Ravings From The Bog

Made In Belfast Titanic Tour

We took advantage this week of a free tour around the “Titanic Quarter”, which is the brand name, so to speak, of that area of Belfast which is home to the derelict shipyards, the Odyssey Arena and a number of industrial complexes directly across the Lagan from the Belfast Harbour Commissioner and the Customs House.

As part of the current Made In Belfast Festival, the guided bus tour is a great starting point for the novice historian. The experienced guide, Stephen Cameron, has researched his subject in great detail for many years and is affable and knowledgeable company for the two hours of the tour. I have actually met Stephen before, in a previous life, and it was a pleasure to see him again after a gap of ten or so years.

On what was a rather changeable day, we set off from Belfast’s City Hall having seen both the Titanic Memorial statue and the statue of Sir Edward Harland within it’s grounds. First stop was at the original offices of Harland & Wolff. Access was gained and we started off in the drawing offices where many years before, the original plans for the Titanic and her sister ships, Olympic and Brittanic were made. This remarkable building was specially designed to allow as much natural light as possible to reach the draughtsmen, and later the ladies, who made copies of the thousands of individual plans for the teams of workmen who built the ships.

Harland & Wolff Drawing OfficeThe next attraction was a viewing of the boardroom, sadly without any original furniture. The building has suffered over the years since it was last used as an office but has now been listed and is in the initial stage of refurbishment. In it’s derelict state it has been of value to the film industry lately, featuring in films such as Closing the Ring, City of Embers and Breakfast on Pluto.

Next stop was a short distance away by coach as it had started to rain. We drove about 100m to two large ramped areas close to the bank. The guide showed us the same ramps in a large black and white picture taken in 1911. These were the very ramps on which Titanic and Olympic were built.

Titanic RampFrom there we made our way to the Thompson Dry Dock, built to allow completion of the three sister ships’ fit-out. A very impressive structure which looks to be twice the length of the Clarendon Dry Docks, the pump equipment was designed to be capable of pumping out all of the water in the dock inside 100 minutes.

The picture below gives an idea of the size of the structure with HMS Caroline in a nearby dock for scale. In the pictures we were shown of Titanic in the dock being fitted with her engines and propellers, the stern of the ship stuck out over the gate at the back of the dry dock – an immense ship that would have stretched from the front door of Belfast City Hall right down Donegall Place, past M&S, past McDonalds, the Tesco Metro and as far as the H&M shop.

Thompson Dry Dock

At this point, the tour ended. Very satisfied with our new-found knowledge, we climbed back aboard the coach and headed back to the City Hall.

A very enjoyable morning. I have been inspired by this tour to look for more opportunities to learn more about local history and perhaps consider doing a similar job on retirement, to that of our eminent guide.


Hidden Belfast: Central Arcade Ross’s Court

The Old Central Arcade BuildingThis old building, which was originally a factory, holds a particular fascination for me as it was the site of the first Crazy Prices store I had full responsibility for as store manager. That was back in 1986. The weekly turnover was £35K. It was a dingy store which never made a penny of net profit in the ten years it was open but came pretty close to do doing so towards the end. 

Anyhow, the building originally housed Ross’s Lemonade factory and had at least four floors. When I worked there, the top two floors were derelict with broken windows and dead pigeons and no doubt, a few other pests. The “shopping centre” known as Central Arcade was the 70s/80s equivalent  of the Hi-Shops in High St, in other words, it was a really awful collection of grotty businesses anchored by a grotty supermarket and a very busy Stewarts Winebarrel.

In later years, the building changed hands and was developed into Ross’s Court, a rather upmarket and ultimately doomed centre due to the unfortunate fact that it was just too far from Royal Avenue to attract the business it needed. Timing is everything and if the centre had been able to hold out, the recent introduction of the Victoria Square complex would have supported and sustained the centre.

Today, the most upmarket and best-looked-after Argos I have ever seen occupies the Victoria Square end of the building. The original stonework still shows the name of the original owners, W.A Ross & Sons – a nice touch!

Hidden Belfast: The National Bank High St Belfast
February 15, 2009, 9:09 pm
Filed under: Belfast, Culture, Hidden Belfast, History, Nostalgia, Thoughts, UK | Tags: , , , , ,

National Bank Hight StThis beautiful building can be easily missed while hurrying up or down High St. It is opposite the “monsterous carbuncle” that is the Hi-Park parking and shopping centre. Built in 1890, this listed building is one of only a few to escape demolition during the Belfast Blitz in 1941. Apparently this was due to the fact that it’s front wall, floors, chimneys and roof were constructed using concrete.

The building is currently being renovated and is undergoing conversion to a hotel and tea rooms.

Hidden Belfast – Lower Garfield Street

LwrGarfieldSt1It has been some time since I posted a Hidden Belfast picture, but I thought I’d better get my skates on and take these pictures before these derelict buildings come down. The first gives you the view of the front of the building which has been affected by commercial development over the years and is now “on it’s last legs”. The detail on the “balcony” and the cornices are beautiful, or at least were, before the onslaught of 100,000 pigeons over the years!

The second, and much more interesting picture, is the one from behind which was the first aspect to attract my interest. Hidden from the street are a couple of spires complete with what look like flag poles, various chimney stacks and assorted dormer windows. It is a view of haphazard additions over the years as well as representing good solid build quality. Many of these old red brick building are fast disappearing in the centre of Belfast and are worth documenting. They have seen a lot of history and unfortunately, I am unaware of most of it. What I can remember is visiting a night-club on the first floor back in the early 1980s – but it’s all very vague!

LwrGarfieldSt2This view can be seen from the car park, which has access from North St. Have a closer look if you get the chance; it’s worth it!

Hidden Belfast – Wellington Place Beauty & The Beast!

Wellington Place BelfastHidden in plain sight, this one. One of the nicest pieces of architecture in the centre of town and at one of the busiest points, I’ve passed this for years without taking the time to appreciate the detail. I’ve no knowledge of the history of the building at all, unfortunately, but that doesn’t take away from it’s beauty. The beastly bottom half does though!

Hidden Belfast: Bank of Ireland, Royal Avenue

I have admired this building since first spotting it around 1976 when traipsing down to the Belfast Central Library to borrow some LPs that were beyond the financial reach of a 14 year old. The Art Deco building reminds me in some ways of a church organ with it’s straight vertical lines and height versus it’s width. 

The facade could do with a good cleaning to restore it’s brightness and help the strong contrast with the dark green parts of the building. Last time I looked, the building appeared to be occupied on some level. It would be a real shame to allow it to slide into dereliction.

Hidden Belfast – Upper Crescent Georgian Beauty

Now mainly used as a rat-run for commuters, Upper Crescent was, at one time, one of the grandest streets in Belfast. A “yellow-pack” version of the well known Royal Crescent in Bath, it still retains some of the grandeur of it’s former self despite being mainly used for offices and having some almost derelict sections. The small park opposite, is a great spot to sit and mentally time-travel back to when those ladies and gentlemen in their “Quality St” style dresses inhabited this area.