Although born in Eastbourne, Sussex, Charles Lanyon emigrated to Ireland in the early 1830s and never looked back, either commercially or politically. In Dublin, he worked as a civil engineer, the area in which he had trained in England, for the Board of Works, and was subsequently appointed Surveyor for County Kildare. Another career-making move was his marriage to the daughter of his tutor, Jacob Owen, whose son, Thomas Ellis Owen, was already an established Dublin architect. Then, in 1835, he moved to Ulster to become Surveyor of County Antrim. Although as an architect in Belfast from the early 1840s he designed over fifty churches, as well as mausoleums, bridges, and viaducts, he is chiefly remembered for his inspired design of Queen's College (now, University), Belfast, because the main building bears his name. Designed by Lanyon and his draftsman, W. H. Lynn, in a Tudor Revival style intended to remind the viewer of Magdalen College, Oxford (whose central tower Lanyon emulated), the western façade of the Lanyon Building is constructed of mellow brick rather than, like its sister colleges at Galway and Cork, stone.

The heart of the University, the focus of the Queen's area, the old college is the high point of Early Victorian designing achievement in the north of Ireland, and arguably Ulster's finest architectural set piece. Standing back behind tree lined lawns it enjoys a privileged position (not unparalleled in the Queen's area, but rare elsewhere in Belfast). Unlike its sister colleges at Galway and Cork, it . . . did not attempt initially to surround a complete quadrangle. Instead, Lanyon chose to have an excitingly sculptural front with wings which could eventually be extended. The revived Tudor style was chosen because of its association with the late mediaeval college buildings of England. Accessed 4 September 2006. [Source]

The foundation of Queen's College (since made a university) was laid on 30 December 1845, and the building was completed in time to register its first 90 students in 1849. Lanyon used his political connections for professional advantage, his jobbery confounded on only one notable commission, the Albert Memorial Clock. Knighted in 1868, he eased into retired in the 1870s. He died in 1889 in his Whiteabbey home, and was buried in Newtownbreda Cemetery.

Significant Posts Held

1835: Surveyor, County Antrim.

1862: Lord Mayor of Belfast.

1866, 1868: Conservative Member of Parliament for Belfast.

1867: President of the Royal Institute of Architects of Ireland.


"Sir Charles Lanyon." Dictionary of Ulster Biography, Ulster History Circle. Accessed 4 September 2006.

"Charles Lanyon." Accessed 4 September 2006.


Last modified 6 September 2006