Re: Re: ‘Dutch Billys’

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It has long been commented on that Georgian development in Dublin, Limerick and elsewhere in Ireland never seemed to be quite as uniform as the architectural doctrine behind it suggests it should have been. The stock explanation for this is that the Irish character is not suited to be subservient to a building code, or a set of restrictive guidelines and certainly there may be something in that, even though much of the class of people involved at this time might have been Irish only in the sense that Swift was Irish.

In the case of Dublin anyway, the real explanation however is that, for much of the 18th century, a Georgian doctrine that offered little more than a street architecture of restrained repetition simply couldn’t compete here with a thriving indigenous gabled tradition that was creating streetscapes of vibrant rhythm.

So when eventually parental control in matters of street-architecture was re-asserted and an English-like Georgian conformity did take hold here, much of the 18th century city had already been developed and all that the new Georgian doctrine could do was tack on some trademark garden squares and a bit of axial street planning to the pre-existing pattern of organically generated urban growth, in pursuit of a largely successful mission to transform Dublin into London-lite.

Inevitably, one by one, the pre-existing gabled streetscapes of Dublin succumbed to incremental remodelling until eventually almost all trace of the original architectural rhythm was extinguished, resulting in altered streetscapes that just about conformed to, without ever really satisfying, the prevailing architectural philosophy, a half understood fact that later became the justification for the comprehensive demolitions of the 1960s and 70s. So completely has been the cull of perceived second-rate 18th century Dublin streetscapes that today we’re frequently left having to unearth the clues to the illustrious gabled heritage of these streetscapes from deep in the sub-layers of the print and photographic record.

Unfortunately, that’s the only place we’ll get anything now on Usher’s Quay.

Bartlett’s view of Usher’s Quay in 1831 and an extract showing nos. 29 – 36 in more detail.

the un-pedimented facade of one Dutch Billy [no. 32] survives, but the window patterns suggest altered ‘Billys’ also at nos. 29, 35 and 36.

part of the same stretch [nos. 32 to 37] in 1952, reproduced in McCullough [new edition], the Georgian facades are nearly all a veneer here, note the twin roofs apparent at no. 32 and 35

an aerial view, also from the 1950s, of the same stretch with the twin roof structures of nos. 32 and 35 clearly evident and central chimney stacks on virtually all houses.

As we’ve seen before at Bachelors Walk and elsewhere, this type of roof structure denotes a ‘twin-Billy’ as almost everyone knowns, but that no. 32 Usher’s Quay was originally a ‘twin-Billy’ is corroborated by this print of the facade of 31 + 32 from a 19th century billhead of ‘Atkinson and Co.’ leather suppliers, published in Peter Pearson’s treasure trove of a book ‘The Heart of Dublin’

A carriage archway has been ploughed through part of the ground floor, and the twin pediments that originally would have terminated the twin roof apexes [not illustrated] are lost, but everything else that we conjectured for the facade of the similar ‘twin-Billy’ at no. 34 Molesworth Street – the four bay second floor over a three bay first floor and a fine off-centre entrance door, is there in black and white.

It’s interesting to note that the process of ‘Georgianification’ in this case continued right into the middle of the 19th century at which point the entire facade of no. 32 was rebuilt to a standard three-bay pattern.

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