As part of our continued research into the buildings that make up the North Belfast Heritage Cluster, we are looking at an architect who, not only designed many of the buildings of Belfast, but also played an important role within some of the cluster members. Thomas Jackson was a very flexible architect, capable of designing buildings of outstanding opulence, whilst also designing the classical façades familiar to people in Belfast today. He not only designed some of the North Belfast Heritage Cluster; he was also an important member within the organisations as well.
Thomas Jackson was born in Waterford in 1807. He was part of a well-connected Quaker family. His ancestor, Anthony Jackson had attended the first Quaker meeting in Ireland, which was held in 1654 in Lurgan. Upon relocating to Belfast, Thomas Jackson and his family became an important part of the Frederick Street Meetings, with his descendants continuing to attend until 2007.
Jackson left a significant legacy in Belfast, with a substantial portfolio that ranged from domestic buildings and suburbs to industrial warehouses and grand churches. Despite this, he is lesser known in Belfast today to the wider public than his counterparts such as Sirs, Thomas Drew and Charles Lanyon.
When comparing Jackson and Lanyon and their impact on Belfast, both men boast substantial portfolios and have designed important city landmarks that still exist today. It was Lanyon’s connections and socialite background that provided him a greater profile within Belfast. In comparison, Jackson’s adherence to the Quaker traditions set him on a different path to Lanyon. He was no-less successful as an architect and is widely respected within academic circles for his ability to transition between styles, especially during his younger years, however, he did not garner the same public recognition as his counterpart.
The majority of Jackson’s projects proved to be great successes, however his attempt at building the Cliftonville suburb of Belfast; a project that brought some striking architecture to Belfast, was not as successful as hoped, due to costs being higher than predicted. His masterpiece, and the building which is most prominent today is St Malachy’s Church, (https://www.saintmalachysparish.com/), a stunning building that is widely regarded as “one of the best Tudor revival churches in Ireland.” It stands in stark contrast to Jackson’s other works, which included a plethora of Quaker Meeting Houses, including the one on Frederick Street, as well as branch buildings for Ulster Bank, were much more reserved in their design. Other buildings designed by Jackson, such as the Royal Terrace on the Lisburn Road or the Royal Avenue Hotel have been lost over time, further diminishing his legacy in 21st century Belfast.
As an architect, Jackson’s calibre was never in question. St Malachy’s Church shows his ability to design buildings as a show piece, however, it appears he was more widely known as a safe pair of hands when it came to designing buildings with an element of prestige and gravitas. Whilst the more ‘public fronted centrepieces’ often found their way to architects such as Lanyon, Jackson quietly continued to design buildings which made up the fabric of the city: The back drop of Victorian Belfast.
For those interested in finding out more about Thomas Jackson, and seeing some more of his work, here are some examples of buildings that still exist in Belfast (as well as some that are not).
Still in existence:
The Head Line Building (former Scottish Amicable Life Insurance Building)- Victoria Street: 1864 – Scottish Amicable Life Insurance Buildings, Victoria Street, Belfast | Archiseek – Irish Architecture
Forster Green & Co. Royal Avenue: 1884 – Forster Green & Co., Royal Avenue, Belfast | Archiseek – Irish Architecture
Royal Avenue Hotel, Royal Avenue: 1884 – Royal Avenue Hotel, Belfast | Archiseek – Irish Architecture
Fountain Street Hall: 1889 – Fountain Street Hall, Belfast | Archiseek – Irish Architecture
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: email@example.com