The Industry Standard- William John Gilliland
Portrait of W.J Gilliland, from “Contemporary Biographies” by W.T Pike.

The most prolific architects of the Victorian era often were the most sought-after mentors. Being apprenticed to one of these architects afforded you connections with some of the best names in the business. For the young apprentices it was an opportunity to learn from the most skilled individuals in the trade, whilst for the architects it was an opportunity to train an understudy who could assist them in their work and allow them to take on more projects. Whilst these apprentices rarely rose to the same levels of fame as their mentors, they left a lasting mark on Belfast, and indeed, the North Belfast Heritage Cluster. One such architect was William John Gilliland, who was apprenticed to Thomas Jackson between 1872-1876.

Gilliland was born 27th March 1855, the son of a grocer from Monkstown, Co.Antrim. Although his mentor, Jackson, was best known for his design of St Malachy’s church, Gilliland focused primarily on commercial and industrial projects and did not take on many ecclesiastical buildings. The Ormeau Bakery is one of his most prominent works, however he also designed buildings such as Gresham Chambers on Royal Avenue. An accomplished architect, his expertise was valued across Belfast, being called upon in at least one lawsuit as a prominent witness. He was also a founding member of the Ulster Society of Architects and a former president of the Ulster Arts Club. In 1912 he became a City Councillor for the Victoria Ward of the city. After his death in 1929, an article in the Irish Builder described Gilliland as ‘an energetic man… he had a kindly heart…and his wishes for the improvement of Belfast were very sincere.’

The North Belfast Working Men’s Club encapsulates both Gilliland’s connections with the industries in Belfast and his desire to improve the city and its facilities for everyone. The club was designed by Gilliland in 1893 before opening its doors the following year. He was likely commissioned for the job due to his connections would have been known by the industry leaders of the area due to his prowess in designing industrial buildings. Whilst the Working Men’s Club is a more modest building than many of those that Gilliland designed, there are clear parallels between the Club, and Gresham Chambers on Royal Avenue. In particular, the flower-like ornamentation above the doors of the Club are present in similar fashion above the first floor windows, with both buildings sharing similar frontages.

The North Belfast Working Men’s Club: Opened 1894
Gresham Chambers, Royal Avenue: Built 1887

The Club continues to host events for the local community, however, more recently it was an international audience that arrived on Danube Street as they hosted the first ever European Trophy Competition for the World Inclusio ParaDarts and World Para Darts. The event saw hundreds of participants and supporters enter through the doors of the club that Gilliland designed over a century ago.

About the archivist:

James Cromey is the Archive Coordinator for the North Belfast Heritage Cluster. He has a background in Victorian, Industrial and Medical History and has received degrees from the University of Glasgow and Queens University Belfast. All research has been conducted to a high academic standard and has been fully referenced. If you would like to know more about a story or piece of research, or if you wish to tell us about your own story, email us at:

Members Involved

YEAR: 1894

Location: Danube Street