The Tholsel was an important administrative building in Dublin historically, which stood on the junction of Skinner’s Row, Nicholas Street and High Street. It occupied the site where Jury’s Hotel stands today, opposite Christchurch Cathedral. The building was demolished in 1820, with no trace of it remaining at its original location. Essentially, its name meant ‘toll-gatherer’s stall’, and it would have served as a sort of City Hall, meeting chamber and exchange. The initial Tholsel was built in the fourteenth century, though the building portrayed in the illustration above was constructed between 1673 and 1683. While the building is long gone, this post will look at a piece of it which remains on public view, below the city.
In his study of Protestant Dublin in the seventeenth and eighteenth centuries, Robin Usher writes that ‘the building was roughly square in plan and abutted on one side by houses. The elevations consisted of an arcaded ground storey, open to the elements on the north and western sides’, and that ‘The city assembly and the board of alderman met in richly ornamented rooms over the ground floor loggia, itself fitted out as the merchants’ exchange.’ Upon the building were two statues, honouring King Charles II., and his brother, James Duke of York, along with the Royal Coat of Arms. J.T Gilbert in his classic history of the city noted:
The two statues above referred to were executed by William De Keysar, and in the Acts of Assembly for 1684 appears his petition for payment of ” twenty-nine pounds, due him on contract for cutting the statues set upon the front of the Tholsel, and for finishing the pedestals under the said statues.
This statues are clearly visible in an image from The History and Antiquities of the City of Dublin (1776), hosted online by Dublin City Public Libraries.
Gilbert notes in his history of Dublin that following the victory of King William of Orange at the Battle of the Boyne ‘the Roman Catholic citizens were obliged, by proclamation, to deposit their arms in the Tholsel’. Dublin historian Frank Hopkins has stated that the Tholsel had also hosted a huge banquet in honour of General Ginkel, an officer of King William of Orange, following the Siege of Limerick. On occasion, the festivities were not limited to the wealthy and powerful, and ‘at certain times of the year, the exterior of the building was lit with candles, and free beer was dispensed to the citizens, who gathered outside around large bonfires.’ In 1718 the absolutely huge sum of £1,000 was offered to anyone who could detect and identify those who had broken into the Tholsel and defaced and cut the portrait of King George I. that was on display inside of it. The Tholsel also featured in the punishment of criminals, who were ‘whipped at a cart’s tail from the Tholsel to the Parliament House’, the distance between Jury’s Hotel and College Green today.
Incorrigible malefactors or offenders were usually sentenced in the Lord Mayor’s Court to be whipped at a cart’s tail from the Tholsel to the Parliament House, to be placed in the stocks, or to be scourged at the “whipping post” erected here for the purpose. Libellous publications condemned by Parliament, gaming tables, and fraudulent goods seized by the Lord Mayor, were publicly burned at the Tholsel
Those who wish to see a piece of the Tholsel for themselves do not have to go far in Dublin. In the crypt of Christchurch Cathedral the statues that once adorned the building are still on public display, along with the Royal Coat of Arms. They serve as a brilliant and often overlooked reminder of what was once a central building in the running of the city.