The original ‘Bank Buildings’ were constructed by Waddell Cunningham in the 1780s at the top of High Street, known as Castle Place. Waddell is an infamous character in the history of Belfast. He served on the Board of the Belfast Charitable Society, helping to run the Poor House. Waddell was extremely generous with his money and on a number of occasions purchased large quantities of meat at his personal expense to supplement the diet of the poor. However, he made his money through the slave trade, and in 1786 he went as far as to try and establish a slave-ship company in Belfast. Thankfully this enterprise was thwarted by another of our Board members, Thomas McCabe, jeweller and later one of the most prominent United Irishmen in Belfast.
Waddell founded “Cunningham’s Bank” which is where the name Bank Buildings originates from. Narcissus Batt, Cunningham’s nephew, and another Poor House donor, also followed suit in opening a bank in partnership with David Gordon, John H. Houston and Hugh Crawford in 1808. The Belfast Newsletter reported on the opening of the new bank, stressing “…[t]he rising opulence of Belfast and the great increase in its trade, evidently renders such an establishment necessary.”
The final reference to the Belfast Charitable Society and the Bank Buildings dates to the 1840s. The noted Belfast physician, Dr Samuel Smith Thomson, who is buried in the Charitable Society’s Cemetery, today known as Clifton Street Cemetery, is recorded as having “died of flu… at his home in the Bank Buildings, Castle Place” in 1849. In 1855 Cunningham’s building, and the one in which Dr Thomson passed away, was demolished and replaced by the second ‘Bank Buildings’. The second building was ultimately demolished to make way for W.H. Lynn’s building in 1900. The new structure designed by Lynn ( the third on the site) retained the name of Cunningham’s original, which was sadly gutted by fire in August.