The History of Ross's Landmark Building

The History of Ross’s Landmark Building

The home of Ross’s Auctioneers and Valuers is one of Belfast’s most prominent commercial listed buildings. At 131 years old this year, the building started life as a building to house the General Assembly of the Presbyterian Church. With the increasing levels of vacancy in our heritage buildings, the benefits of having occupants and thriving businesses in these buildings is now more and more apparent. 

37 Montgomery Street is a two-storey redbrick and sandstone building, dating from 1873 when it was first included in the Annual Revisions shortly after being completed in that same year. The building, which has been occupied by Ross’s Auctioneers and Valuers for several decades, was originally constructed to house the General Assembly of the Presbyterian Church in Ireland. 

The 1877 Belfast Street Directory notes that aside from providing the General Assembly with headquarters, the building also housed other Presbyterian organisations and offices; in that year there were offices for the Bible & Colportage Society, the Presbyterian Orphan Society and the Sabbath School Society in Ireland. Offices in the building were also leased out to private businesses and in 1877 a land and rent agency office operated from the site. The1900 Belfast Revaluation noted that the original cost of constructing the building was £6,372. 

Much like the construction of Belfast’s Town Hall on Victoria Street which was erected in 1869-71 but was soon replaced after the elevation of Belfast to city status in 1888; the General Assembly of the Presbyterian Church in Ireland found the building on Montgomery Street to be too small and inadequate for its needs and, after the town’s promotion in 1888, the Assembly sought a new location for their headquarters. A suitable plot of land was selected on Fisherwick Place (the former site of Fisherwick Presbyterian Church before moving to South Belfast) and in 1899-1900 a competition was held to select a design for the new building. The current Presbyterian Assembly Building was constructed between 1899 and 1905, during which time the offices on Montgomery Street continued to be occupied by the various ecclesiastical organisations; however, in 1905 the former headquarters was abandoned.

The building on Montgomery Street remained vacant until 1912 when it was occupied by John Wilson & Son Ltd. and was renamed ‘Downshire House;’ the Street Directories note that Wilson & Sons were ‘linen, damask, handkerchief, ladies underclothing, gentlemen’s shirt and collar manufacturer’. 

By the First General Revaluation of Northern Ireland in 1935, John Wilson & Sons had vacated the site (although Wilson was still recorded as owner); in that year the value of the building was reduced as a result of falling empty. Ross’s came into possession of the site in 1937 and have run an auctioneers and valuation business, originally named John Ross & Co., from the premises ever since. The Ross’s building survived the heavy bombardment of Belfast’s city centre during the 1941 Blitz. In that year the ground and first floor of Ross’s building were occupied by a Mr. (or Mrs.) D. W. Gray who utilised the space as offices, showrooms and stores for John Ross & Co. 

The former General Assembly Office was constructed in 1873 and housed the Presbyterian Headquarters in Ireland for over thirty years. The current building still displays certain features that recall its past heritage such as the carving of a burning bush, the symbol of the Presbyterian Church in Ireland which is still in place on the main pediment of the building. 

The building was listed in 1988 and underwent restoration work in 1965 following a fire at the premises. Since 1937 the building has housed Ross’s Auctioneers & Valuers. Furniture and household auctions continue to take place at the site once a week, whilst Antique, Jewellery & Irish art auctions are carried out monthly on 
The History of Ross's Landmark Building