Reply To: Dublin houses using coal in the 1690s

Home Forums Ireland Dublin houses using coal in the 1690s Reply To: Dublin houses using coal in the 1690s


Chris, that’s an interesting subject you’re enquiring into.

There wouldn’t have been much ‘industrial’ demand for coal in Dublin in 1690, as such. Most industrial activity was still home-based at this time. The cloth working industry is the classic example of this. While there were thousands of weavers, cloathiers, dyers etc. in Dublin at this time, each operation was largely self contained within the artisan’s dwelling house, albeit often under contract to a major cloth merchant.

A weaver’s house could be distinguished from other houses by some characteristic features and occasionally we get references to a ‘drying loft’ etc. It is widely believed that weaving looms were located in the attic storey of these houses to take advantage of greater availability of natural light here. We know of examples on Chamber Street where larger windows were clearly added to the gabled top floor of the elevations giving credence to this notion. One interesting innovation in the 1690s was the invention of a ‘napping engine’ patented by a Frenchman, Jacques Delabadie. This was essentially an advance on the water-powered ‘fulling’ mills of the time, a process used to plump up cloth. The first such napping engine in Dublin was installed to the rear of Ald. Braddock’s houses on the east side of Meath Street, after which Engine alley is named [not a Dublin miss-pronunciation of ‘Indian’ as it is widely believed]

Other professions that involved industrial processes like the tallow chandler, the ‘glew-boyler’, maulster, brewer and distiller were likewise predominantly operations of domestic scale in Dublin until the early decades of the 18th century.

The main exceptions to this pattern of domestic industrialisation were lime production and glass making. These operations would have been comparatively big users of coal, but there were probably no more than five or six lime kilns and two or three glass works in operation in the city at any one time. The best known glass works in Dublin were in the Lazy Hill [Townsend St.] area, Ringsend and Oxmanstown, and their conical towers can be seen in various topographical views of the city. The glass works in Oxmanstown blew up in March 1697 killing at least seven people. This was evidently a minor set back to what was clearly a profitable concern as it was rebuilt shortly afterwards.

Coal was absolutely the predominant fuel in Dublin from the 17th century, if not earlier, and I’m not aware of any evidence that turf contributed in any significant measure to the fuel needs of the city.

You’re no doubt .aware of the much quoted petition of Edward Spragg and other Protestant coal-porters of the city to the Irish House of Commons in 1695 complaining that ‘one Darby Ryan, a captain under the late King James, and a papist, notoriously disaffected, who buys up whole cargoes of coals, and employed those of his own persuasion and affection to carry the same to customers, by which the petitioners were debarred and hindered from their small trade and gains’.

This Dublin coal trade was predominantly with Whitehaven. Eventually, a certain amount of coal was sourced from the Castlecomer works in Kilkenny, developed by the Wandesford family. Later, in the 1730s, the ‘Ballycastle or Irish Coal Yard’ was established on the east end of Bachelors Walk, by the Boyd family as they sought to develop their small coal field in Co. Antrim. The Bachelors walk yard was adjacent to a new glass works established by the Trinity professor, physicist and early industrialist, Dr. Richard Helsham.

Those attempts to supply Dublin with native coal, only go to emphasise the importance of the Whitehaven connection. The Whitehaven/Dublin coal trade is historically of huge significance. Prominent Whitehaven families who established merchant dynasties in Dublin in the early 17th century include the Lowthers and the Nicholsons. Other Whitehaven merchants who became involved in property and development in Dublin in the early 18th century include, Richard Bamber, Thomas Lutwidge, William Stephenson, James Grayson, Henry Littledale, and James Bennet. The number of merchants and artisans in the city whose origins are described as Cumberland would be a great multiple of this.

I’ve come across dozens of other Whitehaven connections that I can’t put my finger on right now.

Some anecdotes you might check out are;

A house on the south side of Newmarket which was known by the sign of Whitehaven, and which was in the possession of a William Bibby in the 1720s.

Also, the Dublin merchant and former Lord Mayor, Bartholomew Van Homrigh, father of Esther [Stella], received plaudits from the administration for his services in arranging at short notice the transportation of troops from Dublin by hiring the coal fleet. Van Homerigh, with Sir William Robinson held the position of Commissary in Ireland and in August 1703 he organised the dispatch of up to 1,600 troops from to bolster the British regiments serving in Portugal at that time. Chief Secretary Southwell noted in a letter to Lord Nottingham, ‘. . luckily we had a great many Whitehaven ships in port and in a few hours, he had done as desired.’

I would be interested to hear how your research progresses. Best of luck.

Latest News