Although located in the heart of South Belfast’s Queen’s Quarter, far away from the city’s famous docks, the Best Western Crescent Townhouse Hotel has ties to the sea. The area on which the hotel now stands was built by timber and shipping merchant Robert Corry.
Long before the Titanic left Belfast on its fateful maiden voyage in 1912, local shipping merchant Corry & Co commissioned Harland & Wolff to build 12 almost identical ships including the Jane Porter – the first sailing ship built at Harland & Wolff’s Belfast yard.
Initially building the elegantly curving terrace, Upper Crescent in 1846, Robert moved onto the land to the north of his garden, developing Lower Crescent, where the Crescent Townhouse now stands.
Having established a successful import business, transporting timber from Canada across the North Atlantic to Ireland, the Corry’s extended operations to India, taking advantage of the bustling jute trade. However by this time the shipping industry was turning away from wooden ships to iron hulled ships as they were less vulnerable to rot. So the company, now named Corry & Co, commissioned the newly founded Harland & Wolff to build the first of 12 almost identical iron ships.
This fleet included the Jane Porter, named after the wife of Robert’s son William – this was the first sailing ship built at Harland & Wolff’s Belfast yard.
The remaining 11 ships were all named with the prefix “Star of”, and from then on become known as the Star Line, dubbed Corry’s Irish Stars.
While the company’s sailing ships were proud achievements, the launch of their first steamship, Star of Victoria opened up new opportunities for the Corry family. Built by Belfast shipbuilders Workman, Clark & Co, the Star of Victoria was fitted with a refrigerated cargo space and led the Corry’s into the exporting meat trade specifically the Argentinean market.
In January 1914 almost 90 years after Robert Corry purchased his first sailing vessel, the Chieftain, James P Corry’s Star Line was incorporated along with three other shipping companies by the Commonwealth & Dominion Line.
The newly merged company became Port Line in 1937 and went onto carry troops during World War I and II, as well as launching large scale passenger services and bringing frozen meats and goods across continents.