Old Exchange and Assembly Rooms at the Four Corners

Old Exchange and Assembly Rooms at the Four Corners. 1769, converted 1845 by Sir Charles Lanyon (1813-1889). Photograph and text by Philip V. Allingham 2006. [You may use this image without prior permission for any scholarly or educational purpose as long as you (1) credit the photographer and (2) link your document to this URL.]

The former "Northern Bank of Ireland" (now The Lyric Theatre, one of whose supporters is the noted actor Liam Neeson) is yet another stately Belfast commercial building with a connection to Sir Charles Lanyon. Upon this site in 1769 was built a single-storey market with arcade, commissioned by Lord Donnegal. Raised in 1776, the seven-year-old market was replaced by "Assembly Rooms," for the staging of county balls and other social events such as the harp festival of July 1792. Fashionable society immediately began referring to the area of Bridge Street, North Street, Waring Street, and Rosemary Lane as "The Four Corners." In the aftermath of the 1798 rebellion, the Assembly Rooms were pressed into service as courtrooms for the trial of rebel leader Henry Joy McCracken of the Antrim Unitedmen, who was subsequently hanged in public exhibition in the High Street.

Finally, in 1845, Sir Charles Lanyon won the commission to convert the Waring Street Assembly Rooms into the present-day structure, The Northern Bank of Ireland. Brett notes that, owing to their instability, Irish banks suffered a major problem with their public image so common were bankruptcies; hence the Board of Directors required a truly impressive façade to inspire investors' confidence. "Lanyon chose to encase the exterior of the Exchange in elaborate stucco, in the Italian palazzo style pioneered by Charles Barry" (Brett, p. 25), who in 1831 had designed the Travellers' Club, Pall Mall, London, in the manner of Raphael Sante's Pandolfini Palace in Florence. Lanyon seized upon Barry's plans, published in 1839, and utilized Barry's neo-Renaissance conceptions, especially in the cornice, aedicules (little houses), and tall, ground-floor windows. Praising the Northern Bank as one of the first and finest examples of the Renaissance Revival in Ireland, Brett nonetheless found the roof's lantern "faintly ridiculous" (25).

References

Brett, Charles Edward Bainbridge. Buildings of Belfast, 1700-1914.London: Weidenfeld and Nicolson, 1967.

Heatley, Fred, and Gillian Boyd. "The Old Assembly Rooms." Belfast: Paintings and Stories from the City. Donaghadee, N. Ireland: Cottage Publicationa, 1998. Rpt. 2004. Pp. 33-34.


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Last modified 13 September 2006