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History* of Galwally House

Galwally House was built in 1885 by John Martin of the building firm H & J Martin, a company that is still in existence. The architect of the house is unknown but is attributed to WH Lynn. Lynn and Martin were working together on the Central Library in Belfast at this time using the same Dumfries sandstone used to build Galwally. 

The firm was founded in 1840 by Henry Martin (d.1898). After Henry took his eldest son, John, into partnership the firm became known as H & J Martin. John inherited the company on the death of his father and became the chairman and managing director, while two younger sons became directors, one being put in charge of the Dublin branch of the business. The company’s Belfast offices were in the Ormeau Road, within easy reach of John Martin’s residence at Galwally. The firm were contractors for many of Belfast’s most iconic structures, including Belfast City Hall, the Grand Opera House, the Ulster Museum, the Robinson and Cleaver Building and Stranmillis College. 

Galwally House Montage

The house enters valuation records as a house in progress in 1885, occupied by John Martin and built on land owned by the Bateson family of Belvoir Park.The 1901 census finds John Martin, contractor and builder, resident in the house with his second wife and six children, ranging in age from 6 to 20. The household retained a substantial staff of five servants, a parlour maid, a Parisian governess, two housemaids and a cook from County Wexford. The house had ten windows to the front façade and thirty rooms, making it the largest house in the immediate area. By the census of 1911 a chauffeur’s house had been added to the plot.

John Martin appears to have died before the First World War leaving his wife Emily Martin to take over the house. By 1917 she had vacated the house and it was let to the Ulster Joint Committee of the British Red Cross Society and the Order of St John who opened the premises the same year as ‘Hilden Convalescent Hospital’, the first hospital to be opened by those organisations in Ulster.

The new hospital consisted of the mansion house, which contained fifty-one beds for patients, together with an extensive wooden building to the south to accommodate an additional seventy-five beds. The hospital was partly financed by a donation from Mrs Harold Barbour of Barbour’s linen threads, who gave £2,000 to equip the hospital and £1,000 a year for its maintenance. The Red Cross and St John’s also raised funds for the hospital to the tune of £3,000. After the war ended the hospital became a convalescent home for disabled soldiers and sailors and on the fourth edition OS map of 1920-1 the building is captioned ‘Galwally (Hilden Hospital)’. 

By 1930 the hospital was the property of the UVF, a militia that had suffered heavy casualties during the First World War, when many of their number served as part of the 36th (Ulster) Division. By 1934 the hospital had fallen vacant, the remaining patients having been transferred to Craigavon hospital on the Holywood Road. However, with the commencement of the Second World War in 1939, the hospital came back into use.

In 1970 a new wing was completed at Craigavon hospital and Galwally was closed when the remaining patients were transferred there.

The house lay vacant for some years but was acquired by Goldblatt Management. Consultants in 1984 who adapted the interior as offices.Merex Construction Ltd were the main contractors, but a number of specialist craftsmen were also involved such as James Watson who restored the stained glass. The supervising architects were Philip Lynn and Tony Wright. The exterior was slightly altered with the removal of a chimney at the north end of the building and the casting of a new coping piece. Stonework, flooring and cornices were restored and replaced where necessary and dormers which had been added at a later date were removed.


*Source: Thank you to the Environment Agency for this history of Galwally House


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