A Winter Afternoon in Belfast.

I’m going to be honest here, Belfast is far from being one of the most beautiful cities in the world. You have to look hard to find the (photographic) things of worth in its centre (and many you might not even notice as you walk by). They are there however, likely buried among some awful modern architecture and sadly run down streets. But I guess that happens in many cities, and Belfast has improved more than most since the dreadful days of the 70s and 80s here. We were in Belfast yesterday to do a bit of shopping, hoping for a visit to the Christmas Market (aka the Continental Market)…… more on that later though.

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QUEENS BRIDGE

Queens Bridge in Belfast which opened in 1849. The first picture shows one of the ornate lamps fitted to the bridge (with the Obel Tower in the background – the tallest building in Ireland). It is one of eight bridges in the city, not to be confused with the adjacent Queen Elizabeth II Bridge. The sign on the bridge in the second photo says it was widened in 1885.

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THE BIG FISH

The Big Fish – a printed ceramic sculpture by John Kindness, 10 metres long and constructed in 1999. Its at Donegall Quay, Belfast, near the Lagan Lookout and Custom House Square. The outer skin of the fish is a cladding of ceramic tiles decorated with texts and images relating to the history of Belfast. Material from Tudor times to present day newspaper headlines are included along with contributions from Belfast school children. The Ulster Museum provided the primary source of historic images, while local schools/day centres located along the line of the River Farset were approached to provide drawings for the fish. Images were provided by Glenwood Primary School, St Comgalls and Everton Day Centres. The Big Fish also contains a time capsule storing information/images/poetry on the City.

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SEALS

Theres a collection of these bronze seals just across from the Big Fish. Maybe they thought it was dinner 🙂

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FRANCIS ANDERSON CALDER MONUMENT

Across the road from the fish, you might pass this monument by thinking its just some random memorial to a long dead political figure or something, but its actually much more endearing than that.

Erected in 1859 in memory of Francis Anderson Calder, 1787-1855. The monument is sandstone set on a granite plinth and was designed by George Smith, the Belfast Harbour Commissioners Chief Engineer. The cast iron lamp on top would have originally been gas-lit.

In 1836 Calder along with other citizens and clergymen founded the Belfast Society for the Prevention of Cruelty to Animals, later to become the USPCA (Ulster Society for the Prevention of Cruelty to Animals) which was known primarily for installing water troughs for cattle and horses in various Belfast streets. Ten troughs were installed in the 12 years prior to Calder’s death, and another eleven followed in the next eight years.

The inscription reads:

‘Erected by public subscription as a memorial of the labours of Francis Anderson Calder, Commander RN in the cause of humanity, and to whom is mainly to be attributed the erection, between the years 1843 and 1855, of ten water-troughs for the use of cattle in Belfast. A righteous man regarded the life of his beast’.

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THE ALBERT CLOCK

The sandstone memorial was constructed between 1865 and 1869 by Fitzpatrick Brothers builders and stands 113 feet tall. The base of the tower features flying buttresses with heraldic lions. A statue of the Prince in the robes of a Knight of the Garter stands on the western side of the tower and was sculpted by SF Lynn. A two tonne bell is housed in the tower and the clock was made by Francis Moore of High Street, Belfast.

As a result of being built on wooden piles on marshy, reclaimed land around the River Farset, the top of the tower leans four feet off the perpendicular. Due to this movement, some ornamental work on the belfry was removed in 1924 along with a stone canopy over the statue of the Prince.

Being situated close to the docks, the tower was once infamous for being frequented by prostitutes plying their trade with visiting sailors. However, in recent years regeneration has turned the surrounding Queen’s Square and Custom’s House Square into attractive, modern public spaces with trees, fountains and sculptures.

In 1947, the film Odd Man Out was filmed partly in Belfast, with the Albert Clock as a central location, although neither the town nor the clock is explicitly identified.

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CUSTOM HOUSE SQUARE

On this bright, and final day of November 2014, there weren’t too many people around in the square (which is always fantastic when taking photos). The Customs House is an imposing Victorian building, designed by the architect Charles Lanyon, made possible and necessary as Belfast became one of the great industrial and trading centres of the Victorian United Kingdom. Only London and Liverpool collected more duty from their port than Belfast did. Belfast’s Custom House, situated on the very edge of Cathedral Quarter by the city’s central Laganside bank, was a popular site for public speakers during the late 19th and early 20th centuries. In those times, in the vein of London’s Speakers’ Corner, the city’s citizens often participated in the art of lively and spontaneous debate on any given subject. Today, in the site’s reincarnation as Custom House Square, activities can be widely varied, from more pedestrian and family-orientated performances and activities to large-scale music concerts (eg. Belsonic), D.J. performances and circus-style performance events for both adults and children. Feel free to go and shout on the steps again if the notion takes you however, as we all love a laugh here lol.

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FAMOUS DRINKING EMPORIUMS

The first picture above is of Robinsons Bar (aka as “Robbies”) on Belfasts Great Victoria Street (across the road from The Europa Hotel). Its next door to the quite famous Crown Bar which draws many tourists and its history is below (thanks to Wiki)..

Originally opened by Felix O’Hanlon and known as The Railway Tavern, the pub was then bought by Michael Flanagan. Flanagan’s son Patrick renamed and renovated the pub in 1885.

The Crown owes its elaborate tiling, stained glass and woodwork to the Italian craftsmen whom Flanagan persuaded to work on the pub after hours. These craftsmen were brought to Ireland to work on the many new churches being built in Belfast at the time. It was this high standard of work that gave the Crown the reputation of being one of the finest Victorian Gin Palaces of its time.

In 1978 the National Trust, following persuasion by people including Sir John Betjeman, purchased the property and three years later completed a £400,000 renovation to restore the bar to its original Victorian state. Further restoration by the National Trust was done in 2007 at a cost of £500,000.

A recognisable landmark of Belfast, the pub has featured as a location in numerous film and television productions, such as David Caffrey’s Divorcing Jack (1998) and as far back as Carol Reed’s 1947 film Odd Man Out.

The Crown has been given a Grade A Listed Building status by the Environment and Heritage Service. The exterior is decorated in polychromatic tiles. This includes a mosaic of a Crown on the floor of the entrance. The interior is also decorated with complex mosaics of tiles. The red granite topped bar is of an altar style, with a heated footrest underneath and is lit by gas lamps on the highly decorative carved ceilings. The Crown has ten booths, or snugs. Built to accommodate the pub’s more reserved customers during the austere Victorian period, the snugs feature the original gun metal plates for striking matches and an antique bell system for alerting staff. Extra privacy was then afforded by the pub’s etched and stained glass windows which feature painted shells, fairies, pineapples, fleurs-de-lis and clowns.

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GRAND OPERA HOUSE

The Grand Opera House is a theatre in Belfast, Northern Ireland, designed by the most prolific theatre architect of the period, Frank Matcham. It opened on 23 December 1895. According to the Theatres Trust, the “magnificent auditorium is probably the best surviving example in the United Kingdom of the oriental style applied to theatre architecture” The place is a huge hit all year round with both locals and tourists. With the Christmas period upon us there are many shows on now and coming soon. See here: http://www.goh.co.uk/

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ROBINSON CLEAVER BUILDING

Without doubt, there are many ornate and beautiful buildings in Belfast if you just look upwards. This is one of them. On a wonderfully clear day like today the Robinson and Cleaver building could easily fit around New Yorks Central Park area and not look out of place.

Robinson and Cleaver, at the corner of Donegall Place and Donegall Square North, became a top department store in Belfast after opening in the late 19th century, and bore such connotations of grandeur that it was known as ‘The Old Lady’. It was a classy place to visit, where staff knew their usually wealthy clientele. Its most famous feature was a marble staircase, auctioned in 1984. Robinson and Cleaver prided itself for being the most famous store in the world for Irish Linens. In 1921, it also advertised…. “We are making a Special Show of our New Season’s Models in all the latest shapes in Fur Coats, Wraps, Stoles and Collars in Skunk, Skunk Oppossum, Beaver, Beaver Coney and Real Moleskin. Animal Ties in White, Black, Grey, and Blue Foxes; also in Mongolian Fox and Blue Wolf. Only the most reliable quality of Furs are stocked (dont expect to find too many of those in Belfast now haha). Despite extensive renovations in 1963, Robinson and Cleaver closed down in 1984 and its famous staircase was auctioned. Today, having reopened with several shops inside, it has a marvelous cafe upstairs with outdoor seating looking directly across to the City Hall. Well worth checking out. You can just about see the parasols of the cafe in the second picture here.

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NATIONAL BANK BUILDING & MAYFAIR BUILDING

Another two lovely buildings you really might not notice unless you lifted your head a little above the pavements of the shopping areas of Belfast. The first is the National Bank Building (looking quite impressive in the Winter sun here)…

A five-storey painted terracotta and red-brick building built 1893 – 1897 by William Batt for the National Bank. The National Bank operated from the concrete and steel framed building until being taken over by the Bank of Ireland in 1966. The buildings exterior survived largely intact until the ground floor was re-clad and a small central balcony was removed in the 1980’s. In June 2013 a £700,000 project began to redevelop the ground floor for use as a a cafe / bar. The ‘National Grande Café Bar’ opened in September 2013 alongside a new “artisan” bakery and patisserie in the adjacent building. In February 2014 a planning application submitted by Cathedral Leisure Ltd (Beannchor Group) proposed fit-out works to upper floors of the building to provide additional accommodation for the existing ground floor public bar.

Hmm….. I’m not sure about you but it always seems a shame to me when I see these old buildings reduced to the levels of a cafe etc, but I suppose if it saves the building by giving it a new purpose then that has to be good.

The second picture is of the Mayfair Building in Arthur Square, Cornmarket. This is right bang in the city centre. I havent been able to find out much about it online (feel free to update me here) with the following all thats apparent….

The Mayfair Building: At 5-11 Arthur Square is a four storey red brick building designed by Blackwood & Jury with gingery sandstone detailing including banded quoins. Art noveau detailing at the capitals of pilasters divide the shop units.
The upper floors of the building remain vacant some years after the Belfast Gas Company moved out.

This information is likely quite old, but the building sits overlooking the square at Cornmarket with the (ugly) metal structure sitting in front of it. I have to say, the old Cornmarket with the red bandstand and clock looked better than that monstrosity they have there now. See here:  http://cain.ulst.ac.uk/images/photos/belfast/cornmarket2.htm

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BELFAST CHRISTMAS MARKET 2014

Ok, getting to the market, or should I say NOT getting to the market. We arrived into Belfast pretty early on Sunday the 30th November at about 11am where I took all the photographs above. Like I said at the start of this post, the idea was to visit the Christmas market (and get some pix inside). But heres a tip, while the market is busy everyday on the run up to Xmas, it looks as if Sundays are the absolute worst day to go. Why? Because due to our ridiculous opening laws (don’t get me started on this nonsense) nothing here (larger than a certain size) is allowed to open until 1pm on a Sunday (if you didn’t know this already you can pick your jaw up off the floor now) so what happens is, everyone starts queuing to get into the market about 1215 and rather than a steady stream of visitors spread over the day, everyone tries to get in at once. The result? A queue that starts at one side of City Hall and loops three-quarters of the way around it. Hundreds and hundreds of people lining up to get in. Like I said, I don’t want to start spouting off about these Dark Age, faith created laws, but it certainly looks as if the general public couldn’t care less about them and want them changed. Even if a Sunday falls a day or two before Xmas the shops still aren’t allowed to open until 1pm. Would this happen in any other European and modern, city? No way.

Anyway, I hope to get a few more pictures of inside the market before it closes for the Xmas season of 2014, but for now, picture one shows Belfast City Hall (with the tops of the Xmas market kiosks) on Nov 30th 2014, picture two is a little shot of the red wrapping for the market around the hall railings. And picture three is a panoramic shot of the queue to get in before 1pm on Nov 30th 2014 (believe me, this doesn’t show it all and there just wasn’t any way we were standing in that). The gate staff only allowed a certain number in at a time, and given our stupid Sunday laws everything must also close at 6pm so I imagine many didn’t get in that day at all. So remember folks, God says thou shalt not eat German spicy sausage or drink mulled wine outside the hours of 1-6pm while in Northern Ireland on a Sunday. I think its the 11th Commandment or something 🙂

4 responses to “A Winter Afternoon in Belfast.

    • For sure. I was so biting my lip writing this haha. I can only imagine what tourists think when they get up early on a Sunday morning here to have a look around – almost total lockdown, its quite ridiculous. This was such a beautiful day and hundreds of people were just walking about trying to kill time until the shop gestapo allowed the doors to open. It really would be hilarious if it wasn’t so damn frustrating.

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      • I always like reading blogs when someone just lets rip. I cannot wait for the day when Sunday’s get the same trading hours and bars are able to shun that Good Friday nonsense.

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  1. Gawd yes. I (optimistically) look forward to that as well. Sadly though, while you can find both the words fun and mental in fundamentalist, it looks like one of those at least doesn’t belong there lol.

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