Ahead of the opening of our new Belfast building, we continue our exploration of Custom House’s historic surrounds.
Here at BE Offices we can barely contain our excitement ahead of the imminent opening of the spectacular new addition to our portfolio, the incredible and iconic Custom House in Belfast.
As the grand opening, scheduled for later this year, draws ever nearer, we investigate local area attractions, such as the very nearby ‘Salmon of Knowledge’ and now the Albert Memorial Clock.
Known locally as the Albert Clock, the city landmark resides in Queen’s Square, adjacent to Custom House Square. Created in memory of Queen Victoria’s husband Prince Albert, like the rather more well-known Royal Albert Hall, today the clock is perhaps better known for its slight lean, having been constructed on soft ground.
Four years after Prince Albert’s death in 1861, a competition was launched to design a memorial to the late Prince Consort, a competition won by W.J. Barre, architect of Belfast’s Ulster Hall. Interestingly, Barre was not initially awarded the prize and instead the contract was given, in secret, to the architect of Custom House, Charles Lanyon. A public outcry resulted in Barre receiving his just reward and the £2,500 cost of construction (today £220,000) was raised through a public subscription.
It took four years to construct the sandstone memorial which combines Italian and French Gothic architectural styles and stands at 113 feet high. With its detailed stonework, including heraldic lions, there is also a statue on the western side of the Prince wearing his Knight of the Garter robes, a two-tonne bell housed within and a clock made by Belfast’s Francis Moore. When finally unveiled to the public in 1869 it immediately became a much-loved City landmark, as well as, unfortunately, a meeting place for illicit activity with its close proximity to the docks and visiting sailors.
Built on wooden piles placed on reclaimed marshland, the heavy tower started to lean as it settled and while the 4 foot incline is not overly dramatic, it has resulted in the need to remove some of the ornamentation over the years. In 2002 the tower was subject to a restoration project which replaced some of the carvings and gave the landmark a thorough clean, in line with a wider regeneration of the surrounding area turning both Queen’s and Custom House Squares into the attractive public spaces we see today, with fountains, sculptures and trees.
Just a side note, in case you were thinking of visiting. It isn’t possible to go inside the clock but guided tours of the exterior are available.
Images courtesy of Shutterstock