Bank Buildings, Belfast
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The Bank Buildings (2013)
|Address||1-27 Castle Street|
|Town or city||Belfast|
|Destroyed||28 August 2018|
|Renovation cost||£30 million (2016-2018)|
|Owner||Primark Stores Limited|
|Structural system||Cast iron structure clad in red Dumfries stone|
|Design and construction|
|Architect||Sir Robert Taylor (1785) |
William Henry Lynn (1900)
|Official name||The Bank Buildings|
The Bank Buildings was a five-storey, Grade B1 listed red Dumfries sandstone building located at 1-27 Castle Street in Belfast, Northern Ireland. The building was owned by Primark, and was used as their flagship store in Northern Ireland from 1979 until it was destroyed by fire on 28 August 2018.
As a part of renovations between 2016 and 2018, 29-43 Castle Street (formerly Commonwealth House) was demolished and a new building built in its place which was set to be merged with the original Bank Buildings. The new wing of the building appeared relatively undamaged following the fire of August 2018. The fire damaged Bank Buildings is currently undergoing a complete restoration and repair of the building.
The Bank Buildings was designed by Sir Robert Taylor and erected by Waddell Cunningham in 1785. The original use of the building was as a bank. Since the four founders of the bank all had the first name of John (Brown, Ewing, Hamilton and Holmes), the bank was called The Bank of the Four Johns. By the turn of the 1800s the bank had collapsed and the buildings became the residence of the Church of Ireland bishop of Down and Connor, Rev. Dr. William Dickson.
In 1805 the building was converted into a shop. Around this time, the area in front of the Bank Buildings was used as a public space for the public execution of criminals. This practice came to an end in 1816. The last three people to be hanged were weavers who had twice attacked the home of their employer, Francis Johnston, in an argument over the wages they had been paid.
In 1853, the store became home to a wholesale drapery firm. Originally Hawkins, Robertson & Co., the business changed its name to Robertson, Ledlie, Ferguson & Co Ltd on the death of Mr. Hawkins in 1878. The business was formed into a limited liability company in 1880. 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. In 1900 the ground and first floors of the building underwent a major redesign. 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 & Company until they were bought out by the House of Fraser group in 1969. The department store still continued to operate from Bank Buildings until Boots took over from House of Fraser. Boots was then forced to move out in 1975. On 9 April, three bombs were detonated inside Bank Buildings. The resulting fire extensively damaged the building. Refurbishments were carried out in 1979 and after 18 months the new owners, Primark Stores Limited established a store. 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. 
August 2018 Fire and restoration
On 28 August 2018, a fire broke out at roughly 11:00 BST on the fifth floor or roof of the building, during business hours. Shoppers and staff were evacuated from the ground and first floors, and 11 fire appliances attended. 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. 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. The new wing of the building appeared relatively undamaged following the fire, due to the fact there was a gap between the two as the merge had not yet been complete. On 9 October 2018 it was reported that Bank Buildings is currently awaiting approval from Belfast City Council for an application of planning permission for a complete restoration undertaken directly by Primark of the fire damaged Belfast Bank Buildings. This work was green-lit on 26 October 2018, with the initial stages aimed at reducing the safety cordon due to commence ''immediately''. It is understood that this will involve the removal of the top two storeys of the building, deemed to be the most unstable, which will then allow a façade retention scheme to be put in place. The stonework recovered during the removal of the top two storeys will be numbered and labelled, to be reused later in reconstruction. The iconic clockface will also be removed for restoration and eventual reinstatement.
England based demolition firm Keltbray have been appointed to carry out the emergency safety works, stone salvage, façade retention and structural demolition works.
On 3 December 2018 Keltbray were successful in delivering the first milestone of the project, the area around Bank Buildings was reopened to pedestrians, with concrete-filled shipping container tunnels being used to protect the public from any potential collapse.
Phase 1 of the salvage works (removal of levels 4 and 5 façade) was completed by Keltbray ahead of schedule.
Keltbray have now commenced the installation of the Façade Retention System that will stabilise the building and allow the internal demolition to commence in mid 2019.
Bank Buildings Football Club
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Representatives from Robertson, Ledlie, Ferguson & Co 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. They are however considered one of the founding members of the Amateur League.
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