Last Post on James’ St

Having served the area since 1891, James’ St post office recently closed and is currently for lease. It was one of several post offices designed by “the always interesting” J. Howard Pentland. Others in Dublin include Ballsbridge, Phibsborough (demolished and rebuilt in 1960), and Blackrock in 1909.  Maire Crean’s magnificent book “Lost Post” provides substantial detail on James’ St post office, including the original proposal of the floor plan, now kept in the National Archives.

James’s Street Former P.O.; Part Original Ground Floor Plan (National Archives of Ireland, reproduced in Crean)

James’s Street Former P.O.; Part Original Ground Floor Plan (National Archives of Ireland, reproduced in Crean).

James’s Street Former P.O.; Original Elevation (National Archives of Ireland, reproduced in Crean).

James’s Street P.O.; Original Elevation (National Archives of Ireland, reproduced in Crean).

The public office is visible to the left of the plan, and the sorting office to the right. Crean also treats us to the original elevation – clearly it was originally intended to be a Gothic affair. The door to the public office is on the left on the plans, but from the existing building, we can see it is on the right.

The existing building is part of a trio of red-bricked buildings on the site: two at the pavement, and one in between; a three-storey building recessed from the road. Casey seems doubtful that such a grand building could be for a postmaster, and I can’t find anything in the 1901 Census to counter her opinion. The Post Office in that Census was given number 106, and was of course uninhabited. Using that numbering system, 105 and 104 are the adjoining buildings, and they too were unoccupied in 1901. By 1911, the numbering had shifted to what we currently have: the post office at no. 109, and the large house at 108 was a boarding house for four brewers from England and four domestic servants. 107 remained unoccupied.

Penny Post History

Stafford Johnson gained a substantial amount of information from two pieces of paper found in a bin. Most other remaining archives were destroyed.

Postal history can be traced back to James’ St much earlier than 1892. Dublin had an innovative and efficient postal system known as the “Penny Post”, which was established in 1773. The city joined London to be unique in the world with such a system, although according to Stafford Johnson—who has provided us with one of the rare monographs on this topic—Dublin “has some matter for pride in the fact that it maintained the general character of the Penny Post unaltered until the end.

The Penny Post operated in parallel to the pre-existing General Post system. From 11th October 1773, letters not exceeding four ounces could be delivered from the Penny Post Office in the GPO yard or any of eighteen Receiving Houses around the city, at a cost of one penny. The receiving houses were named in the original correspondence and included Mr. Charles Wren, Hosier, at the Sign of the Stocking, Francis-street near the Combe, Mr. Bredberry, Grocer, at the Sign of the three Swedish Crowns, George’s Quay and Mr. Bourke, Grocer at the Black Boy and Sugar Loaf, Capel-street near Essex-bridge. By 1810, there were 54 receiving houses in the city, and 29 country receiving houses, the extra distance to the country (suburban areas) costing 2 pence.

Doorway, James St Post Office

Doorway, James’ St Post Office (Photo: B)

The original system involved a pre-payment of one penny which was given in to the Penny Post Office or receiving houses. Letters that did not have the accompanying penny were opened and returned to the sender. A plea was made to be as precise as possible with the address, and those intended for lodgers were to name the landlord or the sign (on the building) to assist the post men.These men wore a distinctive uniform from 1810, and like their colleagues in the General Post system, rang a bell when on collection duty.

In 1810, the pre-payment system was abandoned. The official reason isn’t known, but Stafford Johnson offers with some confidence his theory that pre-payment ran counter to the public sentiments of the time. Payment on delivery would be preferred as it secured a safer delivery, and poorer people could take advantage of the system by refusing to accept delivery (and hence avoid the charge) while learning who the letter was from. Apparently secret codes were used so that the recipient could interpret the message with accepting the letter. Nonetheless, the system was a successful and efficient means of communication in the city. The post-masters general were eager to highlight the benefit of their system and regularly published the notice:

So expeditious and regular is the dispatch and delivery of letters by this Office that two persons residing in the most distant parts of the City from each other, may write four letters and receive three answers in the day for the trifling expense of one penny on each.

James St Post Office (Photo: B)

James’ St Post Office (Photo: B)

Back at James’ St, a receiving house opened on the street in 1809/10, and we can propose that this house is a precursor to the post office mentioned at the head of the article. The listing of a receiving house at No. 75 in the 1862 street directory adds some weight to this proposal. Here, William Madden, M.D. operated his medical practice, and acted as a Post Office Receiver. In addition to the house on James’ St, a second receiving house opened on Echlin Lane (now Echlin St) after 1810. The latter joined receiving houses at Broadstone Hotel and Portobello Hotel linking the city system with the Royal and Grand canal harbours (see In the fields off James’ St).

The Penny Post system ended in 1840, because of a combination of factors, not least the duplication with the General Post system. Stafford Johnson closes his article with the following:

Looked at as a whole, the Penny Post was worthy of the City and fulfilled its functions truly and well. For 66 years it gave a service which for cheapness and quickness has never been equalled. All this was done by men on foot, and to-day, in spite of the advantages of modern science, there is nothing to come up to that old system of which all that remains is a memory and some faded old letters.

Letter Box on No 107 James St

Letter Box on No 107 James’ St (Photo: B)

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Was it St Kevin’s Abode, now Camden St?

Camden St sign

What’s in a name?

Nothing like a disagreement to spark a bit of interest. In his article in History Ireland in 2005, Patrick Garry wrote about the disappearance of Irish forms of street names in the then recently published Dublin City Streetnames. Among those he mentioned was Camden St:

Another saint connected with the diocese of Dublin, St Kevin, is also to be removed from his ancient location in Camden Street. Port Caoimhin will cease to exist and will become Sráid Camden. The loss to local history of these names is immeasurable.

Not so, says Pádraig Ó Cearbhaill, of the Department of Community, Rural and Gaeltacht Affairs, in a letter to History Ireland later that year. The department was responsible for providing the Irish names for the Streetnames book. Written in the tone of a man not used to being disagreed with, he states:

If Camden (Street) was in fact derived from St Kevin or Caoimhin (earlier Caeimhghin), one would expect to find direct evidence of this. Can Mr Garry provide us with examples of this ancient place-name Port Chaoimhghin from which Camden Street mystically emerged about 1778?

The “origin” of a lot of these alternative Gaelic names, Ó Cearbhaill says is an over-zealous avoidance of the use of English names. Unfortunately there is no follow-up article to this, so the case of Garry vs Ó Cearbhaill is unresolved.

Is there evidence for Port Chaoimhghin? The Historic Town Atlas lists the references to Camden Street mentioned in a series of maps and records it as Keavans Port (1673), Cavan’s Port (1709), St Kevan’s Port (1714), Keavan’s Port (1728) and St Keavan’s Port (1756) on good old Rocque. Whatever the original name, in 1778, it became Camden Street, probably as part of the overall work scheme which included the creation of Charlotte Street. Camden was yet another of Pitt’s men, he was Lord Lieutenant of Ireland seeing through the Act of Union. He didn’t get this position until 1794, so I am not clear whether Camden St is in his honour or his fathers, a man involved in the repeal of the Dependence of Ireland on Great Britain Act 1719, repealed in 1782.

Gorevan's (Links to the website Archiseek.com)

Formerly Gorevan’s Department Store (links to Archiseek.com)

Whatever about the name, Camden Street has some real gems. Numerous buildings are in the city’s List of Protected Structures. One of the most notable is what is known as the Irish Nationwide building, now a convenience store and gym. This was Gorevan’s Department store, owned by draper Michael Gorevan and his brother(s). The building is by RM Butler and TJ Byrne and is dated 1925  (Casey, 2005). Gorevans store was on the street before this however, with reference to his drapers in the early 1920s in a dispute about whether drapery firms would allow their employees to join a union (Irish Times, 20 June 1920, 29 June 1921). The new building may have been prompted by compensation Gorevan received from the state (one assumes that is arising out of the Civil War), which awarded £300 for damages to the building and goods taken away.

Gorevan's (Links to the website Archiseek.com)

No. 91, Lower Camden Street (Peter Byrne Butchers)

According to the 1911 Census, the Gorevans, are recorded at 1, Camden Street, hailed from Sligo, with brothers John (46), James (42), Patrick (38) and Michael (36). Also listed in this building are nine draper’s assistants, eight draper’s apprentices, a house keeper and four domestic servants.   The four brothers and a significant number of staff are also recorded in 1901.

Opposite is one of the oldest buildings on the street, No. 91 (Byrne’s Butchers). The unusual fan window on the top floor may be due to the building’s original design-it is proposed that it was originally a Dutch Billy.

Laurence Byrne (28), butcher, appears in the 1911 Census along with his sister (25), who both lived in what was then No. 56, Camden Street. This butchers, along with McDonnell’s of Wexford St, was a Gentile butchers, catering to the local Jewish community (O’Gráda, 2006).

Plaque at junction of Camden Street and formerly Charlotte Street

Plaque at junction of Camden Street and formerly Charlotte Street

A plaque that brings together worker relations and the local Jewish community is that on Upper Camden Street, which marks the building that was between 1912 and 1916 the headquarters of the International Tailors, Pressers and Machinists Union. Despite the grand name, this was a small grouping—Census data show that about 17% of Jewish community over 40 were tailors, whereas 38% of those under 40 were, indicating that as the community aged, it was more likely to move from artisan to trader (O’Gráda, 2006).

After some years of decline, Camden Street appears to be on the up again with some fashionable bars and restaurants—or should I say in Íarnród Éireann parlance: Bar Sneacanna—locating here. There’s plenty of life in the old Port yet.

Notes

  • Christine Casey, 2005, The Buildings of Dublin, Yale University Press
  • Cormac O’Gráda, 2006, Jewish Ireland in the age of Joyce: a socioeconomic history, Princeton University Press. 

Cross Lane now Golden Lane

Extract from Speed's Map of Dublin, 1610, showing St Patrick's Cathedral (63) and Cross St (68)

Extract from Speed’s Map of Dublin, 1610, showing St Patrick’s Cathedral (63) and Cross St (68)

Something a little different this time. Golden Lane, Dublin 8, dates from 1466 and is one of the oldest streets in the city. However, nothing exists on it now that pre-dates the twentieth century. The lane was marked on Speed’s Map of Dublin of 1610. Looking in the bottom-right corner and using St Patrick’s Cathedral (63) as a guide, Cross Lane (68) runs north-east towards a gateway and on to St Stephen’ St (18), just as it does today. Churches at Ship St and Whitefriars (22, 21) are visible to the north and south of the lane. Cross Lane is such an appropriate name, as anyone who walks in this area knows—it is the main pathway for going from Clanbrassil/Patrick’s St to Aungier/George’s St. Nevertheless, the arrival of a Guildhall for goldsmiths resulted in a name change that has stuck ever since (MacGiolla Phadraig, 1945).

Part of an advertisement for Roger Smith, "Upholder" at Golden Lane, 1756 (from Fitzgerald)

Part of an advertisement for Roger Smith, “Upholder” at Golden Lane, 1756 (from Fitzgerald)

What was Golden Lane like? In the eighteenth century, it was home to middle class people like Sir Fielding Ould, obstetrician, Thomas Mathews, land surveyor, Roger Smith, upholder and auctioneer, and an academy run by Samuel Edwards, “the most eminent schoolmaster of his day” (Daly, 1945, Gibney, 1958, Mapother, 1878, Fitzgerald, 1987). In the 1774 election for MP for the city of Dublin in parliament, Edward Cusack, John Pearson Esq and William Bayley Esq, all freeholders living in Golden Lane were recorded as voters (for the winning man, Redmond Morres Esq). A map by the Wide Street Commissioners of a portion of Golden Lane showing houses at the junction of Chancery and Golden Lanes drawn in 1722 is on the Dublin City Libraries website shows a well established street, and by 1735, the street already had 72 perches of pipes for water, according to Richard Cassels, who completed survey of the city. A 1728 murder trial mentions a watch house on Golden Lane.

John Field Plaque at Golden Lane

John Field Plaque at Golden Lane

Of course the street’s most famous son is John Field, who was born in Golden Lane in July 1782, and was baptised at St. Werburgh’s Church on the 5th September, 1782 (de Valera, 1982). This is the basis of one of Dublin’s most unusual plaques, located at the corner of Golden Lane and Bride St. The plaque shows an engraving of Field along with the citation: “Creator of the Nocturne Born Golden Lane 1782 Died Moscow 1837.” Field’s baptism-place is also marked with a plaque.

By the nineteenth century, the street could be characterised by one profession: shoe broker. In the 55 buildings listed in the 1842 street directory, housing 69 trades of different sorts, an astonishing 32 shoe brokers, shoe makers, and boot and shoe shops were listed; a legacy which inspired the line in the ballad Dublin Jack of All Trades:

In Golden Lane I sold old shoes, in Meath Street was a grinder (Lowth, 2008)

Other listings include provisions dealers (5), a pawnbrokers, a tallow chandler, and rather pleasingly, James Nolan, a hairdresser at No. 26. There were two circulating libraries: James Lyons who ran a circulating library and delph shop at No. 35 and Alicia Crosby ran a circulating library at No. 53. These seem to have been a kind of private library offering cheap access to books of interest of the day. Despite the name of the street, there were just two jewellers, and one of these, John Norton, doubled up as a shoe broker! One house was listed as a tenement.

Siney's Potato Factors, 33 Golden Lane

Siney’s Potato Factors, 33 Golden Lane (links to Dublin city Libraries Image Collection)

By the twentieth century, the street had joined so many others in terminal decline. Christiaan Corlett’s important book, Darkest Dublin, has several photographs from Dublin in 1913, including one showing dozens of children outside a house on Chancery Lane, off Golden Lane. In the 1901 Census, the street was dominated by tenements. Of the 60 buildings on the street in 1901, 28 were listed as tenements, 7 of these with a shop at their base. A further 5 were public houses and there was also a spirit store. Ten buildings were given over to timber stores and manufactory. Number 17 was a telephone depot.

No. 5 had five families consisting of 37 people living in the four room house, ironically because of its physical condition was classified as “1st class”. These included Michael Swaine (23), a Commission Agent, and his young wife Rosanna (20) and their infant; the family of Alexander Porter, carpenter, and his wife Margaret, their eight children and his wife Margaret’s father; Jane Gannon (56), her two grown children and a boarder; Thomas Corcoran (43), labourer and his family of six; and Joseph Byrne (46), packer, his wife Eliza and seven children. Eleven of the 37 people in this house were recorded as members of the Church of Ireland.

Now in the 21st century, nothing of the original remains with the last of the “Georgian” houses being demolished in the early 1980s (de Valera, 1982). The Lane is dominated by The Radisson Hotel on the north edge and there are two corporation housing units on the south end.

Having existed for 550 years, I’m sure there is plenty more yet to happen at Golden Lane.

Notes

  • 650 years is an under-estimate, as I have omitted some interesting archaeology from this article – see for example: Archaeology Ireland, 2005, 19(3), 16-17 on Viking Age burials uncovered at Golden Lane.
  • Richard Castle (Cassels), 1735, An essay on supplying Dublin city with water.
  • Christiaan Corlett, 2008 Darkest Dublin. The story of the Church Street disaster and a pictorial account of the slums of Dublin in 1913, Wordwell. (The Little Museum of Dublin, Stephen’s Green, are currently exhibiting these photographs).
  • M. H. Daly, 1945, La Touche Bridge to Hoggen Green, Dublin Historical Record, 7(4), 121 – 133.
  • Terry de Valera, 1982, John Field, 1782-1837, Dublin Historical Record, 35(4), 134 – 147.

  • Frank Gibney 1958, A Civic Achievement, Dublin 1760-1800, Dublin Historical Record, 15(1), 1 – 10.
  • Desmond Fitzgerald, 1987, Early Irish Trade-Cards and Other Eighteenth-Century Ephemera, Eighteenth-Century Ireland, 2, 115 – 132.
  • Cormac F. Lowth, 2008, Dublin Jack of All Trades, Dublin Historical Record, 61(2), 169 – 182.

  • Brian MacGiolla Phadraig, 1945, Speed’s Plan of Dublin, Dublin Historical Record, 10(4), 97 – 105.
  • E. D. Mapother, 1878, Great Irish Surgeons, The Irish Monthly, 6, 12 – 19.