McMaster Street

During the latter part of the 19th century, Belfast expanded at a faster rate than almost every other city in the British Isles. The new industries of shipbuilding and linen manufacture required workers who came in from rural Ulster and needed new houses. McMaster Street comes near the end of that phase, and was designed in 1898 and 1899 by John Frazer & Sons for John McMaster.

Thompson and Kirwan opened a shipbuilding yard on Queen’s Island in 1851, and Edward Harland and Gustav Wolff had formed their company in 1861. By 1900 nine thousand men were employed at the shipyards along with another major workforce in the largest ropeworks in the world. Being developed later, Belfast never had the true ‘back to back’ houses that were common in many other industrial cities. McMaster Street consisted mostly of ‘parlour houses’: these had a parlour at the front, the kitchen in the back room and the scullery in a return, with two bedrooms upstairs, and they generally had no gardens. Kitchen houses were a lower grade with only a kitchen and bedroom on the ground floor and no parlour.

The McMaster Street houses would have been rented by well-to-do artisans like carpenters, printers, engineers, boiler makers, shipwrights, rivetters and bakers. The houses were lit by gas or paraffin lights and heated by coal fires; the toilet was outside and baths were taken in a tin tub in front of the kitchen fire. Mr Logan who moved into 42 McMaster Street shortly after he married in 1939 was a printer; in his day the scullery had a jawbox sink with brass taps and they used gas lights till he was presented with an electric clock and had to “get the electric in”.

Unusually, the street is both a group of listed buildings and a conservation area, in order to emphasise its importance as the only example of Belfast’s polychrome artisan dwellings which has been identified for preservation. Unfortunately by the time Hearth came to look at it there were no original doors or windows left in the street, but a variety of conversion plans were used to demonstrate the versatility of the terrace houses. In the first phase of work no.42 was restored as single-bedroom house, converting the second bedroom into a bathroom and keeping the kitchen return single-storey, with the parlour and ‘kitchen’ kept as single rooms. In the second phase it was possible to combine some adjacent houses, and at nos.22 and 24 a spacious three-bedroom house was created. Both these schemes were “in-shell”, letting good light through the houses.

Project By
Hearth Housing Association
Year restored
McNally Contractors Ltd
QMAC Construction Ltd
Architectural Heritage Fund Buildings at Risk purchase scheme, Housing Associations Grant