28-50 High Street, Comber, Co Down

Comber in 1985
Whitewashed houses
Whitewashed houses with stone doorcases

Situated on the slope of a steep hill rising from the central square of the village of Comber, this terrace has an almost uniform roofline, with the houses ranging in size from two stories with attic at the bottom to low single-storey houses at the top, with doors and windows arranged very informally along its length. Almost entirely devoid of 'architectural features' apart from simple doorcases, the simplicity of these houses is very characteristic of vernacular building in Ulster, and has rarely survived in an urban context. Originally built about 1820, probably as houses for workers at the Comber Distillery, they passed about 1920 into the ownership of the Andrews Mill, which owned them at the time they were vested as part of a redevelopment area by the N I Housing Executive. The range of sizes and the internal finish of the houses reflect their origins as factory housing, with larger houses accommodating foremen.

Many of the houses had lacked bathrooms and other amenities even in recent times, and with the compulsory purchase of buildings in the area for redevelopment, they would normally have been demolished. However, as they were listed buildings, Hearth offered to carry out the improvement of the property alongside the new development by the Housing Executive. Planning permission was sought, and granted on condition that the elevations must not be altered, and that levels be settled in discussion with the Roads Service. Since much higher road and pavement levels were planned by the Roads Service, this proved a difficult conflict to resolve, but eventually work was started in 1986.

Restoration involved complete re-roofing, and partial re-rendering, provision of new kitchen returns, and secondary glazing to the front windows, which suffered from high traffic noise. The variety of windows and doors, some of which may have been original, others perhaps of inter-war date, was retained, and walls were repainted in limewash. Of the original twelve houses, nos. 40-50 were combined two-into-one to produce reasonably sized units, but the redundant front doors were retained and converted into windows.

Hearth Housing Association
Architect: Hearth
Quantity Surveyor: McNeil Rainey & Best

Main Contractor: D M Murray, Downpatrick
Restored: 1986-87

Funded by Housing Association Grant
Accommodation: One three-bedroom house, four two-bedroom houses and four one-bedroom houses

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