Are we sure that ' Dutch' Billies are part of the Orange tradition?
Actually Simon, there would be no consensus at all that the Dutch Billy is part of the Orange tradition, and most people seem inclined to dismiss the notion as nothing more than a simplistic interpretation of a whimsical nickname whose provenance has not been established. If it does emerge that the Dutch Billy was an early expression of ‘Orangism’
, one of the surprising things will be that the Orange tradition itself is completely unaware of the fact.
None of which means it wasn’t so.
Niall McCullough had a typically elegant formula for addressing the appearance of Dutch gables in late 17th and early 18th century illustrations of the city, in Dublin, an Urban History
including those of Francis Place; ‘Place shows curvilinear ones – more obviously redolent of a Dutch phase of influence, and perhaps by then imbued with a political cachet in loyal Dublin.’
A combination of Dutch influence with a loyal cachet is probably as far as most people will go with the Orange factor, but this may be because of a certain distaste for the idea, or maybe a disinclination to believe that such an explanation could possibly be credible, or just the belief that there is sufficient explanation for the sources of the Billy tradition elsewhere.
To my mind, there are four potential sources for the Billy tradition:
1. Immigration, especially of builders and tradesmen familiar with similar gabled house traditions in provincial England, but also occasionally in Holland and elsewhere.
2. ‘The persistence of antique forms’, i-e continuity from known indigenous [ - or previously imported - ] gabled traditions of medieval origin, flowering, as it did elsewhere, into a curvilinear gabled phase.
3. Transfer by trade or other commercial or cultural links [including dissemination by pattern book] with places where the curvilinear gabled tradition was strong, i-e Holland, the Baltic, northern France and provincial England.
4. The Orange celebratory factor.
The question is; what weight is to be attached to each source?
In my opinion, there is a definite case for no. 1 being an important factor, given the fact that the bulk of the builders, developers and tradesmen that we have records for are English, with a high proportion being evidently first or second generation immigrants, i-e prime candidates for being in a position to transfer a building tradition.
The problem with this explanation is the absence of a clearly defined parent tradition; many areas of Britain can offer one or two elements that made up the Billy tradition, but nowhere seems to have the full package in sufficient strength to be a completely convincing source location.
Personally, I’d rate this factor as probably not more than 25% of the explanation.
No. 2 is a compelling factor for only a comparatively small number of known examples and some of these could equally be vernacular simplifications of full blown Billys, rather than the other way round. The bigger problem with the continuity argument is the fact that, across the whole spectrum of Dublin street-architecture, from the speculative terrace to the high status town house, the gabled continuity was clearly interrupted by a phase of development in the 1670s and ‘80s that did not feature gable frontages and which, as far as we can tell, was indistinguishable from contemporary building practice in the fashionable areas of London - and built by the people that we talked about at no. 1 above.
10% of the explanation, at best.
Frankly, no. 3 is unlikely to be a particularly significant factor, much as it might be an attractive idea to see ourselves retrospectively in a European context.
simon.d wrote: My perception on the matter is that this building style was near pan-European in the 18th century
Yes, 'pan-European' . . . . except London and the fashionable urban centres of England, on which Dublin society styled itself in every other aspect of its material culture, [see anything published by Toby Bernard].
Expecting architectural pollination of the order required to explain an entire building tradition as distinctive and as geographically contained as the Dutch Billy is asking a lot of trade or cultural links that don’t appear to have been either, especially remarkable, or in any way peculiar to Ireland.
Again, 10% of the explanation at best.
Which brings us to No. 4 and back to that contentious ‘Orange’ explanation.
To me, the compelling factors here are:
[a] The time line, is a near perfect fit;
Before 1690, the handful of examples we have of curvilinear gables can each be seen as a special case and their distribution is consistent with new money flirting with stylistic experimentation, not the emergence of a new tradition. After 1690, the situation reverses, the curvilinear gable becomes ubiquitous in new urban construction, establishing a new tradition, while new money starts experimenting with typologies beyond the gabled tradition, e.g. Joshua Dawson’s Mansion House, or Speaker Connolly’s Vitruvian Castletown.
[b] The distinctiveness of the geographical spread;
Just as the Williamite conflict enveloped, and was confined to, the island of Ireland, so the Dutch Billy tradition was distinctively Irish in distribution and while Dublin was evidently the cradle of the tradition and always had the greatest concentration, it is clear that the tradition quickly spread to most of the other urban centres of Ireland, each of which had been transformed, in one way or another, by the conflict.
[c] Popularity across the full social spectrum;
The Billy tradition displays an unusual degree of common purpose across the social spectrum as though a shared peril overcome had given rise to a shared method of expressing relief/joy at the outcome. From the very small house of the shopkeeper or artisan craftsman to the great house of the brewery magnet or the city alderman, the architecture was essentially the same, distinguished only by scale, expenditure on detail, or, in some cases, a multiplicity of gables.
[d] Evidence of a Williamite cult;
Orangism didn’t drop out of a clear blue sky in 1795, the practice of celebrating King William clearly began almost immediately following William’s triumphant entry into the city where the King’s birthday and the date of the Battle of the Boyne quickly eclipsing all previous protestant festivities commemorating the 1641 rebellion. Even Swift was moved to compose an ode in gushing praise of the deliverer. In England, William’s star may have slowly faded as the country seemed to be embroiled in perpetual continental war and people remembered that he was Dutch, but in Ireland, despite some mean spirited new restrictions on the wool trade, there were few obstacles on the path to idolization. Commentators were struck by the contrast. Writing in 1751 [three monarchs later], the ever reliable Mrs. Delany, still grumpy from a cold she had contracted while attending the 4th Nov. celebration of King William’s birthday on College Green, observed that ‘King William’s . . . memory is idolized here almost to superstition.’
Did an idolization of the deliverer and a desire to put an indelible stamp on the city, combine with other factors to create the Dutch Billy tradition?
I think it probably did.