Monday, 27 June 2011

The jewel that is The Crown

It's sad to see that Belfast has been in the news again for all the wrong reasons, after a period of apparent peace and growing prosperity. And I want to help redress the balance. I see this blog as a place to celebrate, and reflect on, the good things in life. And Belfast is one of them.

A while ago, my husband and I took two 3-week photography trips around Northern Ireland, including ten days in Belfast. My husband needed to produce photographs for several books he had been commissioned to illustrate. Every minute of every day was taken up with photography. We found ourselves hoping it would rain, just so that we could have a day off! It didn't. We didn't. For six weeks (although we did once wake up to snow).

As with any city which has enjoyed a resurgence in its fortunes, Belfast is a heady mix of the old and new, alive with history but buzzing with new developments: the beautiful architecture of City Hall sits happily amongst smart new office and housing developments...

The beautiful interior of City Hall, from the dome
... the harbour is home to the Harland and Wolff shipyard, where the ill-fated Titanic was built and fitted-out; and the arts are thriving in all their forms. Down by the River Lagan, John Kindness's 'Big Fish' sculpture brings old and new together: created in 1999, it is clad in ceramic tiles decorated with texts and images chronicling the history of Belfast as far back as mediaeval times:

The Big Fish, which also contains a time capsule

But to me, the real jewel in the crown of this fine city is The Crown itself.

The Crown Liquor Saloon is a Grade A Listed building, standing on Great Victoria Street. Dating from 1826, it was extensively refurbished in 1885. In 1978, after a campaign by, amongst others, Sir John Betjeman, the National Trust acquired The Crown and restored it to its full Victorian glory.

And glorious it is too. A real gem. The exterior offers an enticing hint at what awaits you inside, with its elaborate tiles and delicate stained glass (designed to give the customers within a greater degree of privacy):

Stained glass window and elaborate ceramic tiling

And stepping inside really is like stepping back in time.

The Crown owes the beauty of its interior to Italian craftsmen. During the late 1800s, there was a resurgence in Catholic church-building in Northern Ireland, and many Italian craftsmen were employed on these projects. Some of these men were persuaded to work after hours on the refurbishment of The Crown, and their skills and attention to detail can be seen everywhere you look.

The bar is a feast of coloured ceramic tiles, beautifully-carved wood columns with Corinthian capitals, etched glass, decorated mirrors, and mosaics. There is a long 'alter' bar in red granite and a heated foot rail.

 The sumptuous bar: ceramics, mosaics, carved wood...

Customers wishing to have a little privacy can enjoy one of the ten individual booths, or 'snugs', which still have a bell for attracting the attention of the bar staff. Each snug is enclosed with carved wood panels and etched glass, and guarded by carved wooden lions and griffins:

'Fortune favours the brave'

And to add to the atmosphere even further, The Crown is lit by its original gas lamps, which occasionally putter, and which welcome the thirsty visitor with their homely, muggy odour.

Gas lamp, pounded tin ceiling and colourful mosaics

The Crown Liquor Saloon has seen, lived through and survived a lot of history. During 'the Troubles', it frequently suffered collateral damage owing to its proximity to the Europa Hotel, a favourite of visiting dignitaries, which had the dubious honour of being the most bombed hotel in the world.

It is so sad to think that a few people are intent on reversing the peace process in Northern Ireland. I do hope peace will prevail, and I hope that will be soon. Belfast, and indeed the whole of Northern Ireland, is full of gems like The Crown, and they deserve to be discovered, enjoyed and celebrated.

All photography © David Taylor Photography


  1. Thank you for sharing this gem of a building! How lovely that you must travel around with your husband while he makes a living. :) That allows you to take it slowly.

  2. Hello Debbie. Good to see you again!

    Yes, it is definitely one of the perks of the job! Those two trips were undoubtedly very tiring, but such an adventure, too. It's highly unlikely that we would have undertaken them if it hadn't been for David's commissions, and we look back on the whole experience as being a huge privilege.

    And the nice thing about photography is that, as you say, you have to take things slowly. That opens your eyes to everything around you and helps you appreciate it in a way you might not do otherwise.

    Thank you again for taking the time to comment, I really appreciate it.

    All the best,

  3. When we visit somewhere, we are the slow ones in a group. We just want to relish everything. At the White House, we wound up at the end of the tour group since we were soaking it all up as usual. The Secret Service guys who escort the tail end of the group became our personal tour guides. My son asked one of them if we could eat something at the White House, and he told him that yes, there is a room downstairs where he could stay and have bread and water as needed. Lol.

  4. That would be me too! I like to take the time to savour things. I'm the same with food - I'm usually the last one at the dinner table to finish...