Re: Re: ‘Dutch Billys’

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Where do you start with Wood Quay?

If there’s one location in Dublin that encapsulates the history of the whole city, it’s probably Wood Quay. Might need a thread of it’s own!

But coming back to the twin-Billy debate, lets look at this important photograph of Newmarket, published recently in McCullough’s revised edition of ‘Dublin, an Urban History’.

The rendered house on the right is one of a pair (the edge of the other just in view) that was also photographed a few years later, from a vantage point further to the left. These houses are clearly a pair of tall, impressive, ‘Billys’ that have had their original curvilinear and pedimented gables reduced, more in the manner of a low grade repair job than in any attempt to conform to changing fashions.

That an important point, because nothing on this stretch, or indeed in this area of the Liberties in general, was ever really subjected to the ‘Georgian’ make-over that ‘Billys’ in more fashionable districts of the city routinely suffered.

The centre house is particularly magnificent and was in surprisingly good condition in the 1880s? when this photograph was taken, except that it appears to be missing it’s original roof structure, and/or it’s attic storey.

Next on the left is the ruinous remains of an interesting, three bay, house with particulaly low floor-to-ceiling heights. We can see from the imprint on the adjoining party wall that this house originally had a cruciform roof, and one of the cross beams can be seen still in place. I suspect that this house may have had more in common with the Chamber St./Weaver Sq. houses, than it did with the full-blown ‘Billy’ and whereas the spacing of the second floor windows appears to have been the same as on the first floor, without any inward pinching, I suspect that it may have had a simple triangular gable. This house certainly looks more modest in design and aspiration than any of it’s neighbours.

This brings us to the last house on the left.

This is a, two bay, twin-Billy is it not?

The two first floor windows appear to be original, but above that, the single window on the second floor is pretty clearly not original. Above this wider, more modern, second floor window, we can see crearly a central rain water outlet, draining to a meandering down-pipe, and corresponding to the location of a central valley gutter. The tiny twin roofs that are just about visable in the photograph would have been almost identical in scale to the surviving roof structures at 25 James’s Street.

Whereas the high parapet on the James’s Street house could be argued (spuriously in my opinion) to have been (with the roof structure itself) some kind of unusual ‘Georgian’ emsemble, the parapet on this Newmarket house has pretty clearly been modified and, in this case, there really isn’t any scope for speculating on ‘Georgian’ involvement.

There’s not much attention to fashion here, the roof ridges have been slightly truncated and the tiny areas of hipped roof are apparently merged with a slate capping on top of the brick parapet. This can neither be original, nor logical, except in the context where crumbling pediments have been lopped off and the roof made weather tight with the absolute minimum of investment.

This is a rough sketch overlay of the top photograph (extended slightly at either end).

I’ve changed the second floor window arrangement on house A (removing the more modern window) to match the two bay arrangement on the first floor, and given it the twin gables that I believe it would have had. We can argue about the actual detail, but whether we regard it as an impressive form of ‘Billy’ or not, there’s little scope (IMO) for envisaging an alternative elevation on this house.

I’ve gone with an unadorned triangular ‘Chamber Street’ type gable on house B, but this is a bit of a guess and I don’t know if I’d be totally convinced myself.

House C looks like the most high status of the group and I’m guessing that the non-appearance of any ‘attic’ element in the house, as photographed, means that it originally had the simple roof structure of a standard classic ‘Billy’ with a single window in a true attic storey, and with a pediment to match the obviously ‘designed’ characteristics of the rest of the facade, somewhat in contract to the more relaxed design of the adjoining houses.

It could be argued that this house was also a twin ‘Billy’ and that the high parapet hides a pair of small perpendicular roofs (exactly like 25 James’s Street), but that would be idle speculation.

Houses D & E have that the wider, two bay, gables associated with ‘Billys’ where the top storey is only partially projected up into the roof structure.

These houses all appear to have had basements and we can see the top of some of the basement windows peeping up above ground in the top photograph. Later on the front areas seem to have been filled in and the ground floors of most of the houses turned into shops. I think these houses were located on the south side of the square towards the Ward’s Hill end and if this is the case, part of the site may not have been significantly redeveloped subsequently. What are the chances that some test excavation could be undertaken to see if any of the basements survive? We are talking about 300 year old structures!

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