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.
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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.