From cradle to grave: The buildings that share our lives

McMaster Street, Belfast (UAHS photograph)

McMaster Street, Belfast (UAHS photograph)

FROM churches to castles, terraces to tram stations, mills to markets and schools to stables; the Built Heritage at Risk register contains every conceivable type of structure on our landscape.

Over the years there have been dozens of success stories, where crumbling eyesores have been sensitively restored, preserving their past while offering a sustainable future.

In addition to the near 500 buildings that are still at risk, the current Built Heritage at Risk (BHARNI) database contains details of 185 restored structures, including diverse landmarks such as Belfast’s Crescent Arts Centre, Ross Monument in Rostrevor, Sion Stables in Sion Mills and the iconic red brick terrace of east Belfast’s McMaster Street.

Other buildings on the list are also likely to enjoy a brighter future; such as Drumbee school in Armagh and Ardglass bathhouse which have undergone restoration works.

The future also looks brighter for other BHARNI buildings such as the recently purchased Bank of Ireland on Belfast’s Royal Avenue, the former Methodist Church on University Road in Belfast and Killeavy Castle – although conservationists have objected to elements of the plan to convert the south Armagh castle into a spa hotel.

But hundreds remain on the list, with more added every year, meaning continued investment is essential if some of the gems below, which are listed as ‘critical’, are to be brought back to life.

In addition to those sites classified as Buildings at Risk, more than 650 buildings have lost their official listing over the past 20 years, leaving them more vulnerable to redevelopment.

Listing falls under four main designations: Grade A (special buildings of national importance), Grade B+ (special buildings that might have merited A status but for relatively minor detracting features such as impurities of design, or lower quality additions or alterations), Grade B1 and B2 (special buildings of more local importance or good examples of some period of style. Some degree of alteration or imperfection may be acceptable)

Below are a sample of some of the diverse structures that are at risk, have been restored or have been delisted.

Three buildings at risk in Ballagh, Fermanagh (Photographs left and right Cormac Campbell, centre UAHS)

Three buildings at risk in Ballagh, Fermanagh (Photographs left and right Cormac Campbell, centre UAHS)

Manor Court House, Ballagh Cottage and Estate Cottages, Lisnaskea, Fermanagh

Listing Grades: B1

Degree of Risk: Critical

Date added to BHARNI: 2003-2005

Located near the village of Donagh outside Lisnaskea, the striking structures are all listed on BHARNI. In 1979 Alistair Rowan wrote of the charm of the buildings in his book North West Ulster: “By the road below Armagh Manor three highly picturesque gabled and mullioned buildings, erected by Mr Haire. Further up the hill is the Court House, 1853, with a slender square tower and a lavish supply of bargeboards. Its E end is a two-storey cottage. Next a twin two-storeyed cottage with four gables to the road, and, at the bottom, the most elaborate of all, a cottage orné of 1857, worthy of Nash, with grouped high chimneys, winking oriel windows, and a timber veranda at the front.”

Sadly, BHARNI records the now faded glory. “Much of the detail that once imbued these cottages with such charm, has been lost, despite the buildings featuring several times in the Buildings at Risk catalogues. Since that time their condition has worsened.” Indeed, current inspection reveals the cottages to be barely visible behind plant growth.

Presbyterian Church, Great James Street, Derry (UAHS photograph)

Presbyterian Church, Great James Street, Derry (UAHS photograph)

Presbyterian Church, Great James St, Derry

Listing Grade: B+

Degree of Risk: Critical

Date added to BHARNI: 2003

One of two Presbyterian churches in the city to feature on the BHARNI list (Strand Road being the other), the striking Great James St premises is the one deemed to be at most risk.

According to BHARNI: “This building has been the subject of much recent speculation. This...‘difficult’ building is now empty and facing an uncertain future.” Designed by Stewart Gordon, the neo-classical church was built in 1837. BHARNI states that: “Its front façade is dominated by a projecting central-pediment portico supported by four ionic columns on a broad flight of steps, which are flanked by scrolled edges. Behind is a four-bay, two-storey hall with large, round-headed windows. There is a Venetian window on the rear elevation, behind the pulpit. Set back from the main frontage line of the neighbouring buildings on Great James Street, it is certainly an impressive sight.”

Drumbee National School before (UAHS picture) and after (Enable NI picture)

Drumbee National School before (UAHS picture) and after (Enable NI picture)

Drumbee National School, Drumbeebeg Road, Armagh

Listing Grade: B1

Degree of Risk: RESTORED

Date added to BHARNI: 2004

Although still listed on the BHARNI register, the building has been the subject of a major refurbishment project, which began in 2011.

The scheme, which has seen the building transformed by Enable NI to provide respite accommodation for individuals with learning difficulties, was completed in 2014.

According to the project's architect Paul McAlister, "The building was in a very poor state of repair and close to collapse when work began in 2011. We were able to bring it back to the original detail whilst working closely with NIEA to ensure that the detail of the new building was in keeping with their funding criteria."

On the BHARNI register it is stated that the school “Is a beautiful and unusual single-storey hipped roofed building...in a very poor state of repair. Housing classroom accommodation either side of the recessed central bay, which once formed the master’s living quarters, the building appears not to have been in use for some time.”

Holywood windmill stump (UAHS photograph)

Holywood windmill stump (UAHS photograph)

Windmill stump, Holywood, Co Down

Listing Grade: Unlisted

Degree of Risk: Critical

Date added to BHARNI: 2003

Electricity producing windmills may now be scattered throughout the countryside, but the wind has long been harnessed for its power. Dating from at least the 1830s, BHARNI describes the windmill as: “a roofless shell, surrounded by houses in the 1850s, soon after it had been abandoned”.

The register also states, in an entry dated November 2003, that “It had only just been saved from collapse by the local council”. As such, this will be viewed as a positive move, given local government’s increased role in the planning and enforcement process.

Jennymount Mill, Belfast (UAHS photograph)

Jennymount Mill, Belfast (UAHS photograph)

Jennymount Mill, Belfast

Listing Grade: B1

Degree of Risk: Critical

Date added to BHARNI: 2005

An imposing structure that many motorists travelling north on the M2 will be familiar with, Jennymount Mill was the work of, among others, John Lanyon and WJW Roome.

According to BHARNI it is a “seven-storey red-brick Italianate tower block...It was not as a result of its condition that it was highlighted, but rather because of the difficulties associated with letting such a large amount of space in a deprived part of the city; which remains the case today”.

Despite this, BHARNI concludes that parts of the structure – particularly the two storey office block are at risk due to condition. “Bounded on the east side by a railway-track and overshadowed by the seven-storey structure to the west, it is, in comparison, hidden from prominence but deserving of sympathetic reuse.”

Killea Mortuary Chapel (UAHS photograph)

Killea Mortuary Chapel (UAHS photograph)

Killea Mortuary Chapel, Derry

Listing Grade: B1

Degree of Risk: Critical

Date added to BHARNI: 2003

Just yards from the Donegal border on the main Letterkenny Road lies the shell of Truscot Lodge at the entrance to an ancient graveyard. According to BHARNI it is “In an extremely poor condition, the rapidity of its decline is remarkable. Built for the Irish Society in 1866 to house the caretaker of the graveyard, it is a simple stone-built building with a steeply-pitched roof (now gone) and a bell cote over the entrance door on the gable elevation facing the entrance gates”.

Kilwaughter Castle (UAHS photograph)

Kilwaughter Castle (UAHS photograph)

Kilwaughter Castle, Larne

Listing Grade: B1

Degree of Risk: Critical

Date added to BHARNI: 2003

In decline since the end of WWII, John Nash’s early-19th century creation has not been inhabited in over 50 years. In addition to the main structure, outbuildings and other estate structures are in “varying states of dilapidation”. According to BHARNI: “The ice house is partially derelict; the immense walled garden is deteriorating; while the unusual farm buildings, probably in the best condition of the lot are, nevertheless, in an increasingly poor state of repair. The castle itself, a large castellated and turreted structure, is arguably beyond restoration but does at least require careful consolidation.”

Lennoxvale, Belfast (UAHS photograph)

Lennoxvale, Belfast (UAHS photograph)

1 Lennoxvale, Belfast

Listing Grade: Unlisted

Degree of Risk: Critical

Date added to BHARNI: 2003

Given its location, on the Malone Road near Queen’s University, the continued vacancy at Lennoxvale is somewhat perplexing. According to BHARNI, the university’s former school of Psychology dates from the 1920s in the style of its neighbouring buildings.

“An application for its demolition and replacement with bedsits was approved in 1998. This scheme, however, was never undertaken and in the intervening years the property has continued to deteriorate, detracting somewhat from what is otherwise an attractive area.”

The most recent application, to convert and extend the building into five student apartments was refused by Belfast City Council at its October 2015 planning committee meeting.

Mount Panther (UAHS photograph)

Mount Panther (UAHS photograph)

Mount Panther, Clough

Listing Grade: B+

Degree of Risk: Critical

Date added to BHARNI: 2003

Mount Panther is a familiar sight for motorists making their way to the south Down coast.

According to BHARNI, the building’s “state of utter dereliction poses a significant headache for its future reuse”.

Both the age and scale of the building are impressive with BHARNI stating that it dates from “c 1770, it is an eleven-bay, three-storey edifice with basement in modified Palladian style. Once famous for its ballroom which contained exceptional rococo plasterwork, the entire interior is now in ruins, along with the substantial two-storey stable yard to the rear”.

Tread Wheel, Omagh (UAHS photograph)

Tread Wheel, Omagh (UAHS photograph)

Tread Wheel, Omagh

Listing Grade: Unlisted

Degree of Risk: Critical

Date added to BHARNI: 2003

Located in Castle Place in the centre of Tyrone’s largest town, BHARNI states that the Tread Wheel is “a third surviving building, contemporary with the Gaol...that was used to raise water to the building from a deep well adjacent to it and it is presumed that it was used for the punishment of recalcitrant prisoners”.

Its condition is recorded as being “extremely poor” and that “urgent action should be taken to preserve it. To date, no such action appears to have been taken and its long-term future remains in some doubt”.

Sion Stables transformed. (Before UAHS photograph, after Niall McCracken)

Sion Stables transformed. (Before UAHS photograph, after Niall McCracken)

Sion Stables, Sion Mills

Listing Grade: B+

Degree of Risk: RESTORED

Date added to BHARNI: 2004 (now removed)

The only building in Northern Ireland to ever have been the subject of compulsory purchase on account of its deteriorating condition, the stables has now been completely restored and reopened, operating as a heritage centre and cafe – having previously been placed at ‘critical’ risk.

Designed by William Unsworth in 1884, the structure had fallen into such a poor state that by 2008 its clock tower had collapsed. Having been the subject of a DoE compulsory purchase, Hearth and the Sion Mils Buildings Preservation Trust took on the restoration project.

To see the finished building in our video, click here.

McMaster Street, Belfast (UAHS photograph)

McMaster Street, Belfast (UAHS photograph)

McMaster St, Belfast (Nos, 20, 24, 27, 31, 32, 33, 34, 37, 50)

Listing: B2

Degree of Risk: RESTORED

Date added to BHARNI: 2005 and 2009 (now removed)

BHARNI states that McMaster St in east Belfast represents “the most complete group of terraced workers’ dwellings from late Victorian times”.

Listed in the early 1990s, the buildings had fallen into a poor state of repair (high risk) by the time Hearth Housing began acquiring them in 2000. A good example of how old buildings can be restored and adapted for modern usage. For example, two of the houses were combined into one to create a larger home, whilst modern insulation was also introduced to improve energy efficiency. No 40 on the street also appears on the fire damage list, the DoE recorded this 2013 fire but not the cause of it.

Sandys Street, Newry (UAHS photograph)

Sandys Street, Newry (UAHS photograph)

Sandys Street, Newry (Nos 7, 8, 13, 14, 15, 16, 19, 20, 21, 22, 23, 24, 25, 26, 27)

Listing: DELISTED

Date added to BHARNI: Nos 8 and 22 in 2003. The others not on BHARNI

Previously holding B1 listings, large sections of Newry’s historic Sandys Street were delisted in 2005/2006.

The large terrace buildings, which sweep down the sloping Rathfriland Road towards the city’s courthouse, date from different stages of the 1800s.

The DoE’s built heritage database states that Nos 7 and 8 date from at least 1835. In the entry it is stated that “The first valuation book notes its occupier in 1838 as one Stewart Dalzell. The present building is likely to be the one shown on the 1835 map, and is therefore of earlier date. However, the dormers are almost certainly of later date, suggesting a later refurbishment.”

Lower North St/Lower Garfield Street, Belfast (UAHS photograph)

Lower North St/Lower Garfield Street, Belfast (UAHS photograph)

58-60 Lower North St, 2 Lower Garfield Street, Belfast

Listing Grade: B1

Degree of Risk: Critical

Located just off Belfast’s main thoroughfare, BHARNI states that the 1896 Graeme Watt & Tulloch creation is a “two-storey building in red brick with stucco details to tall narrow windows and truncated gables; chamfered corner onto Lower Garfield Street. Two small octagonal roof lanterns and a variety of corbelled brick chimneys; side elevation curves round following street line, with a central broken pediment flanked by gabled dormers, and scrolled pediments over two shop front”.

It is also stated that the building is: “The subject of a major development proposal which will critically affect its immediate future”.

Belfast City Council is understood to be preparing a strategic development scheme for the area in January 2016.

Read also:

Is the government doing enough to protect our historic buildings

Enforcement action rare, despite available powers

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