Bank Buildings, Belfast

Bank Buildings
The Bank Buildings (2013)
Bank Buildings, Belfast is located in Greater Belfast
Bank Buildings, Belfast
Location within Greater Belfast
General information
Status Damaged
Type Retail
Address 1-27 Castle Street
Town or city Belfast
Country Northern Ireland
Construction started 1785
Completed 1787
Renovated 1938
Destroyed 28 August 2018
Renovation cost £30 million (2016-2018)
Client Waddell Cunningham (1785)
Hawkins, Robertson & Co.
(1855 & 1900)
Primark (2019)
Owner Primark Stores Limited
Technical details
Structural system Cast iron structure clad in red Dumfries stone
Floor count 5
Design and construction
Architect Sir Robert Taylor (1785)
William Henry Lynn (1900)
Listed Building – Grade B1
Official name The Bank Buildings

The Bank Buildings is a Grade B1-listed five-storey building located at the intersection of Castle Street and Royal Avenue in Belfast, Northern Ireland. It was designed and built between 1899 and 1900 by W. H. Lynn as a department store and warehouse,[1] owned by the firm of Robertson, Ledlie, Ferguson & Co. It stands on the site of a bank erected in 1785, from which it takes its name.[2]

Since 1979, it has been owned by the Dublin-based company Primark, and serves as their flagship store in Northern Ireland.

On 28 August 2018, during a £30 million two-year renovation,[3] the building was gutted by fire, severely damaging most of the internal structure. Primark opted to restore the building to its 1900 appearance[4][5] while expanding the size of the store, a process that will last until at least 2022.


First building

The first Bank Buildings was a three storey building designed by Sir Robert Taylor and erected by Waddell Cunningham between 1785 and 1787, known as Cunningham’s Bank.[2] The bank closed in 1798 and the building was converted to residential use, becoming the residence of the Church of Ireland bishop of Down and Connor, Rev. Dr. William Dickson.

The site of the bank was known as a place for public executions, with the last execution being carried out in 1816, on the doorstep of the building.[6]

Second building

In 1853, the store became home to a wholesale drapery firm.[2] The original building was replaced in 1855 by a four storey building for Hawkins, Robertson & Co. The business was formed into a limited liability company in 1880.[7] Founded by businessmen William Robertson and Henry Hawkins (Waterford), J. C. Ledlie (Cork), and Robert Ferguson (Belfast), the business soon expanded and became a commercial department store.

Third building

The Bank Buildings, along the left of the image, circa 1900

The best known Bank Buildings were constructed between 1899 and 1900.[1] The architect W. H. Lynn allowed for large plate glass windows to be installed in the lower floors. The department store continued to operate on the first two floors whilst the upper floors were used as a warehouse for the wholesale side of the business.

The building remained under the ownership of Robertson, Ledlie, Ferguson & Co. until the House of Fraser group took control of the company in 1969.[2][7] The department store still continued to operate from Bank Buildings until Boots took over from House of Fraser.[2] Boots was then forced to move out in 1975. On 9 April 1975, three bombs were detonated inside Bank Buildings,[1][6] starting a fire that extensively damaged the building. Refurbishments were carried out in 1979 and after 18 months the new owners, Primark Stores Limited established a store.[2] They remain the current owners of the Bank Buildings.

Extension and refurbishment

In 2016, Primark announced it was expanding the building by 30,000 sq ft and refurbishing it, creating 100 new jobs once completed. The expansion cost an estimated £30m and was expected to be completed in September 2018. Commonwealth House, which occupied 29-43 Castle Street was demolished between September 2016 and April 2017 and the extension was built in its place.[8][9]

August 2018 Fire and restoration

Bank Buildings after the August 2018 fire.

On 28 August 2018, a fire broke out at roughly 11:00 BST near the roof of the building during business hours. Shoppers and staff were evacuated from the ground and first floors, and 11 fire appliances were called. The area around was cordoned off for public safety, and due to falling debris. The roof collapsed and the clock face was burnt out with the hands staying still at about 11:05.[10][11] The fire was still spreading and had covered all floors of the building by 15:00 with more appliances called in to assist. The building suffered extensive damage to all levels, however the new wing of the building was relatively undamaged. In September 2018, a team was called in to remove rubble from the site believed to contain asbestos.[12]

In October 2018, Primark sent an application for planning permission to Belfast City Council, in order to completely restore the building to its original 1900 appearance.[13] This work was green-lit on 26 October 2018, with the initial stages aimed at reducing the safety cordon due to commence "immediately". England based demolition firm Keltbray were appointed to carry out the emergency, facade retention and demolition works.[14] The upper two floors and roof level were taken down, which allowed a façade retention scheme designed and installed by Keltbray and Wentworth House Partnership to be put in place.[15] The stonework recovered during the removal of the top two storeys will be numbered and labelled, to be reused later in reconstruction. The iconic clock face will also be removed for restoration and eventual reinstatement.

On 3 December 2018, the area around Bank Buildings was successfully reopened by Keltbray to pedestrians, with concrete-filled shipping containers being used to support the fragile facades, and to protect the public from any potential collapse.

Demolition of the damaged interior structure was successfully completed by Keltbray in late 2019. The site was visited by Prince Charles during the demolition works and met with Kelbray, builders, contractors and the fire service.[13]

Bank Buildings Football Club

Representatives from the store attended the first ever meeting of the Northern Amateur Football League at Clarence Place Hall on 4 July 1923. The league was open to applications from public bodies, private associations, schools and firms. Although they originally submitted a team for the new league, Bank Buildings Football Club never played a competitive match. The club is, however, considered one of the founding members of the Amateur League.[6]


  1. ^ a b c Hanna, Nathan (2018-08-31). "The history of Bank Buildings and why it was so important to Belfast". belfastlive. Retrieved 2020-08-04.
  2. ^ a b c d e f "Primark fire: History of Belfast's Bank Buildings". BBC News. 28 August 2018. Retrieved 28 August 2018.
  3. ^ "Primark store 'at risk of collapse'". BBC News. 2018-08-28. Retrieved 2020-08-04.
  4. ^ "Councillors give Primark go-ahead for redevelopment of Bank Buildings". belfasttelegraph. ISSN 0307-1235. Retrieved 2020-08-04.
  5. ^ "Bank Buildings, Belfast: 1 Year On". UAH. Retrieved 2020-08-04.
  6. ^ a b c "Belfast's historic Primark building was originally 'The Bank of Four Johns'". belfasttelegraph. ISSN 0307-1235. Retrieved 2020-08-04.
  7. ^ a b "HOUSE OF FRASER Archive :: Company: Robertson, Ledlie, Ferguson & Co Ltd". Retrieved 2020-08-04.
  8. ^ "Primark Extension". FutureBelfast. Gary Potter. 8 January 2018. Archived from the original on 28 August 2018. Retrieved 28 August 2018.
  9. ^ Carrigan, Christine (24 August 2018). "Primark to take on 100 new staff at revamped Northern Ireland store". Belfast Telegraph. Independent News and Media. Retrieved 28 August 2018.
  10. ^ O'Leary, Abigail (28 August 2018). "Primark Belfast fire: Flames engulf 'number of floors' at historic building after blaze forces evacuation of shoppers". Mirror Online. MGN. Retrieved 28 August 2018.
  11. ^ "Fire breaks out at Primark store in Belfast". BBC News. 28 August 2018. Retrieved 28 August 2018.
  12. ^ Beattie, Jilly (2019-09-24). "Primark site asbestos fears a year after fire". belfastlive. Retrieved 2020-08-04.
  13. ^ a b "Revealed: Primark plans for painstaking work to restore Belfast Bank Buildings after blaze". ISSN 0307-1235. Retrieved 2018-10-26.
  14. ^ "Primark and Royal Avenue walkway to open in Belfast in weeks". ISSN 0307-1235. Retrieved 2018-10-26.
  15. ^ "Primark to start work on restoring historic Bank Buildings in Belfast". ISSN 0307-1235. Retrieved 2018-10-26.

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