Belfast Telegraph

From a bank to Primark - rich historic landmark at heart of Belfast

By Aife Moore and Alf McCreary

The Bank Buildings on Castle Street, Belfast were designed by Sir Robert Taylor and erected by Waddell Cunningham in 1785, built in red Dumfries sandstone.

The original bank opened in 1787 under the name of "The Bank of the Four Johns", as all four founders went by the name.

The bank's finances eventually collapsed, and the building was later used as the residence of the Bishop of Down and Connor, the Rev Dr William Dickson.

During the time of public executions, the road in front of the building was where criminals were put to death, and in 1816, the last public execution was carried out on its doorstep.

Reports say the last three people to be hanged were weavers who had twice attacked the home of their employer, Francis Johnston, in an argument over wages.

In 1805, the building was converted into a shop. In 1853, William Robertson and Henry Hawkins from Waterford, JC Ledlie from Cork, and Robert Ferguson of Belfast, founded a wholesale drapery business, which became a department store. Then, in 1900, the ground and first floors of the building underwent a major redesign, and architect WH Lynn allowed for large-plate glass windows to be installed in the lower floors. Until 1961, only the ground and first floors were used as a shop, the remainder of the building was taken up by the warehouse. Later that year, the Bank Buildings underwent total renovation, with a modernised main entrance added at Castle Junction, and the pillars on the ground floor removed.

Representatives from Robertson, Ledlie, Ferguson and Company attended the first ever meeting of the Northern Amateur Football League at Clarence Place Hall on July 4, 1923.

The league was open to applications from public bodies, private associations, schools and firms. Although they originally submitted a team, Bank Buildings Football Club never played a competitive match. They are still considered one of the founding members of the Amateur League.

In 1969, the shares of Robertson, Ledlie, Ferguson and Company were sold to the House of Fraser group. However, Robertson, Ledlie, Ferguson and Company continued to run the shop, and four years later, Boots acquired the Bank Buildings when it took over House of Fraser.

On April 9, 1975, three bombs exploded in the Bank Buildings causing extensive damage. In 1979, the long-established Belfast firm of H&J Martin was commissioned by Penneys of Dublin to convert what was the former House of Fraser into the Primark department store.

In an extensive modernisation, Martins installed air-conditioning and replaced the existing lifts with four new escalators, and there was a completely new shop-fitting. Ironically, it was the first building in Northern Ireland to have a sprinkler system.

In 1991, Martins completed a refit of the interior, and seven years later, carried out emergency repairs to the sandstone, as well as stone cleaning. The Bank Buildings has been listed as a structure of historical and architectural importance.

It was the first large steel-frame building in Belfast.

Martins built some of the city's famous landmark buildings, including the City Hall, Grand Opera House, Belfast Central Library, and the original Belfast Telegraph building on Royal Avenue.

LIVE: Fire at Primark building in Belfast Read more:...

Posted by Belfast Telegraph on Tuesday, August 28, 2018

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