Northern Ireland

Fears more of Belfast's heritage will burn after listed building goes up in flames

Firefighters at the scene of a fire at a derelict building in Samuel Street in the centre of Belfast. Picture Mal McCann
Firefighters at the scene of a fire at a derelict building in Samuel Street in the centre of Belfast. Picture Mal McCann

As another of Belfast’s listed buildings has gone up in flames, a heritage organisation has called for action to prevent further losses in the city.

In the early hours of Wednesday, fire crews were called to the scene of a major fire at the Victorian era Merchant’s Buildings between between North Street and Samuel Street.

The derelict red-bricked building now appears to be completely destroyed and follows several other fires in the city centre in recent years.

An operation to tackle the flames included six fire engines, two aerial appliances and 40 firefighters.

Firefighters at the scene of a fire at a derelict building in Samuel Street in the centre of Belfast. Picture Mal McCann
Firefighters at the scene of a fire at a derelict building in Samuel Street in the centre of Belfast. Picture Mal McCann

The B2-listed site at 166-174 North Street dates back to 1899, and was previously used as an art school, shops, offices and a warehouse.

In April this year, a former nightclub in the Mays Meadow area was treated as arson by the PSNI.

In Donegall Street, the listed Old Cathedral Building was also gutted by an overnight fire in October.

The fire broke out early this morning at Samuel Street in Belfast city centre. Picture by Mal McCann
The fire broke out early this morning at Samuel Street in Belfast city centre. Picture by Mal McCann

Speaking to the Irish News, Jamie Robinson from Ulster Architectural Heritage said it was another sad example of the neglect for many heritage buildings in Belfast.

“We’ve been seeing this far too often. More needs to be done by the government and Belfast City Council to stop this happening again.”

Ani Kanakaki-Ainsworth is head of marketing and communications with the Linen Hall library in Belfast which dates back to 1788.

“Landmarks of our city, they are connected with the histories, with the people. People will remember them since they were young children, walking about to see all these landmarks gone, it’s devastating,” she said.

She said the persistent number of fires was “a big, big concern”.

“In our organisation we’re lucky enough… we didn’t have an incident (of a fire) in many, many, many years,” she said.

“But it doesn’t make it any less sad or any less worrying for everybody else.”

According to information held by the Department for Communities, Merchant’s Buildings was built in 1899 for the developer Francis Curley – a clerical and merchant tailor who also developed properties.

With four ground floor shop fronts, a series of halls in the upper floors and expansive warehousing, the most notable early tenant was the Municipal School of Art.

The fire broke out early this morning at Samuel Street in Belfast city centre. Picture by Mal McCann
The fire broke out early this morning at Samuel Street in Belfast city centre. Picture by Mal McCann

Other early occupants on the ground floor shopfronts included Kerr’s Miliners and a ‘gent’s outfitting and boot and shoe warehouse’.

Another long-standing tenant was Sam McCrudden & Company, linen manufacturers who occupied the building from the mid-1920s until 1963.

Most recently, the Manor Snooker Hall and social club opened to the upper floors and operated until the late 1990s.

Roads in Belfast city centre reopened on Wednesday evening, police said.

One man has been arrested in relation to this incident and remains in custody.