Belfast Telegraph


By Chris Thornton
27 May 2004

A PLAN to reshape the centre of Belfast for the future has led to the biggest dig exploring the city's past.

Archaeologists have peeled back at least four centuries of urban history as they work ahead of builders in Victoria Square - turning up evidence suggesting why the city grew where it did.

And they appear to have found new evidence of the medieval settlement on the site. which will host a £300m development.

One of the largest discoveries so far is the remains of a lost bridge which spanned a river that is no longer there.

The bridge, built in 1810, crossed the Blackstaff River in Victoria Square, across from what is now Musgrave Street police station.

The river was later diverted to the south, where it now mainly flows below ground.

But its former route illustrates why Belfast's original settlers probably picked the site - a spit of land protected on three sides by the Lagan, Farset and Blackstaff Rivers.

The lost bridge was recently uncovered in what Nansi Rosenberg, the archaeological consultant for Dutch developers AM, calls the "biggest excavation that's ever taken place in Belfast".

She said the bridge was "an impressively built structure, very well put together but only used for 20 years. It went out of use possibly because the bridge was very low."

She said early 19th century residents of the city "wouldn't have been able to get boats through" to service timber and poultry markets on the site.

The archaeologist said two teams of archaeologists working in Victoria Square and Ann Street have uncovered a range of material from across the ages.

Medieval roof tiles have shown how early the site was settled, but most material has come from the last 300 years, when the city started to grow.

In the foundation of one 18th century house, diggers found a large strongbox, about two metres long. It was empty.

Much of the area is filled land, since Belfast's Lagan Waterfront used to be further inland.

Waterlogged soil from those areas has yielded several preserved items made from leather and wood.

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