Samuel Whyte’s School on Grafton St

If thou must write and would’st thy works disperse, Write novels, sermons, anything but verse 

Samuel Whyte, from an engraving by Henry Brocas (National Library of Ireland - click to go to source)

Samuel Whyte, from an engraving by Henry Brocas (National Library of Ireland – click to go to source)

The quote above is from a letter from Samuel Whyte to aspiring poetess Henrietta Battier in 1790. Sheila Hamilton writes that Whyte was not being cruel in offering this opinion, rather he was injecting a dose of realism: women had no formal education and hence found it difficult to be taken seriously as poets. (She continues that some still tried).

References to Whyte and his school—officially named the “Seminary for the Instruction of Youth”—on Grafton St permeate the literature about many of the great names of the eighteenth and nineteenth centuries. He was born about 1733, and attended what was a famous school at Golden Lane, run by schoolmaster Samuel Edwards. He was the son of Solomon Whyte, and after a poor inheritance (Solomon’s nephew Richard Chamberlain getting the loot), Samuel was encouraged by Thomas Sheridan to open an English grammar school. In 1758, he opened his school on Grafton St., with school rooms on Johnston’s Court, now the site of Bewley’s. His own master’s house was across the school yard. He quickly rose to some acclaim, and it became one of the premier schools in the city. Whyte’s reputation (and association with the Sheridan family) led to him being offered a professorship of English at the Hibernian Academy in 1759. He declined, and devoted his clearly substantial talent to developing his own school.

Whytes Academy Grafton StAs previously mentioned on this site, the Duke of Wellington was educated here, along with Thomas Moore—whose father had recently moved from Johnston’s Court to Aungier St—and the playwright Richard Brinsley Sheridan, all commemorated on the plaque on the building. Moore wrote:

As soon as I was old enough to encounter the crowd of a large school it was determined that I should go to the best then in Dublin, the grammar school of the well known Samuel Whyte whom a reputation of more than thirty years standing had placed at that time at the head of his profession.

A medal for performance in writing (1783). The rim has the engraving: Saml. Whyte Exar. Ajudged And Gave It To Joseph Turner Decr. 17 1783 No. 36 (Whyte's Auctioneers)

A medal for performance in writing (1783). The rim has the engraving: Saml. Whyte Exar. Ajudged And Gave It To Joseph Turner Decr. 17 1783 No. 36 (Whyte’s Auctioneers)

Moore was of course a star pupil. The Dublin Chronicle reported in 1790:

The Public Examinations at Mr. Whyte’s school in Grafton Street closed on the 22nd instant, with an uncommon degree of splendour. A Master Moore, a boy not more than ten years old, distinguished himself in a remarkable manner, and was deservedly the admiration of every auditor.

Whyte’s own interest in poetry and theatre was inculcated in his pupils. After they performed a play on Christmas Eve 1771 at a private house on Capel St, the Marquis of Kildare suggested that they perform regularly for the public, with proceeds going to charitable institutions. Thus, on Jan 2nd 1772, a play was performed at the Theatre Royal on Crow St, with proceeds (£262) applied to liberate eighty debtors from the Marshalsea. Bravo!

From 1792, Whyte’s son Edward Athenry Whyte joined him in managing the Academy. Of course like much else, the school suffered greatly from the repercussions of the Act of Union. Whyte died on 4th October 1811, and Edward continued to manage the Academy until its closure in 1824.

You can receive email updates when a new post is published by subscribing below. A campaign is currently under way to highlight the heritage associated with the Bewley’s building on Grafton St, as covered recently in The Irish Times.

Notes

  • John Gilbert (1859) A history of the city of Dublin (Vol 3)
  • Sheila Hamilton (1988) Rescued and Recognised Pillars of the House: An Anthology of Verse by Irish Women by A. A. Kelly, Fortnight, 261, p. 22.
  • Ronan Kelly (2008) Bard of Erin: The Life of Thomas Moore, Penguin UK.
Advertisements

The Kevin St Medley: 4. Church Lane

While it is now a grim cul de sac with nothing more than a plaque to offer, Church Lane must be one among the oldest streets in the city as it connects Kevin St to St Kevin’s Church. The church and graveyard, now cut off from the eponymous street, are currently only accessed by Camden Row. This is a pity.

Occupants of Church Lane South 1842

Occupants of Church Lane South 1842

Some caution is required when hunting down Church Lane in the archives. The city had a few Church Lanes, unsurprisingly. Take for example Cathedral Lane, which we met on a previous article in this Kevin St series; it was previously Church Lane. It seems the name Church Lane South was applied to our lane, and on that street in 1842, the occupants included John Burrowes and Patrick Murphy, bricklayers and John Magee, a shoemaker. Elizabeth Delap, a vintner who had been in No 3 in 1840, had disappeared in the two years since.

No through way at Church Lane

No through way at Church Lane

An Ordnance Survey map from about 1838 show that there were just buildings on one side of the street. The other side, now DIT Kevin St, was the site of a Fringe Factory. The street ends with St Kevin’s Church, of course, but also mentioned is “St. Sepulchre’s market and public weigh house.” The weigh-master was one of the officers of St Sepulchre’s, responsible for ensuring fair weights for goods (which in turn may have had taxes levied). In general, this term was a modern incarnation of the Office of the Keeper of the Great Beam and Great Balance… That’s a disappointing amendment to the business card.

St Kevin's Church (from O'Maitiú, 2010)

St Kevin’s Church 1969 (from Ó Maitiú, 2010)

The Dublin historian Séamus Ó Maitiú has reported in detail the history of St Kevin’s Church, the destination of Church Lane. The earliest mention is in 1179. Kevin is in good company with two other native saints nearby; St Patrick’s, which obviously became the cathedral, and St Bridget’s, remembered now by Bride St. The church’s history thus spanned over 700 years, until 2nd April 1889 when the last vestry was held (Ó Maitiú, 2010). After the church closed, it was replaced by St Kevin’s Church on South Circular Road (Bloomfield Avenue).

Sketch by WF Wakeman, 1887 (From Ó Maitiú, 2010)

Sketch by WF Wakeman, 1887 (From Ó Maitiú, 2010)

Among the many events over its long history is the baptism of the Arthur, future Duke of Wellington, son of the Earl and Countess of Mornington (See post: Music and Mornington House). In his recent talk at the Irish Georgian Society, Aidan O’Boyle described the Leeson residences at Stephen’s Green and mentioned the church on Camden Row as the family graveyard. There, according to Ó Maitiú, the family tomb has the inscription:

This tomb was erected by Mr Hugh Leeson of the city of Dublin Brewer for himself his posterity the 29th day of January 1685 and now beautified by his Son Joseph Leeson the 14th day of May 1741. Beneath are interred the following members of the family . . .

Included in this list is Elizabeth, Countess of Milltown, who was the third wife of Joseph Leeson of Russborough, Co. Wicklow, the first Earl of Milltown. She outlived her husband by an astonishing 55 years!

There’s an interpretative sign at the Camden Row entrance to the church and graveyard detailing other significant burials there. However I do think the grounds would benefit from having its original entrance reopened, at least during the daytime. It would rebalance the site in terms of connecting it to its original street and the opportunity to use the park as a thoroughfare might help deter the bands of daytime drinkers that make half the park unapproachable for most of the day. Parks with one entrance tend not to do well in Dublin.

A moste pleasante parke

A moste pleasante parke, but for the drinkers.

Notes

Séamas Ó Maitiú (2010) St. Kevin’s Church, Camden Row, Dublin Historical Record, 63(1), 39-53.

Music at Mornington House

Birthplace of the Duke of WellingtonIn a prime spot facing Government Buildings, Mornington House on Merrion St is a very elegant five-bay Georgian building built by Viscount Monck as part of a development consisting of five townhouses. The house, according to a plaque by the front door, was the birthplace of the Duke of Wellington.

The duke’s father, the (1st) Earl of Mornington, is an interesting character. He was a talented musician, and founded the Academy of Music in 1757 with Kane O’Hara. On receiving a Doctorate in Music in 1764 from Trinity College Dublin, he subsequently became the first Professor of Music, a post he held for the next decade. The college is currently celebrating the 250th anniversary of the establishment of this Chair of Music with its “In Tune” exhibition, running until April.

Mornington HouseMornington could play any instrument, and he had an amateur band that played at theatrical events held in private houses—a very popular pastime in the eighteenth century. His band included William Brownlow MP on harpsichord and Sackville Hamilton MP on violin. What larks! Many of these theatricals were assisted by students of Whyte’s Academy on Grafton St., and one of the pupils here was Mornington’s son, the future Duke of Wellington. It’s an unusual case of two plaques in the city contributing to the same story.

Whytes Academy Grafton StFor more on that topic, see Patricia McCarthy’s wonderful essay “Private Theatricals in Irish Houses” in the latest Irish Architectural and Decorative Studies (XVI). 

Mornington House is now part of the Merrion Hotel.