Background, History and Architecture
The first home for the central administration of the Church was situated in Belfast’s May Street in what is now Ross’s auction house.
Whilst the May Street site provided office accommodation, it was recognised that there was a need for an Assembly Hall and after much discussion by a number of committees over several years, the congregation of Fisherwick Church agreed to vacate their church in order to build what is now known as Assembly Buildings.
Assembly Buildings was opened at Fisherwick Place in Belfast city centre in 1905.
Designed in the architectural style of a Scottish baronial castle, the gothic structure boasts a 40m high clock tower, a bell tower housing Belfast’s only operational peal of 12 bells, and several exquisite stained glass windows.
For almost 80 years the Assembly Buildings, or Church House, as it was then known, operated entirely as the headquarters and General Assembly of the Presbyterian Church. In 1992, however, after its first significant refurbishment, the building took on a commercial persona, providing both a retail facility, Spires Mall, on the ground floor and offering the grand Main Hall as an outside conference venue.
With its unique setting and superb facilities, Assembly Buildings is one of the finest conference and exhibition venues in the city of Belfast. Following an £8million refurbishment in 2010, the facility offers state-of-the-art technology in a historically rich environment. Capable of accommodating up to 1,150 people, with its high-tech facilities and a 10 room conference suite, Assembly Buildings is regarded as one of Belfast’s premier conference, concert and exhibitions venues.
Click here to find out more information on the conference centre facilities at Assembly Buildings.
This impressive masterpiece is located on the first floor at the main entrance to the Assembly Hall. It was a gift donated by the Presbytery of Carrickfergus in 1992 to commemorate the 350th anniversary of the ‘birth’ of Presbyterianism in Ireland in 1642.
The window depicts a ship arriving from Scotland at Carrickfergus which is represented by the Castle built there in the 11th century. It is believed that the oldest Presbyterian congregation is that of Ballycarry founded in 1613.
The Assembly Halls seats 1,100 and after the refurbishment that was completed in 2011, it is fully equipped with air conditioning and wifi internet access.
The organ was installed in 1906 and was a gift from William Cuthbert, son of Joseph Cuthbert, a Presbyterian who accumulated his wealth in Cape Town, South Africa. It has 4,500 pipes ranging in size from 16ft to ¾inch and weighs 10 tons.
At either side of the organ loft at the front of the auditorium are two stained glass windows. The one on the left depicts four of Jesus Parables; The Prodigal Son, The Wise Virgins, The Talents and the Good Samaritan. The window on the right tells the story of Moses, from his being found in the bulrushes, meeting with God at the burning bush, receiving the Ten Commandments and becoming the leader of the children of Israel. The Burning Bush is the symbol used to represent the Presbyterian Church.
These special windows were removed for safe keeping at the height of the Troubles in Belfast and were only replaced in 1992.
Assembly Room – Rosemary Street Windows
Rosemary Street Presbyterian Church was destroyed in the Blitz in 1941 and the surviving stained glass windows were stored away and eventually fitted in the first floor Assembly Room in 1991. The congregation moved to the site on the North Circular Road having united with Ekenhead to form Rosemary Presbyterian Church.
These windows are the work of Wilhelmina Geddes, a leading stained glass artist from Co. Leitrim whose work included windows in Canada, New Zealand and the UK.
One window depicts the Great Commission showing Jesus and His 11 disciples. This is the McCaughey Window, which was unveiled by Mrs. Mary Park as a schoolgirl in memory of her grandfather who had a great interest in overseas missions, especially China.
The second window depicts Pilgrim’s Progress looking towards the celestial city also known as the Sinclair Window, a memorial to John Sinclair who was a driving force in the erection of Assembly Buildings and also in the building of the War Memorial Building in Howard Street.
This special room on the second floor is used for weekly staff worship and was the gift of the Very Rev. Dr. Jack Weir as a memorial to his parents, who were missionaries in China, as well as to many other missionaries who have served the Presbyterian Church overseas.
The stained glass windows depict the sea of life with a ship sailing out with the message of the gospel and a net with a catch of fish. An inscription reads, “Going into all the world with the message of the gospel.”
Over the years the Assembly Buildings has welcomed a host of distinguished visitors including the late Diana, Princess of Wales, former Irish President Mary McAleese, former UK Prime Minister John Major and former First Lady, Hilary Clinton.
Church members, midweek groups, men’s fellowship meetings, senior citizen clubs and PW groups are welcome to arrange an appointment for a guided tour around the Assembly Hall and other unique rooms within the building including the Weir Chapel. Tours have been offered ever since the major renovations to the Church’s administrative centre were completed in 2011.
By viewing the facilities first hand, visitors will gain an insight into the impressive history of the Assembly Buildings and get a flavour of the current work of the many Presbyterian Boards. Catering arrangements can be facilitated on request.
For further information or to book a group tour, contact the General Secretary’s Office on +44 (0)28 9041 7208.