August 7th - Stone and the City.

Dr. Joanne Curran

Geology and buildings have a very close and complex relationship and there are many types of stone that might be used by the builder. The stone chosen will have a big influence on the character and status of the town/city and types of stone are almost endless. Many factors will influence the builder’s choice for example; its aesthetic qualities, sources of the material, it’s reaction to weather and ageing, cost, transport and many others. Dr. Curran took a sample of Belfast’s best known buildings around the central area to illustrate these relationships.

Our perambulation started at Sinclair Seamen’s Church, a very attractive structure in Italian Lombardy style, built by Charles Lanyon (1858). It is built of rough cast Scrabo sandstone. It has deteriorated badly in the high pollution levels in the CBD combined with salt from Belfast Lough. Attempts to replace pointing with cement has made the situation worse. (The same applies to the Assembly Building in Wellington Place.)

The Albert Memorial (1865) built of the same material, has similar problems but a massive renovation programme has given it a new lease of life, but at huge cost, at least for the short term.

Two other well known buildings are the Custom House (1854) and the Harbour Commissioners’ Offices (1854 and extended in 1895) both built of sandstone but of much superior quality, imported from the Glasgow district. These have weathered well.

However the Albert Memorial and the Custom House have another problem. They were built on sleech, a muddy material found close to the River Lagan ie. cheap sites. They are supported by wooden piles that have been unable to take their weight and subsidence inevitably has taken place. Vast sums have been spent on renovations.

Our last stop was the City Hall, one of the most striking buildings in Belfast. It is a large rectangular building in Baroque Revival style, built of Portland Limestone (1896), this attractive stone makes excellent building material and as well as being attractive, it weathers well in the polluted atmosphere of the CBD.

This was a most interesting evening walk and everyone realised that there was a lot more to be learned from the built environment than we had anticipated.

We send our thanks to Dr. Curran for a very stimulating and well structured outdoor seminar.

James Rutherford (Hon. Geological Secretary)

Field Trip Reports 2012Field_Trip_Reports.html

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Sinclair Seamen’s Church

Albert Memorial

Harbour Commissioners Office

Belfast City Hall

Custom House

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