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Visiting the Crescent, Belfast, Northern Ireland: A Varied, Architecturally Impressive, Built Environment

Updated on October 20, 2020
Flag used in the Police Service of Northern Ireland's logo
Flag used in the Police Service of Northern Ireland's logo | Source
Corinthian columns, Belfast. Well decorated columns on no. 7 Upper Crescent
Corinthian columns, Belfast. Well decorated columns on no. 7 Upper Crescent | Source
Upper Crescent, Belfast
Upper Crescent, Belfast | Source
 The tower of the Crescent Church, Belfast
The tower of the Crescent Church, Belfast | Source
Map location of Belfast
Map location of Belfast | Source

From Neoclassical to French Gothic

The Upper and Lower Crescents in Belfast, Northern Ireland have some striking architecture. The nearby Crescent Church, on University Avenue, is also impressive in its stylistic lines, though these are very different from those of the more significant structures on the Upper and Lower Crescents. While the latter exemplify some fine Georgian architecture, the Crescent Church stands in contrast, with its combination of red brick and stone that positively glows in the sun.

The pillars of the buildings on the Crescent are so thoroughly Georgian in character that one could be forgiven for thinking this was one of London, England's fashionable West End Squares, or Brighton, or Hove, or — indeed — Dublin. Subliminal impressions aside, the Upper Crescent was built in the mid-1840s. No. 7, Upper Crescent, has some particularly ornate Corinthian columns. It is thought that some of the Upper Crescent received design input from the prominent Belfast architect Charles Lanyon. The Lower Crescent, despite its name, is actually straight. (Some of the buildings in the Lower Crescent are of later provenance and stylistically distinct.) The Crescent Gardens occupy a central location between the Upper and Lower Crescent and the Crescent Church.

What is now known as the Crescent Church was built in 1887 as a Presbyterian church. It was designed by architect John Bennie Wilson. The building is now used by an independent, undenominational Christian congregation. Among the features of the building is prominent entrance door arching at its University Road entrance; I noticed behind the glass door an enormous, open Bible placed on a lectern so as to be readable from the street. Its 42.7 metre tower has conspicuous, vertical windows without glass, which give the tower its 'see through' appearance. The building's style is described as French Gothic.

At the junction of the Lower Crescent and University Road, there is an interesting historical plaque, sponsored by the Ulster History circle, to commemorate the founder of Victoria College, situated for nearly a century on the Crescent. Margaret Byers (1832-1912)(1), served as a missionary in China before being widowed at a young age and founded what is now Victoria College in 1859. She is remembered as a distinguished educator to young women. Margaret Byers was conferred with an LL.D by Trinity College, Dublin in 1905 and served on the Senate of Queen's University of Belfast from 1908, at which University, located a short distance from the Crescent, many alumnae of Victoria College also achieved distinction.

John Bennie Wilson's French Gothic Crescent Church building and the Neoclassical, Georgian-style properties on the Upper and Lower Crescents are quite different in character. But together, they cause the local, built environment to make for some rather memorable architectural images. The Crescent thus also offers memories of distinguished historical contributions to the education of young women.

July 24, 2012


(1) Gordon Lucy wrote an article on the legacy of Margaret Byers in 2012, the year of the centenary of her death:

Also worth seeing

In Belfast itself, among other visitor attractions are: Queen's University Main Building; Belfast City Hall; the Albert Memorial Clock Tower; Belfast Castle; the Harbour Commissioners' building; Church House; the ornate Belfast Technical College; and many more.


How to get there: United Airlines flies from New York Newark to Belfast International Airport, at Aldergrove, where car rental is available. Please note that facilities mentioned may be withdrawn, without notice. You are advised to check with the airline or your travel agent for up to date information.

MJFenn is an independent travel writer based in Ontario, Canada.


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