Belfast Restaurant Memories – The Carlton and the Lombard

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The Lombard Cafe - Source NI Historical Pictures on Twitter
The Lombard Café – Source NI Historical Pictures on Twitter

The Lombard Café

The Lombard Café was one of the oldest and best-known restaurants in Belfast. Lombard Street itself was laid out in the 1870’s on the site of the 18th century Caddell’s Entry and Legg’s Lane.

When the Irish Temperance League had new headquarters built on the street in 1877-78, they established this café on the ground floor. Its situation close to the busy commercial areas of High Street and Rosemary Street made it the ideal location.

The Architect – Joseph Chandler Marsh

The Temperance League hired the English architect Joseph Chandler Marsh to design the project. Marsh, a Quaker, had previously been employed by the League to design coffee stands, which were placed throughout the city.

Joseph Marsh was born around 1842 in Dorking, Surrey, where his father was a draper. At some point he moved to Ireland and, on 21st September 1876, he married Arabella Sophia Walpole, a farmer’s daughter from County Tipperary. They wed at the Society of Friends Meeting House at Knockbarry.

Their first child Cecil Walpole Marsh was born on 11th December 1877 at Clifton Park Avenue. The couple continued to reside in the north Belfast area and had 6 more children – Oswald (1880), Maria (1883), Victor (1886), Sylvia (1889), Arnold (1890) and Joseph Kenneth (1895).

In 1911 the family were residing at 20 Antrim Road in a large 14-roomed house. Joseph’s business premises were at 103 Donegall Street. He was also commissioned to design the Quaker Meeting House in Portadown. He died on 8th March 1913 at his son’s home on Chichester Gardens.

Irish Temperance League Lombard Street - The Irish Builder 1st April 1877
Irish Temperance League Lombard Street – The Irish Builder 1st April 1877

Description of the Lombard Café

The Lombard, Belfast Street Directory 1896
The Lombard, Belfast Street Directory 1896

The four-storey, 3 bay building of unpainted Portland cement stucco, was situated at Nos 16-18 Lombard Street.

It had a frontage of 48ft and a height to the top of the parapet of 58ft. The ground floor had large rectangular windows. The central doorway had polished granite pilasters on either side ending with Corinthian capitals at the second floor. The granite came from the Bessbrook Quarries. The bases of the pilasters were composed of Minton’s encaustic tile.

On the front façade was a balcony bearing the name Irish Temperance League Buildings. In later years a stain-glass canopy was erected over the main door.

At street level the café was on one side of the building’s main entrance and a shop on the other. An oak staircase led to the first floor where there were offices and an assembly room for meetings. It could accommodate 200 people. On the top floor was the kitchen and the caretaker’s apartment. From the kitchen was a doorway leading to a flat roofed area which served as a yard.

The estimated cost of the building was £3,500, raised by long-term loans. The builder hired for the work was Mr Thomas McArthur from Cluan Street, Belfast.

Lombard Restaurant Belfast Street Directory 1896
Lombard Restaurant Belfast Street Directory 1896

Lombard Café Success

The Lombard Café flourished and was a busy meeting place for the inhabitants of Belfast. It was also popular with clubs and societies, for example, it was one of the meeting places of the North of Ireland Philatelic Society founded in 1904. The United Nations Association, Belfast branch, held its first meeting on 13th November 1945 in the Lombard Café.

In 1901 the Lombard Café was under the proprietorship of Miss Jemima Robertson, with 14 female staff. All but one of the employees were unmarried and they came from a range of locations –

  • Alicia Lowe (27) – kitchen maid from County Fermanagh
  • Maggie Drummond (22) – general domestic servant from County Cavan
  • Mary Wilson (22) – waitress from Scotland
  • Elizabeth Barbour (22) – assistant manager from England
  • Martha Somerville (20) – scullery maid from County Tyrone

In compliance with its Temperance League origins a Beverage Bar or Milk Bar was a feature of the café selling fruit juices, milk shakes, hot beverages and health drinks.

Lombard Cafe - Belfast Telegragh, 9th Dec 1965
Lombard Cafe – Belfast Telegragh, 9th Dec 1965

Lombard Café Decline

In the 1960’s the Lombard Café underwent a complete renovation and redecoration. The architect was Mr Gordon McKnight and the contractors, Messrs R R Scott Ltd.

“The Lombard has gone through a transformation which places it in the category of being one of Belfast’s most modern and glamorous restaurants. Grills galore, sweets superb and beverages in bounty are features on the menu, which will be very extensive and will cater for a cosmopolitan variety of tastes”

Belfast Telegraph 9th December 1965

Despite this refurbishment however, the Lombard Café closed in 1966. The building itself was demolished in 1991.

Lombard Street Today
Lombard Street Today

The Carlton

The Carlton was a very popular Belfast restaurant. It was situated at Nos 25-27 Donegall Place until 1954 when it relocated the short distance to Wellington Place.

The original Carlton Café and Restaurant was housed in a fine Georgian building. This was one of three terraced houses built by Roger Mulholland in 1790-91. The buildings extended back as far as Fountain Street.

Carlton Restaurant (Source Belfast Forums)
Carlton Restaurant (Source Belfast Forums)

The Architect – Roger Mulholland

Roger Mulholland was a well-known architect and builder. He was born in the diocese of Derry in 1740. He began his career as a carpenter, possibly working for Derry architect Michael Priestly, before studying at the Dublin Society’s School of Drawing.

By the 1770’s Mulholland was living and working in Belfast. He attained the patronage of Arthur Chichester, 5th Earl of Donegall and was employed on some prestigious projects including St Anne’s Parish Church (1776), the First Presbyterian Church on Rosemary Street (1783) and the White Linen Hall (1785).

He also owned a timber yard, firstly on Rosemary Street and then larger premises on Ann Street. He bought land and engaged in his own building enterprises. He built a number of properties in the Academy Street/ Donegall Street area.

In April 1786, Roger Mulholland leased land on Linenhall Street (now Donegall Place) from Lord Donegall. Here he erected three grand, 3-storey houses. Each house commanded a rent of £34. 2s. 6d for a 21-year lease. One was leased by the famous doctor James McDonnell, one to a curate Rev Edward Patterson and one to Mr John Smith. In August 1793, Mulholland sold the whole terrace to Mr William Brown for the enormous sum of £1,500. The Carlton was situated in one of these fine houses, believed to be the oldest surviving Georgian houses in Belfast

Roger Mulholland was also involved in the cultural life of the town. He was one of the founding members of the Belfast Reading Society, todays Linenhall Library. He presented the Society with a 3-volume work of Vitruvius Britannicus and a translation of Caesar’s Commentaries. Although not involved in politics he was a member of the First Company of Belfast Volunteers.

On 31st January 1770, Roger married Jane Russell. The couple had at least two daughters Mary and Margaret and two sons George and Waddell Cunningham (named after the Belfast merchant and Volunteer officer). Roger Mulholland died on 30th November at his home, 12 Castle Street. He left a large estate of £3,835 17shillings and 2½ pennies.

Staff Dance at the Carlton, Northern Whig 25th March 1929
Staff Dance at the Carlton, Northern Whig 25th March 1929

The Carlton Confectioners is first recorded at Donegall Place in the street directory of 1911.

The Interior of the Carlton

For the description of the interior, we are indebted to the Lord Belmont website.

The main dining room was over 2,800 ft square. It was extremely elegant featuring mirrored walls interspersed with panels of rose-pink silk. The ceiling was painted sage-green and ivory. The furnishings of dark wood complemented the pristine white linens and fresh floral arrangements.

“This room had Romanesque mahogany pilasters with gold-bound panels of Oriental, atmospheric, prismatic colouring, producing a cheerful ‘plein air’ feeling”

Above the room was a galleried area which could be used for meals or afternoon tea.

Carlton Charity Dance (Belfast Weekly Telegraph 11th July 1918)
Carlton Charity Dance (Belfast Weekly Telegraph 11th July 1918)

The Oak Room was a smaller more private dining space. It was sumptuously decorated with Persian carpets and stain-glass lampshades. The oak lined walls again featured large mirrored panels. It has been suggested that this oak panelling may have been that destined for the RMS Britannic. It was commandeered for the war effort and its furnishings put into storage. When the ship was sunk during WW1, the items were auctioned off.

“A regal apartment of comfort and elegance, panelled in natural oak, elaborately carved with all the correctness of detail and charm of execution of the Louis XV period; and relieved by smaller panels of rich tapestry of antique colour and design”.

On the first floor was a designated Ladies Room, overlooking the bustling Donegall Place. It was painted in delicate shades of blue and gold.

Also, on this level was the ‘Jacobean’ style Smoke Room, designed with the male clientele in mind. Probably many a business arrangement was made within these walls.

Carlton Furs Exhibition, Northern Whig 2nd Sept 1930
Carlton Furs Exhibition, Northern Whig 2nd Sept 1930

The Carlton in addition contained a large ballroom, measuring some 3,200 square feet. It had seating for more than 300. It was accessed via the rear entrance on Fountain Street. This spacious room was decorated in pastel shades. It was well lit and had an oak parquetry floor for dancing.

Tango at the Carlton, Belfast Weekly Telegraph 15th Nov 1913
Tango at the Carlton, Belfast Weekly Telegraph 15th Nov 1913

The Carlton in the 20th Century

In 1919 the Carlton Restaurant and Café was purchased by Belfast entrepreneur Frederick W Henry. Mr Henry lived at 24 Adelaide Park and also owned the adjacent Queens Arcade.

Carlton Star & Garter Dance, Northern Whig 6th Dec 1915
Carlton Star & Garter Dance, Northern Whig 6th Dec 1915

Throughout the 1920’s and 1930’s the Carlton was the place to be seen, either for dining or dancing. It was also a popular venue for events, for example in 1934 the Belfast Ramblers Club held its Jubilee Dinner in the Carlton Hall. Many prestigious guests were present including the internationally renowned artist John Lavery

The Carlton was also famous for wedding receptions. In June 1936 one wedding menu read like this:

Melon Frappe Rafraicher


Mayonnaise of Salmon



Clear Lockshin


Lamb Cutlet Garni


Champagne Sorbet



Roast Spring Chicken and Ox Tongue

Garden Peas

New Potatoes


Pudding St Clair

Petit Fours





Theosophy at the Carlton, Northern Whig 29th Sept 1917
Theosophy at the Carlton, Northern Whig 29th Sept 1917

The Carlton Bakery

On the ground floor with a frontage onto Donegall Place was the Carlton Bakery. One interesting snippet of social history, is that the suffragettes used cake-boxes from this shop to hide incendiary devices during their campaign to gain the vote for women.

Carlton Relocation

In 1954 the Donegall Place restaurant was closed with the Carlton Restaurant relocating to Wellington Place. The restaurant remained at this location until its closure several decades later.

The Carlton Building Today
The Carlton Building Today

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