53-59 Camden Street, Belfast

Camden Street before restorationFront elevation in 1978
CamdenStreet in 2011Front elevation in 2011

This was the first block of houses to be built in Camden Street, being erected in 1849-52 shortly after Queen's University and other early buildings in University Street. At that time, Belfast was still quite a modest town of mainly Georgian brick houses nearly half a mile away, and the University was established in open countryside that was soon after to be developed as the Malone ridge became a fashionable area above the smog of the industrial city. The terrace of four large houses, each consisting of three floors with an attic and, very unusually for Belfast, a basement, was built of brick faced in stucco and designed in a free classical style with paired round-headed windows on the ground floor. Internally the house had a high standard of ornamental plasterwork, with run cornices and elaborate ceiling roses in all the main rooms, and large folding doors between the two ground floor rooms.

Over the years the houses had fallen on bad times, with one being used as a theatrical store and another divided into bed-sitters which were still gas-lit in the 1950s. The terrace had been acquired by the University with a view to demolishing it to form a car park, but fortunately it was listed and Hearth was able to acquire it for restoration.

The building had suffered from extensive dry rot while it lay derelict, and much of the building fabric had to be renewed. The back returns were completely demolished and rebuilt to form fire escapes for the present twelve flats, along with modern kitchens and bathrooms. Most of the plasterwork was renewed, and new panel doors were made up to meet fire regulations. The front porticos were completely missing, and extensive research failed to produce any record of the original design, but there was enough evidence at the base and round the doors to establish the pattern with reasonable confidence. The front area railings had been removed during the war, but fragments remained at the front steps from which the complete railings were reproduced.

The building was extensively re-improved in 2010-11, with high standards or thermal and acoustic insulation introduced along with general upgrading of services. Two tenants had previously exercised their right to buy, so Hearth currently owns only ten of the flats.   

Hearth Housing Association
Architect: Hearth
Quantity Surveyor: McNeil Rainey & Best (2010: Rainey & Best)
Structural Engineer: Kirk McClure & Morton
M&E Engineer: (2010: A H Design)
Main contractor: F S Brown, Downpatrick (2010: Mascott Construction)
Restored: 1982-84; re-improved 2010-11
Funded by Housing Association Grant
Accommodation: Eight two-bedroom flats and four one-bedroom flats

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