One of the most remarkable survivals from industrial 19th century
Belfast is the ironmongery warehouse built for John Riddel & Co in
1867 to the designs of Thomas Jackson.
Behind its relatively conventional facade of a seven-bay four-storey
warehouse is a unique atrium with five stories of galleries of cast
iron columns and heavy timber beams arranged round three sides of a
glass-roofed courtyard. In its heyday it was regarded as a conventional
working space and no photographs exist of it in use, but it is an
extraordinary survival which has changed little since the days when
Riddels imported ironmongery from England and Scotland via the
Liverpool and Glasgow boats that berthed on the nearby Donegall Quay
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
Riddel's operated from Ann Street till 1973 when a series of fire bomb
attacks (none thankfully causing damage) and the difficulty of
operating within the security barricades round the centre of the city
led to them moving elsewhere. The building lay empty for a number of
years till the Police Service acquired it as a security measure. Other
buildings round the Musgrave Street police station which they acquired
around that time were demolished but fortunately Riddels had been
listed. 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, and most of the building carries
the patina of many years of daily use.
Hearth has been able to acquire the building thanks to a loan from
Ulster Garden Villages, and has carried out initial holding repairs to
minimise water ingress, remove pigeon guano and some asbestos. It has
been fully surveyed and plans have been drawn up to restore it with
arts uses in mind. 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.
Hearth has made the building available for a number of meanwhile uses
and it has hosted events by theatre companies, artists, musicians, film
companies and others, and is regularly used as a subject by surveying
and architectural students at both universities. 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.
For more information on using the building please contact firstname.lastname@example.org
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