The Main Street of Dublin

The street from Castle St to Thomas St first swirls one way as it wraps around Christchurch and along High St, and then swirls the other, as curves around Cornmarket and joins Thomas St at the junction of Francis St.

Ordnance Survey of Ireland Map showing area that was once Main Street, Dublin

Ordnance Survey of Ireland Map showing area that was once Main Street, Dublin

In the medieval city (1200-1500), this street was known as the Main Street of Dublin. The eastern end at Christchurch was called Skinner’s Row. Of course Lord Edward St is a recent addition, so what now is a rather awkward arrangement makes more sense in that context; Skinner’s Row continued on from Castle St, and led along the side of Christchurch; the alignment of the Lord Edward public house giving a hint as to the original flow. The “Row” of Skinner’s Row indicates that there was only buildings lining one side—indeed as it is today, with the medieval buildings replaced by Jury’s Inn. While the Dublin historian Sir John Gilbert has proposed that the Row was “a narrow and sombre alley” at just seventeen feet wide, this has been disputed. Hughes has suggested with some confidence that Gilbert has his time periods mixed up, and considers it improbable that the one area of the walled city that was to handle sizeable gatherings of citizens would not have been larger. As well as the Cathedral of the Holy Trinity (Christchurch), there was a Pillory at the eastern end of Skinner’s Row at its junction with Castle St., and High Market Cross at the western end at the junction with High St. Here, it was customary to read out royal proclamations and other public announcements (Hughes, 1941).

The Pillory was a place for public punishment. Even seemingly trivial events could lead to punishment. Bakers who were caught for a third time with a load lighter than stated were subjected to a stint in the pillory, a punishment which along with severe discomfort, carried with it “a degree of odium and degradation”. The punishment was restricted to the crime of perjury during the reign of George III, and finally abolished in 1837 (Frazer, 1886).

Extract of Speed's Map of Dublin (1610)

Extract of Speed’s Map of Dublin (1610)

All of this detail is visible on Speed’s Map of Dublin (1610). Main St runs from the east at Castle St (38 on map) through Skinner’s Row (42), High St (48) to the city wall at the junction of Thomas St at Newgate (50). The High Market Cross is visible to the right of No. 47 (St. Nicholas’ Church), and the little symbol next to No. 42 probably marks the location of the Pillory (Andrews, 1983).

Fishamble St (24 on Speed’s Map) is on the eastern end of the Main St. The steep slope of this street, best appreciated by walking or cycling up it, linked the walled city to its port below at the river. In medieval times, it was uninhabited and it served as a location for  fish markets which were brought to shore at the river below. The western end of Main Street was marked by Newgate, which merits its own article.

Before we leave the medieval era, it’s worth noting that rentals of the time giving names and occupations of the tenants demonstrate the city had a high proportion of well-to-do people within it walls. Hughes argues that while there were of course poor people, a reputation of a filthy and neglected city with pigs running through the streets is unfair.

Detail from The Tholsel, Dublin (James Malton)

Detail from The Tholsel, Dublin (James Malton)

In another age, the area is beautifully captured in some of Malton’s Views of Dublin (ca. 1791). These are discussed in some detail in Edward McParland’s gorgeous essay on their use as a historical source (McParland, 1994). Especially relevant are two of the Views: St Catherine’s Church and The Tholsel. In the latter, the street sign for Skinner’s Row is clear, as is the shopfront of Robert Thomas, Tallow Chandler. McParland has done the detective work to show that Thomas was indeed a tallow chandler at 1 Skinner Row in both 1791 and 1792, but not 1793. Sadly it appears that this accuracy does not extend to all of Malton’s prints; Patrick O’Murphy’s name on a bar has nothing to correlate with in business records. Nevertheless, the prints give us a beautiful representation of how these streets, which derived from the original Main Street of Dublin, looked in the city’s golden age.

Extract of St. Catherine's Church (James Malton)

Extract of St. Catherine’s Church (James Malton)

Notes

  • J. H. Andrews (1983) The Oldest Map of Dublin, Proceedings of the Royal Irish Academy. Section C: Archaeology, Celtic Studies, History, Linguistics, Literature
    83C, 205-237
  • William Frazer (1879) On the Dublin Stocks and Pillory, Proceedings of the Royal Irish Academy. Polite Literature and Antiquities, 2, 456-460.
  • James L Hughes (1941) Main Street, Dublin, Dublin Historical Record, 3(3), 67-77.
  • Edward McParland (1994) Malton’s Views of Dublin: Too Good to be True?, in Ireland: Art into History, Raymond Gillespie and Brian P Kennedy (eds), 15-25.
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The Kevin Street Medley: 1. St Sepulchre’s Palace

If there is another street in Dublin that doffs its cap to as much history in five hundred paces as Kevin St does, I’d like to walk it. I can’t quite say why, but I think it is a peculiar street. Perhaps it is the awkward meeting of its Upper and Lower sections; once linked by the street Cross Kevin St., but now joined together by a serpentine junction. Or perhaps it is the lack of much street-level function; there is but a few number of shops on the street. Instead it is punctuated with large buildings which make it a street to go to, rather than to be on. But Kevin St is one of Dublin’s oldest streets, and deserves our attention. It is recorded on Speed’s 1610 map and its name—derived from the ancient church of the eponymous saint now accessed off Camden Row—hasn’t changed over those four centuries. That’s quite a feat.

St Sepulchre's Palace (click to go to NLI FLickr)

St Sepulchre’s Palace, 1771 (click to go to NLI FLickr)

Even if the name hasn’t changed, Gabriel Beranger’s gorgeous drawing of St Sepulchre’s Palace from around 1770, now the site of Kevin St Garda station shows how much the street has changed over the last two centuries. The palace is also marked on Speed’s map, although it was much older than 1610. It dates from the twelfth century, after the Synod of Kells increased the number of Archbishops in Ireland from two to four: Tuam and Dublin getting the loot. Bishop Gregory of Dublin subsequently became Archbishop Gregory, and the palace was built sometime over the next century. The church’s 74,000 acres of lands in county Dublin included the Manor of St Sepulchre, which consisted of the parishes now known as Crumlin, Donnybrook, SS Catherine. Nicholas and Peter, and Taney. The poor archbishop was bounced in and out of the palace over the centuries. Edward VI, Henry VIII’s son, dissolved St Patrick’s Cathedral and moved the Lord Lieutenant (“the Deputy of our Realm”) into the palace, with the Archbishop moving to the Deanery.

Dublin Mounted Police outside barracks at Kevin St

Dublin Mounted Police outside barracks at Kevin St

Edward’s sister Mary moved the bishop back in, but then the Earl of Sussex (Elizabeth’s Lord Deputy) moved him back out again, but this, again, appears to be short lived, for in Archbishop Adam Loftus’ time there at the end of the sixteenth century, it was described as “a semi-regal abode well pleasantlie sited as gorgeously builded“. St Sepulchre’s Library, originally part of the complex, obviously still exists— it is now known as Marsh’s Library.

After 41 Archbishops, an Act of Parliament was passed in 1806 transferring ownership to the Crown, and the palace became a barracks for the Mounted Police. The Archbishop moved to St Stephen’s Green (No. 16), probably as these quarters were more salubrious than what Kevin St had become. John Carr, writing in 1806 stated that:

“The palace of the Archbishop of Dublin is converted into Barracks and is situated in a close neighbourhood with a collection of more mud, rags and wretchedness than London can exhibit in its most miserable quarters”

kevinstmy4

What might have been… Probably just as well. (Links to Archiseek)

While the palace technically still exists, there isn’t much in Kevin St to relate back to the original structure, some interior detail aside. The unusually large gate-posts into the Barracks have been dated to about 1720.

The entire site is now a bit of a mess. During the boom, plans were well advanced for a new Garda station at the intersection of Kevin St Upper and Lower. Those plans came to a halt very abruptly, and all that remains of that is a large hole in the ground. Even the sign proclaiming the building that was meant to be has disappeared.

Kevin St Garda Station

Site for new Kevin St Garda Station, as seen from DIT Kevin St

The OSi 25″ map from the late nineteenth century shows both the size of the original complex, and I think, how much more lively the street was at that time—the number of houses both on Kevin St Upper and Bride St (now site of Large Hole) is substantial – a glimpse of those houses on Bride St is available at the photo on this Come Here to Me! article.

Kevin Street in the late 19th century (Ordnance Survey of Ireland)

Kevin Street in the late 19th century, showing Guinness Street (Ordnance Survey of Ireland)

The lane running between the barracks and the Deanery to the west was originally called Patrick’s Close, although the connection between the two ends looks like it would only fit a pedestrian in the earlier OSi map from ca. 1840. It has regained the name Patrick’s Close, but it is clear on the map shown that it was for some time known as Guinness Street. This is likely due to the substantial amount of money provided by Edward Cecil Guinness for the restoration of St Patrick’s in the nineteenth century. It’s hard to avoid his name when reviewing the Cathedral’s excellent history timeline on their website.

View of Marsh's Library from Cathedral Lane (Links to the National Gallery of Ireland)

View of Marsh’s Library from Cathedral Lane (Links to the National Gallery of Ireland)

Just opposite the entrance to Guinness Street, we can get a glimpse of what the house on the corner looked like from Flora H Mitchell’s pretty watercolour “Marsh’s Library from Cathedral Lane.” It shows a three storey building with a shop on the ground floor. This is number 15, which in 1911 was home to Michael Doyle, a “coal factor”, and his family. Back on the mid-nineteenth century, it was home to George Close and Sons, Saddlers and Harness Makers; perhaps more fitting given that the Mounted Police were in the Barracks across the road.

More to come on Kevin St!

 

Notes

Victor Jackson (1975) The Palace of St. Sepulchre, Dublin Historical Record, 28(3), 82-92.

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.