Re: Re: ‘Dutch Billys’

Home Forums Ireland ‘Dutch Billys’ Re: Re: ‘Dutch Billys’


Freddy O’Dwyer made the interesting observation in ‘Lost Dublin’, published in 1981, that;

”Only two gabled houses survive on this side [south side of Molesworth Street], albeit with their gables rebuilt. Traces of early windows in a formerly gabled attic may be seen at no 34, while no. 24, formerly Messrs Trueman’s retaining its panelled interiors up to 1980”

We’ll come back to no 24 [and no. 25 for that matter] later but Devin, and his expert associate, might take note that the knowledge that no. 34 was a gabled house, – – – and given it’s roof layout, therefore a twin-gabled house – – – is not exactly breaking news.

Sticking with Molesworth St., No. 32 is fascinating for a number of reasons, not least the fact that it illustrates some of the processes by which Billys were often modernized.

In the Penny Journal depiction of ‘Speaker Foster’s House’, no. 32 is the smaller, simpler three-bay standard ‘Billy’ on the left.

Today, no. 32 is of almost equal size to no 33 [Speaker Foster’s / Lisle House] , but as it appears on Rocque’s map [below] the house has a frontage corresponding to the width shown in the Penny Journal image, but here the footprint is shown L-shaped, with a wider back half.

Survey plans of the basement level, plucked from a recent planning file, corroborate the Rocque representation with walls of external thickness isolating the odd little area [coloured blue] which Rocque shows vacant. The probable original extent of the house is outlined in yellow

Given that the little recess had nothing to do with the entrance, which was on the other side, what seems to have happened here is that no. 32 started out as a standard-width, three-bay ‘Billy’, but that quite early on after initial construction in the 1730s [certainly pre-1756] the house was enlarged to the rear leaving the front gabled elevation untouched. Interestingly the greatly enlarged back rooms were given large, modern, flat-wall chimney breasts and in fact the opportunity seems to have been taken at this time to remove the entire central corner chimney stack and to similarly modernize the otherwise unaltered front rooms with new flat-wall chimney breasts as well.

It’s not immediately clear how the opportunity to enlarge no. 32, by a couple of metres, came about, but the fact that the property adjoined the property of the Earl of Rosse might be a clue. Any trawl through the registry of deeds relating to the early 18th century turns up dozens of references to the Earl of Rosse flogging property. Rosse, of Hell-Fire-Club fame, appears to have funded his own personal rake’s progress by relentlessly disposing of a seemingly endless property inheritance. In this context, the disposal of a little strip of surplus land adjoining his Molesworth St. townhouse would certainly fit the pattern.

Another Molesworth Street ‘Billy’ that underwent the same kind of chimney breast modernization, in this case purely on stylistic grounds, is no. 20 [on the north side of the street]. That a home owner on a good street would go to the enormous trouble of taking out an entire corner chimney breast and construct instead two huge new Georgian flat-wall chimney breasts, illustrates just how important keeping up with prevailing style could be in 18th century Dublin. In the context, it’s slightly surprising that the unusual, and un-Georgian, window arrangement on the street facade survived the alterations that decapitated the original gable.

The facade of no. 20 Molesworth St. with it much commented on elegant, centrally located, door and it’s sliced off roof slamming into the back of it’s truncated flat parapet.

Two views inside the roof space of no. 20 showing [above] the enormous beams that supported the roof structures
of ‘Billys’ and [below] the diagonal trimmers that outlined the cross roof that originally abutted the single central
chimney stack, now removed.

Latest News