By the 1822 map of Belfast, the current layout of the street showed various structures lined the street, including private dwellings, a foundry and, in the mid-to-late-19th century, numerous public houses and licenced properties (Patton, p. 192).
Patton states that the building was constructed in c. 1850; however it is possible that the building possesses an earlier history. In 1843 the Belfast Street Directories noted that a Mr. Henry Steen, a provision merchant, operated from premises on Hill Street next to Elliot’s Court (the same location that Robert Atkinson was recorded from a decade later).
The original construction date of the building is difficult to ascertain due to the extensive refronting of the property in 1871 resulting in the current façade. The property was acquired by Bass. Ratcliff & Gretton ltd., English Brewers sometime before 1900 and continued to occupy the site until the mid-20th Century. Bass’s warehouse survived the heavy bombardment of the Belfast Docklands during the 1941 Blitz.
Nos 18-22 Hill Street was listed in 1981 by which time it had been subdivided into three addresses, nos 18, 20 and 22 Hill Street which were each utilised as offices; the First Survey Image records that by the 1980s the ground floor windows facing onto Hill Street had been blocked up while the building was still occupied by Irwin & Campbell.
Further, the stable block located to the rear of the building was demolished sometime in the late-20th century when the modern extension to the rear of the building was constructed. The site continued to be utilised as offices until 2006 when the current occupants came into possession of the building and converted the former licensed warehouse into the diverse culture and arts venue named the Black Box.
The Black Box continues to occupy the building and has been established as one of the principal arts and entertainment venues in the city, ‘a home for live music, theatre, literature, comedy, film, visual art, live art, circus, cabaret and all points in between’.
(Thanks to NIEA Built Heritage Department)
1. Patton, M., ‘Central Belfast: An historical gazetteer’ Belfast: Ulster Architectural Heritage Society, 1993