Sinclair's Department Store, Belfast

  • 89-101 Royal Avenue, Belfast, County Antrim, BT1 1FE
  • Designed by: James Scott
  • Built: 1935
  • Tags: Art Deco, Commercial

Standing on the corner of Royal Parade and North Street in the centre of Belfast (less than half a mile north of Donegall Square and the City Hall) the former Sinclair's Department Store is a fine example of Modernist architecture in Ireland, in the Art Deco style.

Sinclair's was once one of Belfast's most prestigious department stores. The store on Royal Avenue as seen today was built in 1926 in the classical style. By 1935, Sinclair's was extended with an Art Deco-style addition by Belfast-born architect James Scott, who had previously designed the 1926 building. At its height the store had premises had on North Street, Lower Garfield Street and Royal Avenue. The three streets form a triangle with Royal Avenue to the west, North Street to the east, Lower Garfield Street to the south and with the 1935 addition to the north, at the 'point' of the triangle.

According to the Irish Architectural Archive James Scott was born in 1875/76 and died in 1949/50. He designed a number of building in Belfast, but the Sinclair's Department Store commissions were arguably his most significant works.

For the 1935 addition to the department store, Scott used a corner site on Royal Avenue and North Street, opposite the Art Deco-style Bank of Ireland building. By occupying a corner site, Scott was able to produce a dramatic, expansive scheme, with facades on North Street and Royal Avenue, and the main facade on the corner of North Street and Royal Avenue. The building extends over five storeys, with the main entrance set beneath a curved, projecting canopy. Above, the facade of the building is rendered in creamy, buff-coloured faience tiles, in a "stretcher" bond pattern.

The first, second and third storeys are pierced by fluted pilasters, clad in the same buff-coloured faience. The North Street facade comprises a single bay, with two wider bays on Royal Avenue, and five narrower bays on the main facade. The bays are broken with large, red painted, metal framed windows. Flooring blanks within the bays are disguised with raised panels, with chamfered corners, in the same red colour. The panels carry a gilt-edged circular 'Sinclair' shield with an embossed gilt-edged capital-'S' letter. On the fourth storey are smaller, sqaut rectangular windows, mirroring the five bays below. These are separated by fluted pilasters.

Atop the building, there is a stepped pediment frontispiece, with pronounced vertical fluting to the faience, with distinct convex, vertical edging and a horizontal return at the top.  The pediment terminates in a decorative key stone, beneath which is a large clock with the hands and minute markers set onto the faience.

During the troubles in Northern Ireland the main shopping area around Royal Avenue was closed off and pedestrianised, with security gates and roadblocks. Many shops and buildings were attacked with explosive devices and firebombs, including Sinclair's which was attacked on 12 July 1971. As a consequence of the troubles, the department store closed and on 1 September 1972 and the building sold off to a Japanese company for a relatively modest sum of £60,000. Today the building is occupied by a cafe, with office space above.

The building was awarded Grade B+ listed status on 10 February 1989. In Northern Ireland buildings are listed Grade A, Grade B+, Grade B1 and B2. Grade A is the highest, and is equivalent to Grade I listing in England and Wales. Grade B+ is equivalent to Grade II* listed status, while Grade B1 and B2 correspond with Grade II listed status.

Posted by Richard Coltman on Saturday, May 12, 2012

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