One of the most remarkable survivals from industrial 19th century Belfast is the four-storey ironmongery warehouse built for John Riddel & Co in 1867 to the designs of Thomas Jackson.
Behind its lively, polychromatic façade is a unique atrium with five stories of galleries supported by cast iron columns and heavy timber beams arranged round three sides of a glass-roofed courtyard.
When it was in use it was regarded as a conventional working space and no photographs exist of it in operation, but it is an extraordinary survival which has changed little since the days when Riddels imported ironmongery from England and Scotland and served retail ironmongers in Belfast and much further afield. Riddels served domestic customers from other premises in Donegall Place and Fountain Street, with the Ann Street warehouse serving mainly agricultural customers.
Riddel’s operated from Ann Street till 1973 when a series of fire bomb attacks (none causing major damage to the building) and the difficulty of operating within the security barricades round the centre of the city forced them to move elsewhere. The building lay empty for several years till the Police Service acquired it as a security measure. The police used part of the ground floor as a lost property office and installed ventilation plant to serve neighbouring buildings but otherwise simply mothballed it, therefore most of the building still carries the patina of many years in daily use as an ironmongery warehouse.
Hearth has been able to acquire the building thanks to a loan from Ulster Garden Villages, and has carried out holding repairs to prevent further deterioration. The building has been made available for meanwhile uses and it has hosted events by theatre companies, artists, musicians, film companies and others. While there are many restrictions to the building’s use in its present state it continues to attract great interest and enthusiasm from its users.
Sketch plans have been drawn up to restore the building for public access. Funding applications have been made and other applications are ongoing to raise the money to restore and bring back into use this unique survival from Belfast’s industrial heyday.
Riddel’s is a rare survival of Belfast’s Victorian past, and it is uniquely placed to attract visitors to the city, providing a critical link between the Titanic Quarter and the city centre. Its restoration would bring renewed activity to a street that is blighted by demolition, and would provide a vivid image of how Belfast operated at its industrial height.
Hearth is currently considering the strategic direction of Riddel’s and undertaking research and a needs analysis in relation to culture, arts, heritage and the creative industries.
Hearth welcomes expressions of interest in using Riddel’s in the long term, and is in discussion with a number of potential funding bodies.
Hearth Historic Buildings Trust
Heritage Lottery Fund,
Ulster Garden Villages,
Architectural Heritage Fund