Custom House and My Shattered Dreams

I chose Custom House, Belfast as the (period) property with historical significance to research for the current module of my Degree course.

One of the requirements of this module is to photograph the architectural/design elements of said period property and discuss its political/social context.

On the outside this property is quite a distinguishable and commanding structure in the City of Belfast.  It currently houses governmental staff (HMRC) and because there are absolutely no published photos of its interior, I was delighted when I was granted permission to take a peek inside.


I didn’t take this photograph but it’s a pretty impressive shot of the rear of Custom House. Now you can see why I was tempted to take a peek inside. Talk about an anti-climax.

From the moment I stepped into this building my hopes of capturing some great images of its impressive interior were dashed.  Nothing was original.  Not the staircase, nor the internal walls (most of which echoed when tapped) and most certainly not the cornicing and other decorative elements.

To be honest, I’m writing this post in a completely half-hearted fashion with my shoulders well and truly slumped.  I’m sensing that a diva tantrum may be on the cards.

I feel obliged to talk about the history of this building even though IT’S CLEARLY A LIAR!!!  Ok, diva tantrum in full flow here.  I did warn you.

It is a Victorian building that was completed in 1857 and was designed by the renowned architect Charles Lanyon.  It has the typical design attributes of neoclassicism and has been described as being of the ‘Palazzo’ style.  This is evident with the many pediments and Corinthian columns that can be seen from the exterior.  It was originally built using Scottish sandstone and its most noteworthy architectural feature is the carving in the central pediment at the front of the property.  Thomas Fitzpatrick completed this sculpting and its figures of Britannia, flanked by a lion and unicorn with Neptune and Mercury were supposed to represent Manufacture, Commerce, Industry and Peace.

Custom House Pediment

Essentially the creation of this building represented the growing commercial success of Belfast including its rapidly developing seaport.  Its steps at the rear of the building also served as a platform for public speaking where topical issues surrounding politics, religion and life in general were heard by the gathering crowd.

Public Speaking Custom House

 A bronze statue takes pride of place at the steps of Custom House in recognition of its contribution to the social history of Belfast; and of course I duly took a photograph.

Speakers Corner Custom House

This is the functioning entrance of Custom House, which is actually the rear of the property but my oh my, what a beautiful entrance to an office!!

Rear Entance Custom House

The three windows are actually quite imposing when viewed from inside the building; these photographs really don’t do their large proportions any justice but hey, I have to justify my wasted afternoon somehow.  It’s worth pointing out that whilst the windows from the interior are PVC (Gawd, the pain); the original windows are still in situ.

Check out the ugly columns; they clearly aren’t original and when I was shown the basement of Custom House there was a HUGE column at the bottom of the stairs.  As I was talking to the very kind lady (who took time out of her afternoon to show me around) I tapped it.  And guess what; the resulting sound was similar to that of tapping a cereal box.

My heart sank.

I was starting to feel very disillusioned; similar to the time when my parents told me at the age of 16 10 that Santa wasn’t the person I thought he was.

Windows at Rear Custom House

This is one of the rooms within this building; a conference room.  And whilst it bares no resemblance to the original features that were unceremoniously ripped out in the 1920s the vast windows are still mighty impressive.  It mightn’t be of the same calibre as the neoclassical exterior but I’d much rather sit in here doodling hearts at a boring meeting, than sit in the bland, generic and completely uninspiring meeting rooms at my office building.

Conference Room Custom House

I was able to take these photos from one of the many port holes and they illustrate the sash windows with pediments above (utilising Dentil moulding) very nicely.  The carved leaves and foliage are also very symbolic of neoclassical design.

Window Detail Custom House

And finally, it gives me great pleasure to show you a photo of an original design element of the interior of Custom House:

Metal Beam Custom House

What you’re witnessing here folks, is an exposed section of an original metal beam that obviously forms part of the main structure of the building.  What a find!  Let’s ignore the glazing with PVC frames, shall we?

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