Dublin Historic Stone Paving disbelief

Dublin Historic Stone Paving disbelief

Postby Devin » Sun Dec 11, 2005 10:37 pm

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Passing St. Patrick’s Cathedral on Friday, I came across this: the kerbs of the beautiful stone pavements on St. Patrick’s Close are being re-pointed in a thick ridge of pasty grey cement, which should NEVER be done on historic stonework.




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And who’s responsible for this piece of cowboy practice – some dodgy contractors? No, it’s Dublin City Council’s Roads Maintenance Division.




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In this bit that hasn't been reached yet, you can see that the kerbs and paving are pointed in a mortar which is close to the fawn colour of the stone, and that the mortar is FLUSH with the stonework. Any necessary repairs should obviously be carried out in line with what’s already there. But there's an obsession with using raised cement pointing on old stonework. It's rampant all over the country. It not only looks wrong, but use of cement on historic brick and stonework can hinder necessary movement and flexibility.

There was only a feature on this on the architecture page of the Irish Times on Thursday a week ago; the importance of using softer (lime) mortars on traditional buildings/structures.


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Dublin has gladly retained some great historic stone-paved areas, like around St. Patrick’s and Christchurch Cathedrals, Dublin Castle, and the north and south Georgian areas. Most of the surviving stone paving and kerbing is listed for protection in the Development Plan. But a bizarre situation has been prevailing for a number of years now, whereby the Council’s Roads Maintenance Division (rather than the Planning/Conservation section) has charge of historic stone paving. It means that unskilled operatives are going and doing their worst to 200 year old pavements; the raised pointing already mentioned, replacing bits in modern white granite, rearranging and cutting up the flagstones, messing up the coursing and bonding integrity…

An Taisce Dublin City have asked the Council to rectify the situation. They’re aware of the problem but it’s slow slow slow … they’re “producing a report” on the city’s historic street furniture and will act on its recommendations…
But in the meantime, more historic paving gets wrecked ... it's horrific!
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Re: Historic Stone Paving disbelief

Postby GrahamH » Mon Dec 12, 2005 11:18 pm

It's terrible isn't it?! You see it everywhere around the city. Combined with the rusty tones of the stones, it makes pavements look like dodgy 70s domestic cladding. And it's not just secondary locations: the most famous 'antique pavement' in the city has been pasted in the muck - Trinity's curved footpath on College Green:

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and not only that but also the most appallingly insensitive additions and alterations:


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Not even similar coloured slabs used at the crossing (as O'Connell St has proved, different coloured slabs are not required for the visually impaired), and just tossed down in any old fashion, Similarly the new pedestrian lights and security camera pole just shoved in with dollops of concrete.

And as for this outside the gates of Trinity:

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What a disgrace.
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Re: Historic Stone Paving disbelief

Postby sarcastic » Tue Dec 13, 2005 3:24 pm

We have here the departament of protection of cultural heritage in Lithuania. They are fierce protectors of everything in the list. Sometimes the prevent some changes, that in fact are really needed. But i can swerar, they would never ever allow souch a blasphemy here :)
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Re: Historic Stone Paving disbelief

Postby StephenC » Tue Dec 13, 2005 4:16 pm

Aah the aul perenial lump of tarmac and crappy grouting. Still things are getting better. Juts lokk at OConnell St with its fine new paving. It will be spanking in a couple more months. And isnt there a new maintaintenance regime inn place to help it stay like that. Well look a little closer.... the section from Abbey St to the Bridge. On the east the chaps are busily beavering away to complete the paving works while on the west side the paving has been in place since early this year. However the observant among you might notice the lovely patch at the junction with Abbey St ripped up for utility works of some sort and carefully replaced with... tarmac! And the roadway. The tarmac here was relaid a little better but they forgot one thing. The line of small cobbles that seperate the paving from the roadway all along the street. Sure they were only a gimick anyway.
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Re: Historic Stone Paving disbelief

Postby StephenC » Tue Dec 13, 2005 4:16 pm

BTW we also have a department for Heritage in Ireland sarcastic....you'd never think it though.
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Re: Historic Stone Paving disbelief

Postby sarcastic » Tue Dec 13, 2005 5:10 pm

Oh, i am sorry if i made you think that way, I really didn't mean to say that there was noone to care about thouse deeds.
I just wanted to note, that in my country this institution often pays alot of atention to souch things. Unfortunately there are cases, when the building or particular place is left to decay, instead of letting to modrenise it in some gentle way..
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Re: Historic Stone Paving disbelief

Postby tjomeara » Tue Dec 13, 2005 8:03 pm

StephenC wrote:BTW we also have a department for Heritage in Ireland sarcastic....you'd never think it though.


The problem is not with the Dept of (against the) Environment, Heritage and Local Goverment in Ireland - it is with the lack of power they have to do anything about such things
priorities lie elsewhere in modern ireland I am afraid
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Re: Historic Stone Paving disbelief

Postby anto » Tue Dec 13, 2005 8:35 pm

Rte or one of the Newspaper's needs to highlight this. It needs to be highlighted visually. Lot of folks don't pay much heed to this as they rush around. Maybe Irish Business Against Litter should extend its brief!

I presume the Tidy towns don't audit Dublin city centre. They'd probably recommend more hanging baskets!:p
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Re: Historic Stone Paving disbelief

Postby Devin » Fri Feb 10, 2006 4:00 am

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Like a stone wall, stone paving has a visual and structural logic; the way the stones are arranged together is very important. This stretch of antique stone paving running down a side lane off Pearse Street, by St. Mark’s Church, could be up to 200 years old and has had little or no alteration. You can see the organic quality of it - stones of different sizes coursed and bonded together happily.

There is an unbelievable situation prevailing in this city where €300,000 can spent last year on restoring O’Connell Street’s stone monuments, engaging various professional conservators and other specialists (a great job and money well spent). But when it comes to repair & conservation work to Dublin’s antique stone paving, the budget is €0; no professional expertise is sought; all work is done in-house by the Council’s Roads Maintenance Division (or its contractors). This might be ok if the Roads Maintenance workers were capable of treating the paving in an appropriate way, but sadly the opposite has been the case. Some of the most savage and unlawful work to our priceless antique paving has been done by this department.





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Here is one such job in progress on Castle Street not too long ago, illustrating 2 common problems:

1. Raised cement pointing, messily smeared outside the joints also.
2. Idiotic diagonal cutting of individual flagstones, making a visual nonsense of the paving.





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Here is another savage job carried out right at the foot of Francis Johnston’s monumental arch entrance to the (now) BoI Arts Centre which closes Foster Place, one of our most important historic areas. A dish has been brutally inserted as if the existing paving wasn’t there – partly using non-matching white granite and again including fussy diagonal cutting of flagstones and messy cement pointing.

As anyone who has worked on an old building knows, there are always compromises - you can’t usually make as many modern concessions as you would like to because you have to work with the fabric of the structure and respect its integrity. It’s the same with historic stone paving. But this principle has been almost completely ignored when it comes to Dublin’s historic paving.





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This is also quite common: The listed antique kerbstones seen here on Ormond Quay Lower are in the process of being removed and replaced with Chinese white granite. They just do this kind of thing all the time and hope no one will notice …. something to put in their end-of-year report. In this instance I managed to report it to the Conservation Officer in the Council and work was stopped. But there are hundreds of examples of this around the city - streets with “listed” antique paving or kerbing sloppily half-replaced in modern white granite (which becomes grey and ingrained with dirt almost immediately and looks as dull as concrete).





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Here is another mess at the corner of Earlsfort Terrace and Hatch Street Upper, like Graham’s example from Trinity: red crossing-point tiles thrown in all over the place in a random pattern, bits of surviving antique paving mixed in with concrete flags, and the usual straps of cement pointing. For jobs like these, there seems to be no consideration of the various treatment options, no plans submitted for approval. It seems that they just come along and decide what to do there and then, with usually disastrous results.

The antique granite has a naturally abrasive surface and is quite grippy in all conditions anyway. It’s questionable that these studded tiles are needed at all, especially in a comparatively low-footfall area like this.


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Almost all of the surviving antique paving and kerbing in the city is listed for protection in the Development Plan, which states “It is the policy of Dublin City Council to preserve, repair and retain in situ historic paving … [which is] identified in the Development Plan”. But it’s not worth the paper it’s written on, because no system of consultation has been put place to see that this objective is observed or to see that work to the paving is carried put in accordance with best practice principles.

While the Council’s Roads Maintenance Division have carried out most of the work that I refer to, the blame for all of this lies ultimately with the Planning Department and their failure to put such a system in place. Jim Keoghan is the Council official who has for the last number of years been in charge of the Development Plan’s Record of Protected Structures and other items listed for protection.

It really is a sorry state of affairs – historic stone paving is a hugely valuable asset and distinguishing feature of a city – it should be pristine.
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Re: Dublin Historic Stone Paving disbelief

Postby magicbastarder » Sat Feb 11, 2006 3:53 pm

i'm just thinking of all the bemused pedestrians wandering past people taking photos of footpaths.
also, yesterday morning, there were workmen going at the new cobbles on o'connell street, near hamilton long, with a jackhammer.
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Re: Dublin Historic Stone Paving disbelief

Postby kite » Sat Feb 11, 2006 7:45 pm

magicbastarder wrote:i'm just thinking of all the bemused pedestrians wandering past people taking photos of footpaths.
also, yesterday morning, there were workmen going at the new cobbles on o'connell street, near hamilton long, with a jackhammer.


:mad: Somebody REALLY should be sent to prison for this type of vandalisn...or at least lose their job and be exposed as the culprit.
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Re: Dublin Historic Stone Paving disbelief

Postby Devin » Fri Feb 17, 2006 1:34 am

Keep your hat on! It’s O’Connell Street – it’s going to get looked after, isn’t it? It’s every other street in the city (other than O’Connell Street) that you have to worry about.
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Re: Dublin Historic Stone Paving disbelief

Postby GregF » Fri Feb 17, 2006 6:57 pm

It's great that this has been hilighted.....good one Devin and Graham. Looks as if apprentices of the Anco school of slab laying or should that be slab slaying were responsible. The foothpaths look a fecking mess and that diagonal cut in the slab looks really atrocious as has been pointed out.
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Re: Dublin Historic Stone Paving disbelief

Postby Devin » Tue Feb 21, 2006 6:09 pm

BTW anto, yeah it would be good to get something in the media about it - you could go chasing up some journalist, but you know it’s easier to just blog it up here.
(However did manage to get a piece in the paper last year about the Dublin Port Authority having stupidly poured cement between the granite blocks of the Poolbeg wall - a ‘dry stone’ construction - causing it to crack.)
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Re: Dublin Historic Stone Paving disbelief

Postby anto » Wed Feb 22, 2006 3:29 am

A letter to the Irish Times can have a good impact. A letter to the council, local TD, councillor esp. the more visually aware ones like the Greens etc.
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Re: Dublin Historic Stone Paving disbelief

Postby GrahamH » Thu Feb 23, 2006 10:58 pm

I've often wondered about the phenomenon below - you probably know what it is Devin.

It's this roadway cobble-edging as pictured. You see it all over the north and south inner city of Dublin.
Are the cobbles the original surface that is left exposed to either side of the rest of the cobbled road that has been covered over in asphalt, or is the original cobbled surface dug up entirely and some cobbles just relaid as a quaint drainage system along the kerbline?

The crudeness of the laying, and the amost flush surface with the road covering would suggest the latter...
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Re: Dublin Historic Stone Paving disbelief

Postby Devin » Thu Feb 23, 2006 11:16 pm

In that case it does look like it's been relaid alright (for what reason I don't know ... a bit of municipal frilly-ing up of the road maybe!), but you do right enough see plenty of examples of old setts/cobbles at the edge of a road that have never been tarmaced over so as they can carry away rainwater.

It's interesting to think that almost every street in the city has setts under the tarmac - the setts were never taken up but used as a bed like the way you lay a rough mix before concreting (there's a name for it I can't think of).
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Re: Dublin Historic Stone Paving disbelief

Postby GrahamH » Thu Feb 23, 2006 11:31 pm

It's a nice idea - I'm not suggesting we return to cobbled streets (was snickering at a pair of American women only yesterday trying to negotiate the Castle cobbles in heels :)). It's a clever way of 'keeping in touch' with the past (assuming they are original), without having to sacrifice the convenience that modern developments offer us. Even as a relaid feature they are attractive.
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Re: Dublin Historic Stone Paving disbelief

Postby Devin » Fri Feb 24, 2006 12:04 am

I think the problem is that the quality of relaid sett surfaces is so bloody awful compared to the quality of the few genuine old ones that survive around the city (apparently 'setts' is the correct name for the rectangular stones and 'cobbles' refers to the smaller roundy ones like in Trinty's front square).

Here is a comparison of a delicious, smooth old sett surface on John's Lane, off Thomas Street (the whole city was like this once!), with a dire early-1990s relaid sett surface in Temple Bar. The John's Lane one is a pleasure to walk on. The Temple Bar one, as we know, would drive you back to the pavement!
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Re: Dublin Historic Stone Paving disbelief

Postby DJM » Tue Feb 28, 2006 5:20 am

Devon, thanks very much for such an interesting thread! It's not something I've ever consciously thought about in great detail before, but it does highlight an issue that has very obviously (from the contributions) been overlooked by the relevant authorities.

Here in Edinburgh, the place is full of cobbled streets - original ones - that are indeed very pleasant to walk on.

Modern examples are quite sharp & uncomfortable to walk on though. Would this have been the case with todays 'original/historical' cobbles when first they were laid, or would they have been polished/smoothed to some degree?

Not much demand for second-hand taxis over here!! ;)
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Re: Dublin Historic Stone Paving disbelief

Postby Devin » Wed Mar 01, 2006 2:29 am

Yeah I suppose they wouldn’t have been quite so smooth when first laid 100 or more years ago, but, like anything of intrinsic quality, it gets better with age!
But that’s no excuse for awful cobbling in Temple Bar. The main problem seems to be that the setts are not laid closely enough together – the old ones are always tightly laid. It’s really an embarrassment given the 1000s that visit every day.

The lifting and re-laying of Smithfield’s setts a few years ago, and the public space scheme in general, has been the subject of some criticism - see here for one: http://www.archiseek.com/content/showthread.php?t=4352 - but the resulting sett surface (below) was an improvement over the shockingly bad Temple Bar surfaces (wouldn’t be difficult I suppose).
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Re: Dublin Historic Stone Paving disbelief

Postby GrahamH » Wed Mar 01, 2006 2:35 am

Setts are being dug up and relaid in the Cow's Lane area at the minute - difficult to see how they're gong back down, though it would appear to be in the typical toothy fashion.

Ship Street has lovely tightly knitted setts just walking over them today. Such a pleasure in contrast with Temple Bar.
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Re: Dublin Historic Stone Paving disbelief

Postby Frank Taylor » Wed Mar 01, 2006 4:00 am

Devin, you are right to pursue this. God is in the details.
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Re: Dublin Historic Stone Paving disbelief

Postby PDLL » Wed Mar 01, 2006 12:20 pm

Graham Hickey wrote:I've often wondered about the phenomenon below - you probably know what it is Devin.

It's this roadway cobble-edging as pictured. You see it all over the north and south inner city of Dublin.
Are the cobbles the original surface that is left exposed to either side of the rest of the cobbled road that has been covered over in asphalt, or is the original cobbled surface dug up entirely and some cobbles just relaid as a quaint drainage system along the kerbline?

The crudeness of the laying, and the amost flush surface with the road covering would suggest the latter...



This is an extremely common phenomenon in modern suburban road building around Austria (do a lot of business over there so see it a lot). The street is tarmaced and then the drainage areas along the edge are lined with such cobbled areas. The cobbles are brand new. I cannot see any functional reason for this so perhaps it is just decorative and to give a better definition to the road area.
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Re: Dublin Historic Stone Paving disbelief

Postby Devin » Wed Mar 01, 2006 8:13 pm

Or it could be because under-street services are located at the edge of the road, and the cobbles allow access to them without disrupting the tarmac.
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