Queen’s Arcade in Belfast city centre is a fine example of a Victorian covered shopping enterprise “at once fashionable as a promenade and highly attractive as a business throughfare”. It was constructed in 1880 by J F Mackinnon for the developer and businessman George Fisher.
Queen’s Arcade Architect
James Francis MacKinnon was a Belfast architect and a member of the Royal Institute of the Architects Ireland. In 1880 he was appointed to the Belfast Union Board of Architects and designed two new blocks at the Belfast Workhouse on the Lisburn Road.
By 1895 he had left the city and was residing in Cloughcorr House, Magheracastle, near the town of Ballycastle in north Antrim. His occupation is listed as an engineer and JP (Justice of the Peace). MacKinnon died on 26th June 1905 age 72. Interestingly, James’s father, Alexander, died just two years before him aged 104
Queen’s Arcade Interior
The Arcade runs from Donegall Place which faces Belfast City Hall to Fountain Street. The Arcade itself is double height with a vaulted glass ceiling carried on perforated iron trusses. The first floor windows are semi-circular in shape with spoke divisions while the cornices are decorated in gold with a floral motif. The shops are divided by dark marble pilasters with double cornicing at ground level. The floor of the Arcade is beautifully decorated in mosaics.
The building is four storeys in height and the exterior displays intricate carvings and ornamentation. Each set of six windows is adorned with a different design.
A clock, by Canavan of County Armagh, graces the second storey and the initials AR, for Austin Reed, the upper floor.
The ground floor facade is black with gold lettering, while the office building above is painted cream.
On each side of the roof are copper, now verdigris, miniature turrets topped with decorative ironwork. At the apex of the gable is a model turreted castle, perhaps a reference to the original Belfast castle which stood not far from this location or its namesake the Castle Restaurant.
The Castle Restaurant
Castle Lane Restaurant
George Fisher had the Arcade constructed to accommodate his Castle Restaurant. He had been proprietor of this business since 1868. In 1871 Fisher moved his premises to 29-31 Castle Lane.
The Castle Restaurant at Queen’s Arcade
The restaurant obviously flourished for him to be able to afford the expense of building this large arcade which contained thirty ‘finely fitted’ shops as well as his own restaurant. The Castle Restaurant continued to thrive in its new prime location.
“This well-known and highly reputed establishment is justly regarded as one of the foremost and best restaurants in Belfast, and enjoys a prosperity and support fully commensurate with the reputation it has won”Industries of the North 1888-1891
The Castle Restaurant boasted a number of features with elegant rooms and a grand central staircase. On the ground floor were a grill room, luncheon bar, coffee room and smoke room. The large dining hall on the first floor could seat 100 guests. It was 50ft long and with 6 windows looking over Donegall Place the “Piccadilly of Belfast”. The next storey contained private dining rooms and a drawing room for ladies. The building also offered club rooms and a wine cellar.
“….the entire place is replete with the various comforts, conveniences, and luxuries so greatly appreciated by people whose lots are cast in a ‘high pressure’ age, and when whose lives for the most part are a constant round of necessarily energetic action. It is delightful to have at one’s disposal the many resources of such an establishment as this, and in the midst of the turmoil of life in a great and busy city, to find one’s requirements in matters gastronomic so carefully studied and so fully satisfied as they certainly are under Mr Fisher’s hospitable roof”Industries of the North 1881-1891
In 1895 the premises were bought by Sir Otto Jaffe, Belfast’s First Lord Mayor. Subsequently in 1919 the Arcade and building were purchased by another restaurateur Frederick W Henry. In the 1930’s the flagship store was Austin Reed (men’s outfitters). They hired Hobart & Heron Architects to carry out some alterations. This was when the A R initials, in Art Deco style were added to the front edifice. In 1987 the exterior of the building was refurbished and glass and ironwork canopies installed over both entrances. Today the principal shop in the Arcade is the prestigious jewellers John H Lunn, who have had premises here since the mid twentieth century.
The site on which the Arcade was built was previously the residence of Dr James MacDonnell. MacDonnell (1763-1845) was a great medical man and philanthropist in Belfast. His work with poor and the sick in the city led to the establishment of the Fever Hospital and Dispensary, forerunner of the current Royal Victoria Hospital. A ‘blue plaque’ in honour of the good doctor is displayed high up on the front of the arcade building.
Queen’s Arcade Today
Queen’s Arcade is the last remaining Victorian Arcade still open in the city of Belfast. Its careful restoration by specialist conservation architects allows us to see it in all its original nineteenth century splendour. While a busy shopping throughfare, it is worth taking time to admire the intricate carvings and decorations and the ornate mosaic floor.
“One could hardly desire a more convincing proof of the public spirit and enterprise of Mr Fisher than that which is presented in this really superb addition to Belfast’s structural ornaments…”
Queen’s Arcade, 29-33 Donegall Place to 32 Fountain Street, Belfast Bt1 5FF Tel: 028 90327954
A brief history of the castles built in Belfast over the centuries, the battles and ownership changes and the loss of Belfast Castle to fire.
Through his hard work and entrepreneurial skills, Otto Jaffe was one of the leading merchants responsible for the boom in the linen industry in Belfast.
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