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.
Advertisements

Pitt Street now Balfe Street

balfe plaqueThe strange little laneway that runs by the front of the Westbury Hotel is called Balfe Street. I didn’t know that either, but on Clarendon St, at the back of the Westbury, there is a plaque commemorating Michael Balfe, composer, which says that he grew up on a house nearby on Pitt St. Pitt St is now Balfe St in his honour—though exactly why this plaque is on Clarendon St is anyone’s guess.

The evolution from a street remembering the Prime Minister who saw through the Act of Union to a street recognising one of Ireland’s great composers (I’m told) happened after a resolution was passed by Dublin Corporation in January 1917,  having been proposed (and unopposed) by a Unionist member of council. A letter writer to The Freeman’s Journal remarked a few days later:

I, as a ratepayer, and speaking for all the other ratepayers, hasten to say how pleased we are. Balfe, to whose honour the street will now be dedicated, is a very appropriate name. Although the street is not much either in length or respectability, still it is the best we can do at present for the great Balfe. The street, just like Pitt himself and his foul work, the Union, has gone into decay and rottenness.

Balfe the House

No. 10, Pitt Street, by Flora H Mitchell (National Gallery of Ireland)

No. 10, Pitt Street, by Flora H Mitchell (National Gallery of Ireland)

The Corporation’s resolution was the latest effort to honour Michael William Balfe. After his death in 1870, there appears to have been a flurry of activity. A bust was unveiled in the National Gallery in July 1878. The delay appears to be due to the fact that a stature was desired, but the £2000 required for that could not be raised. In any case, the bust, by Thomas Farrell RHA, was presented to the Gallery by the Lord Mayor. That same month, Mr William Logan, a contrabasso performer wrote to the Irish Builder wishing it to be known that:

I am the owner of the house, 10 Pitt-street, in which Balfe was born. I take a pride in living in that house… May I take the liberty of asking you to make public the fact that “Balfe’s House” is in the possession of a Dublin musician… who will place a medallion of Balfe on the front of the house, at his own expense.

Thanks to Mr Logan, a marble plaque was placed on the front of the house, as can be seen on Mitchell’s painting.

Balfe the Street

Extract from Roque's map of Dublin City, 1756

Extract from Roque’s map of Dublin City, 1756

Rocque’s map of Dublin City (1756), as reproduced in Lennon and Montague’s Dublin, shows a tantalising glimpse of the area of interest. Harry St runs southwest on a diagonal from Grafton St, through what appears to be open ground. By 1797 though, the orientation of the street was set as we now know it today, with just a component of the diagonal remaining. Pitt, yet to unleash his damage on Dublin and Ireland, is honoured with the new street name.

1797 Map of the area showing Pitt St

1797 Map of the area showing Pitt St

Its proximity to Grafton St means that it gets more mention than it might expect otherwise. No. 12 housed the “First Irish Lithographic Establishment“, mentioned in 1824—the first suggesting that the process had just been introduced to Dublin (MacDowel Cosgrave, 1907). Balfe was not the first musician on the street. John Field took lessons here as a boy from the pianist Giordani (de Valera, 1986).

Pettigrew & Oulton's Dublin Directory 1842Dublin Street Directory

Pettigrew & Oulton’s Dublin Directory 1842
Dublin Street Directory

The street was also home to the Opthalmic Hospital from 1829 to 1834, founded by Arthur Jacob, housed at No 8 and 9. It closed after the opening of an eye-ward at the Royal Dublin Hosptial, and No 8 and 9 were rebuilt. The Institute for Sick Children, fore-runner to the National Children’s Hospital at Harcourt St was also on the street.  (Somerville-Large, 1964). A survey of a house plan from the records of the Wide Street Commissioners also exists for Pitt St in 1840, for the holding of James Hanan.

Pitt St, from the 25" OSi map (www.osi.ie)

Pitt St, from the 25″ OSi map (www.osi.ie)

The street must gone into decline towards the end of the 19th century, as suggested by our first letter writer. By 1901, despite its length, about 250 people were crammed into its buildings. The 1911 Census recorded about half that number. We can get a sense of how many houses were there both from the Census and from the 1890 OS 25″ map. I count nine houses on the western side, of which only Sheehan’s pub on the corner is likely to be the only remnant. On the eastern side, there were fewer buildings, the block dominated by one large central building (the site of the former hospital or lithographic works, perhaps?). What is now No. 4, Harry St, directly opposite Westbury entrance/Bruxelles was built in 1880 by Dublin Corporation as a Weights and Measures Office, and is captured by this map (Casey, 2005). It looks like the remaining buildings were cleared in the 1920s; there are two relevant entries in the DIA for Balfe St, construction of a school for the sisters of the Holy Faith in 1921 and construction of a factory in 1923 for HAP Taylor. The dominant presence on the street is now the Westbury Hotel.

Perhaps we could re-instate the latest memento to Balfe back to its home on Balfe St?

Notes

  • Christine Casey,2005, The Buildings of Dublin, Yale University Press.
  • Terry de Valera, 1986, Grafton Street: A Collage of Time and PeopleDublin Historical Record, 39(4), 122-131.
  • Colm Lennon and John Montague, 2010, John Rocque’s Dublin: A Guide to the Georgian City, Royal Irish Academy, Dublin. 
  • Birthplace of Michael Balfe, The Irish Builder, July 1878, Vol. XX, no. 446, p. 202.
  • E. MacDowel Cosgrave, 1907, A Contribution Towards a Catalogue of Nineteenth-Century Engravings of DublinJournal of the Royal Society of Antiquaries of Ireland, 37(1), 41 – 60.
  • John O’Gahan, Letter to The Freeman’s Journal, Jan 11, 1917.
  • L. B. Somerville-Large, 1964, Dublin’s Eye Hospitals in the 19th CenturyDublin Historical Record, 20(1), 19 – 28.