Ghost Light – Old Dublin Signs

The website for Dublin Ghost Signs is well worth a visit. It is cataloguing signs that still exist on Dublin buildings for businesses long gone. Many of the signs are fading slowly, and in time will disappear.

A century earlier, another cataloguing project was prompted by Henry Berry. He compiled a list of House and Shop Signs from the seventeenth and eighteenth century recorded in a variety of sources. Signs, in the sense meant here, were not merely the text above a shopfront, but usually an actual sign or representation. Berry opens his article with a quote from Swift, about the ubiquity of Punch Bowls in signs for Dublin Taverns in 1732:

I have not observed the wit and fancy of this town so much employed in any one article as the variety of signs to hang over houses where punch is to be sold. The bowl is represented full of punch, the ladle stand erect in the middle, supported by one, and sometimes by two animals, whose feet rest upon the edge of the bowl. The animals are sometimes one black lion, sometimes a couple; sometimes a single eagle, and sometimes a spread one, and we often meet a crow, a swan, a bear, or a cock, in the same posture…

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The Sign of the Ship, 35 Back Lane, location of Richard Campsie, a linen draper.

Berry lists an impressively large catalogue of signs, arranged by street. The oldest shop sign was the Blue Bell, in Cook St, dating from 1600. Winetavern St had The Three Cups since 1613 and Castle St had a Bear and Ragged Staff since 1668. The latter was the premises of Richard Edwards, Tailor, in 1668 and William North, girdler, 1669.

The variety of animals Swift describes are well represented, but some unusual signs are also present. These include a Golden Stocking, for Anderson’s Stocking Shop on Castle St (1750 – 1760), a Merry Shepherd on Clarendon Market for a shop selling firewood (also 1750 – 1760), and Corelli’s Head for Neal & Mainwaring, music publishers on College Green (1737). Bibles or heads were popular for publishers or book-sellers, like the bible on Patrick Campbell’s, a bookseller, on Skinner’s Row (1696).

Private houses also had signs. The townhouse of the Earl of Kildare, also on Skinner’s Row had the name on it: Carbrie House (Carberry House) – this being the oldest recorded sign in the city. More unusual signs included a Wandering Jew on Castle St, belonging to Cassandra Fyan, widow, in 1669.

For all of his excellent recording, Berry doesn’t show us any signs. He mentions (writing in 1910) that residents of the 60s and 70s would remember a sign outside the Bleeding Horse on Camden St, which was erected on a post on the roadway between Camden St and the now disappeared Charlotte St (more on that story here). But for a glimpse of what these signs might look like, we have to turn to a much shorter article by the antiquarian Francis Joseph Bigger. His sketches are used in this article, and one can only praise the work behind the Dublin Ghost Signs website, which is continuing this work of illustrating old signs of the city before they disappear forever.

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Left: The Old Turkey Cock, sign for John Palmer, Haberdasher at 12 Cut-Purse Row; Right: The Cock, sign for Laurence Johnston, a curtain lace, fringe and tassel maker at 5, Nicholas St.

Notes

Francis Joseph Bigger (1909) Old Dublin Signs, Journal of the Royal Society of Antiquaries of Ireland, 39(4), 400-401.
Henry F. Berry (1910) House and Shop Signs in Dublin in the Seventeenth and Eighteenth Centuries, The Journal of the Royal Society of Antiquaries of Ireland, 40(2), 81-98.

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Charlotte Street now gone

Modern Ordnance Survey of Ireland Map of the Camden Complex, showing the approximate route of Charlotte (red) and Old Camden (blue) Streets

Modern Ordnance Survey of Ireland Map of the Camden Complex, showing the approximate route of Charlotte (red) and Old Camden (blue) Streets. The Bleeding Horse was pinched between the two streets at the northern (top) end

The strange convergence of roads at the junction of Charlemont, South Richmond,  Harrington and Camden streets with the east-west thoroughfare of Harcourt Road is a recent addition to the city. Especially odd is the abrupt termination of Charlemont—one of the main routes in to the city and the arc-like segment of road that runs alongside South Richmond street, which was formerly a half of Old Camden Street and is now seemingly nameless.

It wasn’t always so. Describing the approach routes possible for the Battle of Rathmines in 1649, the road south from Camden Street along Charlemont Street was the marked as the “road to Milltown” (Brunskill, 1939). This road followed what became known in 1780 as Charlotte Street, which connected directly Camden and Charlemont Streets and can be seen clearly on maps drawn since (Behan, 1994).

1798 Map of Dublin

1798 Map of Dublin (Click on image for view of surrounding area)

The street’s name was in honour of Queen Charlotte (1744 – 1818), wife of George III (the “mad” one), and mother of his fifteen children. At this time, the area was on the edge of the city, but as can be seen from the 1798 map, there was significant development along the route. 

I was first aware of the non-existence of Charlotte Street on the National Library’s Flickr Stream, who posted the photo “Demolition” by Elinor Wiltshire, which shows the street in 1964. The shop visible in the photograph is of the Kavanagh Sisters Hair Stylists. The Kavanagh family are also present in 1911 Census, with James, a hair-dresser, who looks like he was father of the sisters of 1964, named Ellen and Martha. They would have been 56 and 54 at the time this photo was taken. Next door in 1911 was Willie Kavanagh, who in 1901 was a “Hair-Dresser Improver”.

Looking from Charlemont Street through the intersection of Harcourt Road, onto Charlotte Street, 1910

Looking from Charlemont Street through the intersection of Harcourt Road, onto Charlotte Street, 1910

Just as we risk sinking into the mundane, out pops a really interesting nugget: Charlotte Street was home to the offices of Jacob Neville, land surveyor, who operated there between 1773-1782 and succeeded by Arthur Richard Neville in 1789 (Gibney, 1958). Now for non-Wicklow people, this mightn’t seem too fascinating, but Neville was the first man to do a full survey of Wicklow, publishing his famous map in 1760. His nephew Arthur published an updated version of the map sometime after 1798. Jacob’s contemporaries included Bernard Scalé, who we met at Ely Place and Thomas Mathews who we met at Golden Lane

Charlotte Street, 1974, from Dublin City Library Collection (links to catalogue)

Charlotte Street, 1972, from Dublin City Library Collection (links to catalogue)

Despite the association with Neville, Charlotte Street never amounted to much more than housing small businesses. By the mid-twentieth century, as is evident from the National Library’s Wiltshire photograph, the street had run into terminal decline. A photo taken from a similar perspective in the 1970s from the Dublin City Library Collection shows that not much had improved, and by the 1980s, plans were afoot to develop an office complex. The road was closed by ministerial order on 28th July, 1992, and Charlotte Street officially no longer existed (Behan, 1994). A nod to the history of the place was the naming of a new road around the office complex “Charlotte Way”. The demolition attracted media attention as it involved demolishing Stein’s Opticians, as recounted in this “Come Here to Me” blog post (and update).

Despite officially not existing, a sign for Charlotte Street still exists. Approaching from Charlemont St, there is a small recess in the building, where someone with sympathies to the road that once was has placed a sign up marking the old route.

Plaque at junction of Camden Street and formerly Charlotte Street

Plaque at junction of Camden Street and formerly Charlotte Street

And a plaque? Well the closest we can get to a plaque on a street that doesn’t exist is just in time for the centenary of the Lockout. At the point where Charlotte Street met Camden Street, a plaque marks the building that was between 1912 and 1916 the headquarters of the International Tailors, Pressers and Machinists Union, established by Jewish Workers (having previously housed a synagogue).

Sign for Charlotte Street

Sign for Charlotte Street, an officially non-existant street that goes nowhere

Notes

  • A. P. Behan, 1994, Up Harcourt Street from the Green, Dublin Historical Record, 47(1), 24 – 45.
  • Frank Gibney 1958, A Civic Achievement, Dublin 1760-1800, Dublin Historical Record, 15(1), 1 – 10.