The Exchange was built in 1769 as a single-storey, arcaded Market House funded by a donation of £4000 from the Earl of Donegall as a celebration of the birth of his son, George Augustus.
In 1776, again at the request of the Earl, an upper storey, which became known as the Assembly Rooms, was added.
In 1845, the building was converted into a bank and the exterior was refaced in stucco to a design by Sir Charles Lanyon.
The building was listed in 1975 and is currently a Grade B1 listed building.
It is currently vacant but has been a location for important events in Belfast’s history.
In 1786, a meeting was held in the building to set up a “Belfast Slave Ship Company” by a group of Belfast merchants led by Waddell Cunningham. Thomas McCabe, a watchmaker and staunch Presbyterian, denounced this vile idea and the proposition was defeated.
Six years later, the famous Belfast Harp festival was held in the Assembly Rooms. Ten harpists, most of them blind, took part in this event to celebrate the fall of the Bastille prison in Paris three years earlier.
In 1798, after the failed United Irishmen rebellion, a military court was held in the Assembly Rooms to try leaders of the uprising. These men included Henry Joy McCracken who was sentenced to death for his part. McCracken was then hung outside the Market House, at the corner of High St. and Cornmarket (present day Dunnes store).
Do you want to learn more about the history of Belfast? Let me take you on my people and places tour where we’ll discover this and many more amazing buildings and history!