Ben Cowser was born in 1897 in Kilkeel and after education at Royal Belfast Academical Institution and training with Belfast architect Thomas Houston, Cowser worked briefly with Tulloch and Fitzsimons in Belfast.
Cowser set up his own practice in 1933 on Donegall Square North, Belfast, and went on to win the design competition for Portstewart Town Hall. With his partner Valerie Smyth, they were responsible for some characteristic buildings of the 1930s, such as North Street Arcade, a sports pavilion for Belfast Royal Academy, an Orange Hall at Whitewell Road, and Vogue Cinema in Kilkeel.
Portstewart Town Hall opened in 1935 to much acclaim, being considered “one of the finest town halls to be found in any provincial area North or South” by the Irish Builder and Engineer and “outstanding as a piece of design” by the competition assessor RH Gibson. In a 1995 (vol.3, no.5) edition of Perspective Dr Paul Larmour praised the building for being “Modern in style on simple lines, with elevations restrained and refined in detail, the massing, materials and treatment of the design showed [his] admiration for Scandinavian architecture of the time.”
In addition to Portstewart Town Hall, the North Street Arcade in Belfast, the Masonic Hall at Enniskillen and the Vogue Cinema in Kilkeel, have all been statutorily listed by the Department for Communities in recognition of their architectural value.
Some more contemporary images of the Portstewart Town Hall: