Famous Belfast Stores: Robinson and Cleaver

Opened at Castle Place in 1874

Robinson and Cleaver

Close of of facade of Robinson Cleaver buildingRobinson and Cleaver’s store opened at Castle Place in 1874, before moving to High Street a few years later. After another seven years, Robinson and Cleaver had established the largest postal trade in the city. 

Young and MacKenzie built their new store at the corner of Donegall Place and Donegall Square North, making ‘dramatic use of its advantageous corner site’. Originally a linen warehouse, the building had six storeys, a clock tower, ogee copper domes, and a flock of Donatello cherubs carved by Harry Helms of Exeter. Also featured were the 50 stone heads of the firm’s supposed patrons, including Queen Victoria, the Emperor and Empress of Germany, Lady Dufferin, and General Washington, plus symbolic references to distant marketplaces. The Victorian building was finished in 1888.

The high-class store was very choosy in the selection of its staff. Staff knew their clientele, and stressed personal service, with customers regularly notified of new items. Known as ‘the old lady,’ the store was noted for its attractive window displays and outstanding seasonal decorations. It also contained a magnificent marble staircase. 

Robinson and Cleaver prided itself for being the most famous store in the world for Irish Linens. In 1921, it also advertised:

We are making a Special Show of our New Season’s Models in all the latest shapes in Fur Coats, Wraps, Stoles and Collars in Skunk, Skunk Oppossum, Beaver, Beaver Coney and Real Moleskin. Animal Ties in White, Black, Grey, and Blue Foxes; also in Mongolian Fox and Blue Wolf. Only the most reliable quality of Furs are stocked.

In 1962, Robinson and Cleaver participated in the Belfast Chamber of Trade’s ‘Buy Ulster’ week, running an exhibition of Ulster goods.

Despite extensive renovations in 1963, Robinson and Cleaver closed down in 1984 and its famous staircase was auctioned. Two years later, Next and Principles opened their first shops in Northern Ireland in Cleaver House. The rest of the building was let out for office space. The exterior was cleaned and renovated, and it remains a striking and well loved Belfast landmark. 

Further Reading  

Buildings of Belfast, 1700-1914 (1985) by CEB Brett.  

Consult the Linen Hall Library catalogue