Famous Belfast Stores: Robbs

Robb’s represented the last commercial building of the Victorian era left in Belfast

John Robb was a haberdasher from Downpatrick who came to Belfast with £200 capital. He founded Robb’s department store at the junction between Castle Place, Lombard Street and Rosemary Street in 1857. 

In 1877, a fire destroyed the Castle Place premises, and John Robb built a new and grander store. The Robb family also acquired much property elsewhere in the city.

Robb’s flourished and became known as ‘Ireland’s leading department store’, famous for its Irish linen hall. It was not particularly high-class, largely serviced by elderly staff.

In 1951, the privately owned share capital was acquired by the London combine Great Universal Stores. Business was conducted as usual, but with retrained staff.

In the early 1970s, the business was hit hard by the bombing campaign and increasing competition. In 1973, Robb’s closed for good, making 200 members of staff redundant.

Robb’s premises were divided between a number of different shops and offices. In 1986, the Great Universal Stores put in an application to demolish the listed building and replace it with a modern three storey shopping complex. Conservationists were enraged because Robb’s represented the last large commercial building of the Victorian era left in Castle Place. Nevertheless, the building was demolished and a modern replacement erected containing Dixon’s electrical shop.

Further Reading

Buildings of Belfast, 1700-1914 (1985) by CEB Brett.
Consult the Linen Hall Library catalogue