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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Notes

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A house on Cork Hill

It’s easy to miss Cork Hill, a short street connecting Lord Edward Street and Dame St at City Hall. I measure its length at 35 paces, and although I am tall, I reckon it must be one of the shortest streets in Dublin. Cartophiles will correctly argue that it is a little longer, as the hill officially includes the plaza to the right of City Hall, connecting Castle St. Whatever its length, this short dog-leg joining Lord Edward, Dame, Castle, and Parliament streets is packed full of history; no surprise given its location adjacent to the Castle. As Maurice Craig puts it, it was very much at the centre of things.

The street itself takes its name from the Earl of Cork, after he built Cork House there in the early 1600s on the site of the present City Hall. Cork House was itself located on the site of the church St Mary del Dam, from which we get the name of Dame St.  Also known as the Great Earl, Richard Boyle was a self-made man who took advantage of the plantation of Munster to make his fortune. Having secured the favour of Elizabeth I, he collected political titles, becoming Privy Councillor for Ireland in 1612, and Member of Parliament for Lismore in 1614. The Irish Parliament was held in Dublin Castle at the time.

The area around Cork Hill as captured by Rocque on his map of 1757.

The area around Cork Hill as captured by Rocque on his map of 1757.

Tempting as this short commute might have been, it doesn’t appear that Boyle lived in Cork House. The building was occupied by the Royal Exchange until 1683, when that operation moved to the Tholsel nearby (just visible on Rocque’s map, above). It subsequently became home to a variety of traders; most notably printers and coffee houses. Lucas’s Coffee House, one of the most fashionable places to loiter in the city, was one of the last occupiers.

Fashion could not save the house or the area from the Wide Street Commissioners. Cork House was demolished in 1768 in a grand plan to widen Parliament St. Parliament St—which doesn’t exist on Rocque’s map—was to be the new grand wide and convenient street linking City Hall to the planned construction of Essex Bridge. Walking from the right on Rocque’s map shown, we can see Cork Hill following on from Dame St, but neither Parliament nor Lord Edward St are extant; Castle St is the main thoroughfare. The entire area was a bit chaotic.  The narrow network of streets meant that maintaining law and order was difficult. At Cork Hill, a contemporary account recorded that:

pedestrians passing Cork Hill after dark were frequently insulted and maltreated by the numerous chairmen surrounding the entrances to Lucas’s Coffee House and the Eagle Tavern, the waiters of which establishments supported them in those engagements by pouring pails full of foul water upon their opponents.

Changes were needed. Trinity College Dublin led the charge at the other end of Dame St by demolishing the Jacobean frontage of college, itself less than 70 years old, and installing the present frontage. Copious plans of the area exist for around 1766 in the Wide Street Commissioners’ archives, lovingly cared for by Dublin City Archives. But before we look at those, an earlier glimpse is available. A pair of maps of the area dated 1751 (showing the alignment at the time) and 1753 (showing planned changes) are described by MacDowel Cosgrave (1918). A section of interest is shown. In this Survey of the present streets leading to His Majesty’s Royal Pallace or Castle of Dublin. Novr 9th, 1751, Cork Hill is clearly visible. 

Extract of a survey of the present streets leading to His Majesty's Royal Pallace or Castle of Dublin. Novr 9th, 1751

Extract of a survey of the present streets leading to His Majesty’s Royal Pallace or Castle of Dublin. Novr 9th, 1751

Gloriously, this map has the building locations annotated, and inspecting the legend, one finds that Cork House is located at position number 34, sandwiched between Mr Butler, printer (33), and Mr Mear’s mercers shop (35).

Proposal for new street linking Dame St to river. Point a marks proposed location of statue of George I

Proposal for new street (between the two ‘C’s) linking Dame St to river. Point a marks proposed location of statue of George I

More exciting is the proposal of 1753. In this we see that the new alignment of what would become Parliament St is proposed – 46 feet wide, running from the river south to Dame St. At the junction, a large square on the south side was planned. This was to be named Bedford Square after the Lord Lieutenant of the time, and there is even an annotation to include a statue in the centre. This was to be of George I, relocated from the old Essex Bridge. Losing out were buildings number 25 (Mr D’Olier, Goldsmith), 26 (Mr John Ross), and 27 (Mr Fords, Print Shop), and one presumes, the buildings around the new square, including Cork House.

Extract of the Wide Street Commissioners map of the area around Cork Hill (click to link to Dublin City Library source)

Extract of the Wide Street Commissioners map (No. 499) of the area around Cork Hill (click to link to Dublin City Library source). ‘A‘ marks the proposed location of the statue.

There is a significant number of maps available in the Dublin City Library image collection documenting the Wide Street Commissoners plans for the area, but perhaps the one to select to continue our story here is Map No. 499, shown. This shows Dame Street, Castle Lane (now Palace Street), Swan Alley (now Exchange Court), Parliament Street, Cork Hill, Castle Street, Castle Yard and vicinity. The site of Cork House is now annotated as “Lot from Swan Alley to Cork Hill”, and it is evident that plans for a square and statue of George I were still being considered by the Commissioners.

Rocque's map of 1756 showing the proposed Bedford Square

Rocque’s map of 1756 showing the proposed Bedford Square

The letter A on the map marks “a pedestal for the Statue of his Majesty George I which faces Parliament St and Castle St.” Parliament St is now shown, with “New Buildings” lining either side. The intention to complete the square obviously convinced Rocque, who in his 1756 map showed the square, to the south of Cork Hill, complete with statue. The square itself looks like Rocque rubbed out previous engravings of existing buildings. His 1757 map shown at the top of the article corrected the prediction.

As we now know, the square was never built, but Cork House was demolished in 1768, and City Hall construction began the following year. The infamous approach of the Wide Street Commissioners on Parliament St is well documented, when “public consultation” was replaced by unroofing houses in the middle of the night to get people to leave. While it would be some time (and a national rebellion) before Lord Edward St would appear, the area was beginning to take the form we recognise today.

Capel St Brotherhood

Brother Hubbard at No. 153 Capel St is the unofficial Wide and Convenient Streets pit-stop when exploring the north side. The street itself dates from 1697. The name comes from Arthur Capel, Earl of Essex who was Lord Lieutenant from 1672-1677.While forever immortalised with the street name, he was also previously remembered by Essex Bridge, which connects Capel St to Parliament St. The present bridge was built in 1874 and was since renamed Grattan Bridge. Capel was replaced as Lord Lieutenant by the Duke of Ormonde, remembered around the corner from Capel St, on the quays.

Essex Bridge

Essex Bridge

Arthur, 1st Earl of Essex.

Arthur Capel, 1st Earl of Essex.

Arthur had great hair, and an even greater wig. One assumes he would be happy then with the tenant at No. 153 listed in 1834: William Finucane was a wig-maker and hair dresser. By 1842, Finucane was listed along with Bernard Murphy, who was both a “builder and confectioner”; perhaps two trades the modern occupiers can relate to. They were joined by John Page, who was a “teetotal refreshment manufacturer”. That must be what they called elderflower cordial in those days. All changed in 1862: wigs and confection gave way to Henry Smith, brass founder, billiard ball maker, and gunpowder agent.

Confection was not to be dissuaded however. By 1901, Delia Dunbar was listed in No. 153 as a manageress of a bread shop which she ran on the ground floor. She was 21 and not married. Over the shop, Michael Hudson, a saddler, lived in the private dwelling with his wife and three young children.

All this talk has made me hungry for a scone and some amazing orange-blossom-buttery-goodness. Yum.

Grattan Bridge at low tide

Grattan Bridge at low tide taken from Ormonde Quay Upper.

Notes