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.