An application has been submitted to Dublin City Council to build a 400-bed student residence on an empty 2.5 acre site in Mill Street (formerly Tanner’s Alley) in the historic South Inner city area of The Liberties, Dublin 8.
The €41m scheme will provide new retail, restaurant and office space for local businesses, an extensive landscaping to Mill Street and Warrenmount Lane and the opening up of a section of the mainly underground Poddle stream for public access.
Historians, conservators and Dubliners alike will be pleased to hear that the planned project will also see the complete refurbishment of a dilapidated 18th century townhouse at no. 10 Mill Street.
Shaffrey Architects in a 2005 report titled ‘St. Luke’s Conservation Plan‘ for Dublin City Council (DCC) described no. 10 as “perhaps the sole survivor in the area of the gable-fronted house type” while the DCC noted in a 2009 report that it “appears to be the last extant double gabled Dutch Billy” in the city.
The same report pulled no punches:
Number 10 Mill Street is extremely important to the entire city both architecturally and historically and it is a failure on the part of the City’s PSR system and on the part of the public authority who owned the building for so many years that it has been allowed to deteriorate to such an extent.
The location and entrance to the house is marked by the letter ‘A’ in ‘QUAY’ in this late 19th century map.
Following Henry VIII’s dissolution of the monasteries in the mid-sixteenth century, the area’s lands were acquired by William Brabazon, ancestor of the Earls of Meath, and became known as the ‘Meath Liberties’. French Huguenots, fleeing religious persecution, settled in the Newmarket and Weavers’ Square area from the late seventeenth century, where they contributed substantially to the development of the textile industry. Around 1700 there were seven Hugenot families living in Mill Street including one called Disney, ancestors of the American cartoonist Walt Disney.
The immediate area known as the Blackpitts, the name of which probably derives from the large black vats used for curing hides by the tanners and skinners, became the hub of the tannery and leather trade in the city. Tanning, for those who don’t know, was the act of converting animal skin into leather by soaking in a liquid containing tannic acid.
No. 10, sometimes referred to as Mill Street House, was built in the 1720s by the Brabazon family, Earls of Meath.
Christine Casey, senior lecturer in architectural history in Trinity College, has described the house as:
Tall and relatively narrow, of 5 bays and 3 rendered storeys over basement, with a gabled brick porch and brick top floor with a gabled centrepiece. Originally it had a pair of curvilinear [curved line] gables, flush sash windows and an attenuated [thin] Corinthian doorcase crowned by a vigorous swan-necked pediment … The rooms were wainscoted [lined with wooden paneling] and the stair had three fluted and twisted balusters [decorative pillar] per thread, Corinthian newels [central supporting pillar of a spiral staircase] and a richly carved apron to the landing.
After nearly a hundred years in the possession of the Earls of Meath, the house was procured by the Christian Brothers who opened a school there catering for 500 boys in 1818. This was the second school that the Brothers opened.
In the 1850s, the building began a new life as the Mill Street Ragged School which was founded by Daniel Molloy. Ragged Schools were charitable organisations dedicated to the free education of destitute children.
At the end of the 19th century, it was remodeled by architect GP Beater as a Methodist Mission and school. The roof and gables were removed and replaced by a hipped roof and the house was given a Gothic-Revival-type makeover.
In the 1901 census, a cabinet maker John Gibson and his wife Lilla lived in the house along with five elderly female Protestants who were unmarried or widowed. Their occupations were all listed as ‘Widows House – No Business’.
At the front of the house, ‘A & J 1913’, is carved on a blank wall in ornate fashion. Historian Maurice Curtis suggests that this might refer to A & J Clothing.
No. 10 Mill Street was used as a residential house in the 1960s and 1970s. Jean Kelly Carberry wrote on great ‘Growing up in the Liberties’ Facebook page:
I lived in Mill St (No. 10) from ’68 till ’71. It was a fine house. Grand entrance. Fab staircases. The main room on first floor was like a church with a pulpit. There was a very big garden in the rear. And if you climbed the wall you were in the Blackpitts. Where the convent is. It had a beautiful front hall door which I have seen in many books about Dublin. Bang Bang lived across from us on the left facing up to Newmarket.
In the 1970s, it was used used as a storage facility by the Leyland and Birmingham Rubber Company which manufactured golf balls, Wellington boots and other rubber products.
The Department of Posts and Telegraphs bought the building in 1981 as part of a parcel of property adjoining a telex exchange. They had no plans for the building and neglect led to the house being broken into and vandalised several times in 1982. Windows were broken, the fireplace and lead flashing from the roof stolen and the bannisters from the staircase stripped.
Amidst much protest, the Department bricked up the windows and door of the house in April 1983. Many felt that this was a short-term solution to a long-term problem and the Liberties Association made repeated demands that the historic house should be restored and turned into a community centre or museum.
Here is an image of the house showing it already in a state of disrepair. Note the graffiti on the left hand side, suggesting this photograph was taken sometime in the early or middle part of the 20th century.
The house pictured last year with blocked up windows and door. An ugly sight and a wasted opportunity.
But the good news is that the house will finally be restored. Scaffolding has been erected and work has already begun.
A planning permission notice on the site details the significant refurbishment work which will take place.
Let’s hope the ambitious project, particularly the refurbishment of Number 10 Mill Street, is a success and coalesces well with the local established community. I’ll keep people up to date with developments.