Riddel's Warehouse

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 agricultural customers.

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 info@hearthni.org.uk

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