Bangor Courthouse

Leo Matheson Ltd. carries out conservation led renovation works to transform Bangor Courthouse into live music venue…

Originally built as a branch of the Belfast Banking Company in 1866, before its conversion to a court of petty sessions in the 1950s, Bangor Courthouse has been transformed by Leo Matheson Ltd into a seafront venue for music, arts and culture. Decommissioned as a law court in 2013, the building was donated to local arts charity Open House Festival in December 2020 via Northern Ireland’s first community asset transfer. The Quay Street building was slowly falling into disrepair until organisers of Open House Festival stepped in to transform it into a thriving arts and entertainment hub, which will soon be home to the festival and offer events all year round.

One of the few remaining Victorian structures on Bangor’s seafront the Court House was listed as a Grade B2 building on the Heritage At Risk register, requiring a conservation led approach by Leo Matheson Ltd to respect its historical context, detail and fabric. As the Castlewellan based firm has worked on a number of listed buildings, the Director, Leo Matheson wasn’t fazed at the task at hand. Leo commented, “I have built up a good rapport and working relationship with the sub-contractors we appointed and knew, under the supervision of my site foreman Victor Hunter, the end result would be a project the client would be proud of. Working on listed buildings needs good collaboration between ourselves, the client and their design team and as we had successfully worked on a number of projects in the past with Knox and Markwell Architects, I knew we would meet the high expectations of the client.”

Internally the ground floor was completely reconfigured to create flexible spaces. This required demolition to most of the internal structure and steel braces fitted to tie the internal walls together. While excavating the ground floor the original mosaic tiling was discovered. This was retained and restored, much to the pleasure of the client. Within the amended floor plan layout, a lift was installed. A fully fitted kitchen was installed to service the venue’s ‘pop up’ restaurant. Internally it was painted in bold period colours, chosen by the client.
“We had to salvage as much of the original fixtures and fittings as possible, which were removed, labelled and stored safely until second fixing,” said Leo. “For example, the original cornices were restored to their original form.”

A single storey extension was built to accommodate toilets to service the rear courtyard area. It was constructed in masonry cavity wall construction, rendered externally with a standing seam zinc roof. Leo added, “The cutting out for the openings to create the toilets was a task on its own, as this portion of the building was reinforced back in its courthouse days to create holding cells and the walls were around half a metre thick with concrete and engineered brick toothed together.”Commenting on the completed project, Leo said, “We are delighted to handover Bangor Courthouse to Open House Festival. This project demonstrates just how well our team collaborated with the client and their design team to deliver first class service and end results.”

Speaking for Open House Festival, Kieran Gilmore commented, “This was a very
specialised and high-profile project, with a great deal of interest from local communities and from across the arts and heritage sectors, as well as from our funders and stakeholders. “Our design team and the main contractor worked together to restore this beautiful Victorian listed building, saving it from the At Risk Register and transforming it into a dedicated music and arts venue.
“The Court House is an iconic building in Bangor, and has charted the town’s (now city’s!) changing fortunes for more than 150 years, from Bangor’s heyday as a Victorian seaside resort, to its decline in recent years. Following this restoration, the building is helping to transform Bangor seafront. It is now leading the way in what we hope will be its economic and cultural renaissance with arts-led regeneration at the fore.”

For the full feature on Bangor Courthouse, check out NIBuilder issue 33-6 Dec-Jan here.

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