Parliament Buildings – A History
Why is Parliament Buildings on the Stormont Estate?
Following the Government of Ireland Act 1920 the Parliament of Northern Ireland was inaugurated on 22nd June 1921 in Belfast City Hall. However, the new Parliament of Northern Ireland needed a home of its own.
Three sites in Belfast were considered before the final decision was made; Belfast Castle, Orangefield and Belvoir Park but they were all rejected. Around the same time Stormont Castle and its surrounding demesne came on the market and following the approval of the Parliament it was purchased by the Commissioners of Public Works and Buildings of the Imperial Government in December 1921 for £20,334.
EXTRA FACT: The Commissioners of Public Works and Buildings of the Imperial Government couldn’t just purchase the estate without approval from the Parliament of Northern Ireland because the Government of Ireland Act 1920 stated that the Parliament was to be in Belfast unless Parliament chose differently and at that time Stormont was outside the city boundaries. However, the boundaries were later extended to include it.
Building Parliament Buildings
Parliament Buildings was designed by architect Sir Arnold Thornely of Liverpool. His original plans involved three separate buildings to include law courts, a parliamentary building, and an administrative block. The plans were approved in the Autumn of 1922 and preliminary work began in 1923. There were however many delays, technical and practical, but the financial problems caused the most significant problems. This led to the original plans being changed and only one building was constructed. This explains why it is called ‘Parliament Buildings’ (plural) even though it is a single standalone building. The intended sites for the other two buildings are clearly visible today, these are the lower terraces in front, and to either side of Parliament Buildings.
The Foundation Stone for Parliament Buildings was finally laid on 19 May 1928, by the Governor of Northern Ireland the Duke of Abercorn.
During the construction period Parliament met in Assembly’s College in Botanic Avenue, Belfast (now Union Theological College), the theological college of the Presbyterian Church in Ireland. Although it did briefly return to Belfast City Hall in the autumn of 1932 for the last sessions before the formal opening of Parliament Buildings.
On 16 November 1932, The Prince of Wales, Edward Windsor, opened Parliament Buildings. The final cost of constructing Parliament Buildings, came close to £1.7 million, roughly £100 million today.
- Sir Arnold Thornely designed Parliament Buildings to be 365ft wide, representing one foot for every day of the year.
- Standing at 92 feet high, Parliament Buildings is made from English Portland stone and is mounted on a granite base quarried from the Mourne Mountains in County Down.
- Representing the number of counties in Northern Ireland, Parliament Buildings has six floors and there are six pillars at the entrance to the building.
- The Great Hall measures 26.85m x 14.31m and is the most richly-decorated part of Parliament Buildings.
- The blue, red and gold painted ceiling of the Great Hall remains untouched since it was first painted in 1932, thanks to a secret waxing process formulated by Heaton, Tabb & Co. of London.
- To camouflage Parliament Buildings during World War II, the building’s Portland stone was painted with a mixture of cow manure and bitumen. Removing the paint after the war was a huge challenge with the mixture having stained the stonework. The paint mixture took seven years to remove and the exterior façade never regained its original white colour.
- The avenue leading up to Parliament Buildings is lined with 305 red-twigged lime trees which have survived since they were first planted in the 1920s.
- It is one mile from the gates at the bottom of Prince of Wales Avenue to the front steps of Parliament Buildings.