Re: Re: ‘Dutch Billys’

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Anonymous
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@Paul Clerkin wrote:

Exactly – old photography doesn’t always capture the squalor of these places . . .
It could quite easily have been the aim of some progressive liberal type to get the areas cleared as opposed to “some sniveling pen-pusher”.

There was definitely some slum clearance as epidemic preventative measure and there was some slum clearance as an expression of civic responsibility, but there must also have been a hugh amount of casual destruction just for the want of any civic understanding of the urban heritage involved.

The fact that these streets were repeatedly photographed in the 19th and early 20th centuries, suggests that there must have been an appreciation of their antiquity value at least, even if that appreciation may have mixed architectural curiosity with the quaintness of the squalor.

I think Devin’s point is that, if these streets were significant enough to be photographed and even postcarded, they should have been significant enough to be protected from demolition, especially when, in most cases, nothing of any significance replaced them. How exactly did other cities hang onto their tumbledown gabled buildings? The civic authorities across Europe from Amsterdam to Danzig must have exercised some form of protective regime over their urban fabric, why were we so different?

Whatever excuses we offer, it’s hard to deny that, In Dublin in the 20th century, destruction of old houses, became a kind of orgy. In previous generations, the alteration, or destruction of urban fabric, was almost always for the purpose of expounding a newer vision, eg the demolition of a swath of Abbey street was carried out for the purposes of extending Sackville Street to the Quays, or the destruction of the pair of grand new Georgian houses at the top of Sackville Mall was carried out to facilitate the construction of the Rotunda.

That process of re-planning and renewal continued throughout the 18th and 19th centuries, but then a couple of decades into the 20th century, the elements of the process seemed to get forgotten. The connection between ‘destruction’ and ‘replacement vision’ was lost. Destruction seemed to become an end in itself and, freed from any connection to a replacement vision, it became viral as it accelerated.

So little more than a hundred years after the production of that 1817 WSC map, (the one that specifically targeted areas of streetscape to be ‘improved’), we went from an aspiration to fix and complete the city, to a state where we had almost no appreciation of the city as an intricate artifact at all.

Just with a view to keeping our terminology straight, strictly speaking these triangular gabled houses, whether of the vernacular Marrowbone Lane type, or the red brick Chamber Street type, are not ‘Dutch Billys’. In fact these houses, which were concentrated in areas of the Liberties, would have been the only real pre-Georgian stylistic opposition to the Dutch Billy, whose prerequisite characteristic would have been the curvilinear, or stepped gable.

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