THE UPPER CRESCENT IN BELFAST
The Upper Crescent was built in the mid-1840s. It is thought that some of the Upper Crescent was designed by the famous Belfast architect Charles Lanyon.
Upper and Lower Crescent The selling off of much of Lord Donegall’s Belfast estate in the early to mid 19th century opened up large areas of land around the town for development. The lands to the south, along the Malone Ridge, were particularly attractive to developers and lead to the building of many the many fine late Georgian style terraces from the mid 1830s onwards, the trend accelerated by the establishment of the prestigious Queen’s College in the area in the later 1840s.
These new grand terraces were occupied by Belfast’s professional and business classes, leaving their older residences in the centre of the town, which in turn were gradually turned into shops and offices.
The Upper Crescent was perhaps the grandest terrace development undertaken to the south of the town, an elegantly curving row of three storey dwellings in a late regency style built in 1846 by timber and shipping merchant Robert Corry. The authorship is uncertain, but Dr Paul Larmour has suggested that the hand of Charles Lanyon may have been involved. Corry himself undertook the building work and took up residence in the house to the east end, and, for the first few years of its existence, the row was known as “Corry’s Crescent”.
To the immediate south of the Crescent, where the church and small park now is, there was a large lawn which Corry held as a garden. Shortly after this garden was laid out, however, Corry had it ploughed up and used for the cultivation of vegetables for relief of local workers suffering as a result of the Great Famine.
To the north of this ran an old water course (which flowed northwards into the Basin - a reservoir east of the Dublin Road), to the east some smaller gardens (belonging to other occupants of the Crescent) and further to the east and to the north-east, ran Albion Lane, a narrow semi-rural lane-way stretching from the north end of Bradbury Place to the east end of the present University Terrace.
In 1852 Corry built another terrace to the north of his garden and just south of the old water course. This new development (the erroneously named Lower Crescent) was much in the same style as that to the south and was occupied by the same mix of professionals and businessmen, though by as early as 1860 the ground floors of some of the properties were used as offices.
In the later 1860s a railway line was cut to the immediate north of Lower Crescent (along the line of the old water course), in 1873 the large sandstone building (originally Victoria College for girls) was added to the west end of the terrace, with two houses added to the east end by the close of the decade, the most easterly of which, Rivoli House, (designed by William Hastings), originally contained a dance academy run by a Frederick Brouneau. The new railway line cut across Albion Lane and presaged the laying out of a new broader thoroughfare, Botanic Avenue.
Upper Crescent also witnessed further building in the 1860s and 70s, with two large William Hastings designed properties erected to the west end in 1869, one of which, Crescent House (the present Bank of Ireland) also fronted on to University Road.
In 1878-79 two further houses were added to this end, on the ground between those of 1869. In 1885-7 the large Presbyterian church (the present Crescent Church) was erected to plans by Glasgow architect John Bennie Wilson, on the west side of Robert Corry’s former garden, with a two storey terrace, the present Crescent Gardens, built on the site of smaller garden plots to the to east end in 1898.
During the first half of the 20th century most of the properties of Upper and Lower Crescent, as well as Crescent Gardens, remained private dwellings, but by 1960 many were given over to business use others divided into flats, with the former Rivoli House (later named Dreenagh House becoming the Regency Hotel. This trend continued and by the beginning of the 21st century none were occupied as private dwellings.
In the mid 1990s three of the 1860s to 70s houses at the west end of Upper Crescent were demolished and a modern office block built in their place, whilst in 2000 the railway cutting to the south of Lower Crescent was built over, in preparation for a new development.