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The History of Belfast and Butler Sinks

Double Belfast sink

Some things only better with time...

Some things only better with time, and this is a perfect example. We are all familiar with the traditional classic design of the Belfast sink, and it has commonplace in many households today. But why is it that such a simple design has come to be so popular in kitchens across the UK?

Belfast and Butler sinks have been made for hundreds of years, and varied from district to district. Each city in the UK would have an officer that controlled the drainage and fittings allowed in that district, which lead to the variations that we see today - as the two different models of sink, “Belfast” and “Butler”.

The needs of the sink were dictated by the city that they were used in, and also the raw materials available. In Belfast, there was an abundance of water, so they produced sinks featuring a weir overflow so that any excess water was removed from the sink. Taps were often allowed to run freely, meaning that this feature was an necessity to avoid overflowing. Butler sinks however, traditionally from London - and used in a butler’s pantry - did not incorporate any type of overflow, as retrieving water from deep wells was very laborious, so wasting water was frowned upon in the city.

Over the years, with greater technologies introduced for water systems, the problematic water supply in districts like London alleviated. It was at this point the Belfast started to emerge in other areas of the country, and is now the most popular of the configurations that the different districts manufactured.

With the belfast sink being more and more popular, there was also demand for more than one bowl, which is common in a kitchen of the 21st century. This led to the development of the 2.0 bowl belfast sink, which has proven to be more and more popular, due to its increased versatility and design. In the UK especially, more than one bowl has become a necessity for a kitchen, as multi tasking is critical. 

The Belfast sink has survived the test of time, even with modern kitchen appliances such as dishwashers, which has meant that the kitchen sink is no longer used as much as it may have been 10 or 20 years ago. Obviously a kitchen sink is a necessity, but the reason the belfast sink is so popular in a modern kitchen is because of the size. It can easily deal with any items that do not fit inside of your dishwasher, such as big pots and pans. Also with a highly non porous surface, it is very hard to stain a fireclay ceramic sink, so you can be sure that any stubborn stains you are removing from your pans, won't be transferring to the sink’s surface.

RAK Jeniefer Belfast Sink

Astini Belfast 600 Sink

Rangemaster Belfast Sink

Astini Belfast 800 Sink

Astini Winchester 600 Sink

What is "Fireclay" ceramic?

The design of the sink is clearly one of the strongest reasons for the sink being so popular, but there are often a lot of concerns from customers as the sink is made from a ceramic material, which commonly is fragile and easily broken. What makes the Belfast sink so durable, and perfect for the modern kitchen?

Ceramic is made using a blend of clays, fillers and fluxes that are all combined during the firing process. Fireclay, is referred to as a “high fire” clay, is heated to temperatures well in excess of 1200°C. These clays are used as they are highly resistant to heat, scratching, fading and everyday acid attack. More commonly used in high quality ceramic sinks, as opposed to the “Low fire” clays which tend to be less resistant to the above, and are respectively much lower quality as it is fired at a much lower heat. To add further strength. Fireclay ceramic also has crushed pre-fired ceramic pushed into the clay, to increase the strength of the clay as it is fired, which adds to the impact resistance, as well as the heat tolerance of the finished product.

To achieve the perfect Belfast, it will first be fired to achieve a bisque, which is the result of the clay having no chemically bonded water remaining, and forms the shape of the sink. In the second firing, a white glaze is applied and then fired to fuse the glaze to the clay body. This is why most responsible manufacturers of ceramic sinks will insist on a +/- 5mm tolerance, as natural clays can differ this much when being fired. All of this gives you the highly versatile sink that has grown to be so popular in the modern kitchen.
Of course, the design of a Belfast sink still doesn’t fit into a lot of modern kitchens. That is why Astracast developed the stainless steel Belfast, the first of its kind to be sold in the UK. Of course since this release other manufacturers have now done the same, but it has already proved its popularity in the modern market. In 2013, Astini released their stainless steel Belfast sinks, including a world exclusive 2 bowl stainless steel Belfast sink, which proved to be just as popular as the single bowl released at the same time.

As you can see from the information above, the Belfast sink has earned a well deserved place in many kitchens today, and will continue to be a prominent design for many years to come. With the introduction of stainless steel Belfast sinks in recent years, we can see that manufacturers of this style still have a few tricks up their sleeves yet to bring the age old design into the modern era.

So why buy a Belfast sink? It has beautiful traditional farmhouse style, which will fit in any kitchen as well as being massively durable, with a non porous, impact resistant, stain resistant surface. Please see the video to the right showing the manufacture of Shaws Sinks.

Astini Belgrave 760

Villeroy & Boch Butler 90

Villeroy & Boch Butler 60

Shaws Entwistle Belfast Sink

Villeroy & Boch Farmhouse 80

But don’t just take our word for it, take a look at some of the manufacturers that make belfast sinks, Franke, Carron Phoenix, Villeroy & Boch, and of course Astini. These products really do speak for themselves, but the manufacturers will have just as much to say about them as we have. Of course, if you have any further questions please get in touch with our customer support team, who will happily help you with any questions you may have.