The present chancel was built as a memorial to the Rev Canon McIlwaine in 1882 to designs by Edward Braddell, for many years chief assistant to John Lanyon ( The builders were McLaughlin & Harvey. A new organ chamber with vestry and robing room beneath was also constructed and the large stained-glass window which had been in the apse of the church was divided into three and re-set in a new three-light window. On the sides of the sanctuary are arcades of Caen stone with polished red Cork marble columns and a credence of polished black Kilkenny marble. The reredos, the gift of the architect, also of Caen marble, is divided into mosaic panels by Messrs Simpson & Sons of London. The church re-opened for worship on 11th December 1882. (Belfast Newsletter) Canvas paintings on the north and south walls of the chancel were executed by Alexander Gibb in 1883. The oak altar, by Knox &Co of Belfast is a memorial to those of the parish who were killed in both World Wars. (Merrick) A choir screen, an unusual feature for Anglican churches in Ireland, had nonetheless been part of the chancel plans in 1882. In the event, it was not constructed until 1928, when it was installed as a memorial to the Rev Dr Hugh David Murphy, Rector 1880-1927. (Merrick) The parish schoolhouse was destroyed during air raids on Belfast and a new parish hall was built on the ruins in 1953. A major renovation of the church and halls took place in 1962, when the nave and chancel floors were renewed and refurbished under the supervision of Edward Leighton, architect. (UA International) At the height of the Troubles from the 1970s to 1990s, the church was damaged in explosions on 16 occasions and the stonework was in poor condition by the time an appeal was launched in 1996 to raise funds for renovation works. In 2000 Stephen Leighton (son of Edward Leighton) of Leighton Johnston Architects supervised restoration of the stonework, which involved replacement on the front facade and dressing back on side elevations. McConnell & Sons were the contractors and funding was provided by the appeal fund and the Heritage Lottery Fund, DoE Historic Buildings, Cecil King Memorial Fund, European Regional Development Fund, Church Fabric Fund and Church of Ireland Priorities Fund. New wiring, heating and redecoration was carried out and the parish hall and vestries were renovated. The floor of the parish hall was excavated bringing it down to the level of the church to give better facilities for the choir and Director of Music. The chancel murals were restored by Barbara Best and a new sandstone floor with the shield of St George, the gift of McConnell & Sons, was installed in the porch. (UA International) 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 5. PRONI VAL/1/B/72A Townland Valuation (1828-40) 6. PRONI VAL/2/B/7/4A Griffith’s Valuation (1856-64) 7. Belfast Newsletter 11th December 1882 8. UA International Vol 16, Iss 10 2000 p42-5 Secondary Sources 1. Bardon, J “Belfast, An Illustrated History” Belfast: Blackstaff Press, 1982 2. Information Leaflet “Parish Church of St George, Belfast” (nd) 3. Larmour, P “Belfast, An Illustrated Architectural Guide” Belfast: Friar’s Bush Press, 1987 4. Merrick, T “Parish Church of Saint George, A Brief Guide to the Church” 2005 5. Patton, M “Central Belfast: An Historical Gazetteer” Belfast: Ulster Architectural Heritage Society, 1993 6. – Dictionary of Irish Architects online

Criteria for Listing

Architectural Interest

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

Historic Interest

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


Stone-built barn-plan late Georgian Church of Ireland church to designs by by John Bowden with Corinthian portico and pediment from Ballyscullion House. Historically the site represnts the early ncentre of the first settlement here nad this isd the ealirest surving Episcopailn church in Belfast. Of further interest is tyhe acquisition and relocation of the portico. Mcuh historic fabric and deatiling of fine workmanship survive, and this is a fine exampl of the type of restrained Classical Georgian church by an architect of note.

General Comments

Date of Survey

11 October 2012