Re: Re: ‘Dutch Billys’

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@Devin wrote:

We never had a Lubeck or an Amsterdam here though.

The whole point of the last 16 pages of this thread is that we can demonstrate that we did have ”coherent gabled townscapes” here, and not just in Dublin, but throughout much of the urban fabric of most of the urban centres in the country.

Amsterdam was a metropolis in the 17th century, with intense urban activity, a boom in mercantile trade, and streetscapes that were probably an average of two storeys taller than comparable streetscapes in Dublin at the time. With these obvious differences it’s probably better not to attempt direct comparisons, but it has to be noted that the situation equalized dramatically in the early 18th century when Holland went into a quiet period, and whereas gabled houses in Amsterdam were always more elaborately decorated than their Dublin counterparts, was the ‘gabled townscape’ of Amsterdam really more ‘coherent’ than the gabled townscape of Dublin?


a random section of an 18th century drawing of the Keizersgracht canal frontage in Amsterdam

As a historic city, Lubeck is about as different from Dublin as you can get, but Lubeck was also in decline in the 18th century when we were on the way up, and it appears to me that there was a period, perhaps centred around the 1720s, when the house building traditions in both places matched quite closely and if nothing else the wealth of material in a place like Lubeck can give us valuable insight into the architectural processes at work in keeping the streetscapes of a city in step with changing fashion, which was the point I was attempting to make with those cute extracts from that children’s book.

I’ll come back to some of those Lubeck parallels in a separate post, but continuing with your analysis of the College Green flat-parapet house, let’s look at what you’re suggesting.

@Devin wrote:

. . . . . . of course there’s always the possibilty that it [the College Green house with the gabled window arrangement and the flat parapet] never had a gable and was constructed with a flat parapet . . . . . at the time this was becoming the norm . . . .

In Dublin, we know that Georgian houses didn’t evolve organically from gabled houses, they were introduced, fully formed, into the streetscape by hutton’s pal, Luke Gardiner, . . . . remember the red squirrel/grey squirrel analogy?

All of the 1740s and 50s terraced Georgians of Henrietta St, Dominick St, Sackville Mall etc. on the north side and the early streetscape houses by Cassells and others on Kildare St. etc on the south side were of this type, i.e. fully-formed Georgians with no particular ‘Billy’ DNA.

There is evidence that the first handful of Georgian interlopers incorporated corner fireplaces, but otherwise, from the start, they were the total dead-pan brick box we had to get used to for the next hundred years. Main-stream transverse roof structures behind flat parapets to the front were intrinsic from the start and are the defining feature of the style. Flat, mid-wall, chimney breasts followed immediately afterwards as perhaps the defining feature of the interior layout, together with plaster wall finishes in place of timber panelling.

The typology of ‘transitional’ houses that we’ve been discussing to explain the existence of whole terraces of later 18th century Dublin houses which reject the standard Georgian lateral roof structure and the standard Georgian flat, mid-wall, chimney breast in favour of continuing with the axial roofs structures and central, corner, chimney stacks of the ‘Billy’ tradition, all have regular window spacing to go with their Georgian flat parapets. These are a different category.

What we’re looking at here on College Green is a terrace of six Dutch Billys with the gable of the second house altered and built up into a flat parapet to look more like the newer terrace of standard Georgian house to the left. We know this [to a pretty high degree of certainty] because we can see exactly the same thing happening all over the city. To see the process in action, you only have to look back at the recent Stephen’s Green post.

In the 1832 print, we see a terrace of five early 18th century houses, three having managed to retain their curvilinear gables right through what was by then the bulk of the Georgian onslaught and two with the gables eliminated and the facades built up as flat parapets, just like the College Green house. In due course the left-hand pair of Stephen’s Green houses [nos. 87 + 88] became Georgianized in exactly the same way, with their gables eliminated and their facades built up to form flat parapets also, in which state they survive today, more or less when you take into account the further butchering noted by Graham. That process is documented in the print and photographic record all across the city, as it is evident in the record of gabled streetscapes throughout Europe, but with substantially less effect in places where the architectural legacy of earlier generations has traditionally been somewhat more respected.

Of course it is possible that a house like the disputed college Green house was built, or rebuilt, to simultaneously incorporate a ‘Billy’ roof structure, probable ‘Billy’ floor plans and certainly ‘Billy’ window arrangements, together with a flat Georgian parapet from the start, but this would be fundamentally illogical and consequently, I suspect, I would rate it a very slight possibility. In your defence, there appears to be a terrace of three houses on Georges’ Street in Limerick that may represent just such a phenomenon, but then it is also possible that these three Limerick houses are also in fact altered ‘Billys’, notwithstanding the fact that they are located half way down Georgian Newtown Pery.:)


Three grainy views of the three George’s Street houses, that appear originally to have been built with a high flat parapet and tiny lunette windows in the attic storeys formed by steeply pitched axial roof structures, as per the gabled tradition. The centre house had been altered before it and the left-hand house were demolished, but a substantial part of the right-hand house survives today, but unfortunately without the all-important attic storey. The drawing dates from 1786 and shows what I think is the rear of these three houses, but again unfortunately not in enough detail to be sure whether the facade treatment was parapet or gable.

@Devin wrote:

. . . . . simple gables suited the ‘plain’ Dublin house style best. I think the two on Longford Street were the best Dublin gabled houses of any I’ve seen. The subtlety of the gables was almost sublime. Terrible shame that they were let go.

OK, but in the 1940s photographs, these houses look much more ‘plain’ than they would have done originally, with the undoubted loss of detail and depth in the capping pediments and in the fitting of recessed Georgian type windows in place of the thicker framed, smaller paned, much busier, original ‘flush type’ early 18th century windows.

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