8-12 College Square North was built in the 1830s as town housing for wealthy merchants, and is the best example of such domestic architecture surviving in the city.
The terrace is built of brick four stories high; originally brick-faced, the houses were gradually rendered to achieve a fashionable stucco appearance, although the houses were not uniformly altered. The location was very desirable, overlooking the lawns of the Royal Belfast Academical Institution (known as ‘Inst’, and designed in part by Sir John Soane), and its early inhabitants included the wealthy baker and philanthropist Barney Hughes, Sir William Whitla, Professor of Materia Medica at what was to become Queen’s University, and one of the city’s Mayors. With the adjacent contemporary Old Museum building, until recently an arts centre, this is a vital part of Belfast’s city centre conservation area .
In the 1890s Inst was in financial trouble, and decided to sell off part of its front lawns as a site for the new Municipal Technical Institute. This is a fine baroque building in its own right, but has been described as ‘the largest and most ornate cuckoo’s egg ever laid in songbird’s nest’: it blocked the view of the front of Inst, and cast a substantial shadow over College Square North. Within a few years, the wealthy inhabitants had gone elsewhere and the houses had become offices. The decline was accelerated dramatically with the outbreak of the Troubles, and no.8 College Square North was actually demolished after a bomb.
At the time Hearth acquired nos.8-11 (from various owners) they had been stripped of all their interior architectural details, but no.12 remained in poor but complete condition. Unfortunately it was not possible to acquire it and it too was later vandalised, but sufficient moulds and joinery details had been taken from it to allow accurate restoration of nos.8-11. The houses have been converted into flats, retaining the generously proportioned staircases and front rooms to the ground and first floor flats. The very high ceilings of the lower floors have allowed the insertion of a mezzanine floor at the back to improve the layout of the flats, but otherwise the interiors have been fully restored along with the front porches and new railings based on Victorian photographs of the houses. The balcony erected on the front of the reconstructed no.8 was given to Sir Charles Brett by James Fitzpatrick when his offices at no.1 College Square North were bombed in the 1970s, and no.8 also has an internal fanlight of about 1790 salvaged by Sir Charles from Arthur Place. The scheme won an EHS Conservation Award in 2002 and a Commendation in the 2000 RSUA Design Awards.
Hearth Housing Association
Martin & Hamilton, Ballymena
Kirk McClure Morton
Rainey & Best
Heritage Lottery Fund, Housing Associations Grant DoE, Environment & Heritage Service DoE, Conservation Area Grant