Belfast Telegraph

Future of Belfast architectural gem at heart of battle against TB secured: 89 Durham Street given listed status

By Rebecca Black

It's one of Belfast's architectural gems – but it now lies empty.

This time nearly 100 years ago, number 89 Durham Street was at the forefront of the city's fight against TB when it was built as the Central Tuberculosis Institute.

The stunning two-storey red stone building, which currently stands unoccupied on a sidestreet off the Westlink, was built by Belfast Corporation as the 'white scourge' spread death and terror.

But now its future has been secured after Belfast City Council voted to approve a decision to have it listed.

Almost a century ago, city chiefs commissioned local architects Robert Young and John Mackenzie – the duo responsible for some of Ulster's most eye-catching buildings, including the Scottish Provident Building – to design a clinic to treat TB victims at 89 Durham Street.

The Central Tuberculosis Institute was completed in June 1918 and then stood at the centre of a fearsome interface between the Protestant and Catholic areas.

A keystone over the door depicts a representation of Hygeia, the goddess of sanitation and health.

At this time TB was responsible for almost 16% of all deaths in Ireland.

The building continued to specialise in TB until 1969 when it was taken over by the Ministry of Health who founded the Central Chest Clinic.

In 1971, the Northern Ireland Blood Transfusion Service moved into the building and remained there until recently.

Political historian Eamon Phoenix said the white scourge sparked terror, with sufferers often ostracised by their own families over fears of infection.

"It was a major killer in Ireland, as a whole associated with poverty, high-density housing and a lack of any sort of ventilation," he said. "People coughing blood was always the first sign and then they would be ostracised by their families and neighbours because they were frightened of the white scourge spreading.

"During the 1930s the only kind of care for it was through sanitoria at Whiteabbey and Forster Green where victims of TB, often children, were exposed to open windows, tons of fresh air.

"Many, many people died from TB. Very often young women in Belfast working in the mills in the early 20th century would contract TB and continue to work – because they had no option – and so you had many young women in their 20s and 30s dying, leaving behind young children orphaned.

"It remained a major killer until the arrival of the welfare state in the late 1940s."

Dr Phoenix said when the clinic was built, it stood at the centre of one of Belfast's most infamous interfaces – between the Protestant Sandy Row and Catholic Pound area – and saw huge riots.

It also treated victims of the infamous Black Flu in 1918 which many soldiers brought back from the trenches and which killed one million people in Great Britain and Ireland.

Today there are around 400 cases of TB in Ireland annually, a huge drop from the 7,000 cases annually during the 1950s.

The chairwoman of Belfast City Council's planning committee, Claire Hanna, welcomed the move to give the site historical protection.

"It's right that this building, an example of the Neo-Georgian heritage of the city, is being listed and protected," she said.

"The Corporation – the forerunner of Belfast City Council – opened it in the fight against TB which was having a disastrous impact.

"TB had a long convalescence period, and I'm sure those who went through the clinic would have had difficult but fascinating stories to tell."

The building is still owned by the Belfast Health Trust. However, the Belfast Telegraph understands that Clanmil Housing Association is currently in negotiations to buy it.

Clanmil is currently consulting with the local community over a plan to create 14 apartments in the old building along with 13 houses on the site.

BACKGROUND

Now sitting silently a short distance from the busy West Link, 89 Durham Street was originally built as the Central Tuberculosis Institute in one of the densest residential areas in Belfast – and a historical interface. At the time of its building between 1916-18, TB was one of the bigger killers on the island, accounting for 16% of deaths. The then Belfast Corporation commissioned famed architects Robert Young and John Mackenzie – the duo behind the Scottish Provident Building – to create a clinic and try and end this scourge. It was built using Scottish sandstone.

Belfast Telegraph

Popular

From Belfast Telegraph