The city's famous landmark, transformed into an award winning business park
Belfast Gasworks played a major role in the rapid economic growth that put Belfast at the centre of the Victorian industrial revolution.
The construction of the Gasworks in the Ormeau Road in 1822 heralded the arrival of decent street lighting. People felt safer walking the streets and the social life of the communities that made up Victorian Belfast improved. Gas also meant that working-class homes could have affordable cooking rings, fridges, irons, lighting and heat.
In its heyday the gasworks employed more than 2000 people. Profits from the sale of gas paid 80% of the cost of building the City Hall, as well as subsidising public parks, libraries, bridges and public baths.
A Wall of History exhibition in September 2004 told the human story of the gasworks, showcasing stories, memories and photographs from workers and people who lived nearby.
One of the earliest memories of Jimmy Steels, a fifth generation gas worker, was of the hooter going off at lunch break:
‘It was fascinating. The work force just disgorged out of the place like water out of a barrel. I never saw anything like it and I wouldn’t have recognised my own father because the conditions in those days were that when you came out for to get a bit of fresh air their faces were covered in coal dust, black with soot.’
The closure of the twelve hectare site in 1988 symbolised the decline of Belfast’s traditional manufacturing base. However, Belfast City Council, with funding from the European Union, carried out major work to turn the derelict and heavily polluted site into a modern business park.
The park now hosts a wide range of enterprises, including a hotel, shops, workshops and business units. The new public space incorporates artwork and sculpture and centres on a unique water feature in which mussel beds filter clean water from the River Lagan. In 1988 the redevelopment won a Royal Institute of Chartered Surveyors award for reclamation.