Re: Re: ‘Dutch Billys’

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For lots of reasons Boooooog, I think a Gaelic derivation for ‘Billy’ is unlikely, and we know that ‘Baile’ was already absorbed into common speech as the ‘town’ half of numerous place names, having simply become anglicized as ‘Bally’, either as a suffix {e.g. Stradbally – Straid-Baile – street town] or more commonly as a prefix [e.g. Ballymena – An Baile Meánach – the middle town].

On the other matter, I think we’re mostly on the same page, certainly in respect of there having been an existing gabled tradition here out of which the ‘Dutch Billy’ phase evolved. I think however that there is a distinction to be made between the gabled tradition, pre 1690 and post 1690, and it would seem likely that the events of 1690 probably have significance in that distinction.

The examples that Dineley illustrates in the 1680s can probably be better characterized as ‘Holborn’ shaped gables [a term apparently coined by the English architectural historian, Summerson on foot of two particularly early examples constructed in the High Holborn area of London circa 1610]. Other terms for the same thing include ‘Artisan Mannerist’ and ‘Flemish’. These earlier 17th century gables were often capped by a small classical pediment but their defining feature was a complex double curved or scrolled profile.

another Hollar engraving, this time of Covent Garden with lots of ‘Holborn’ gables fronting King Street to the right and Henrietta Street to the left. Its interesting that these gabled houses were built at the same time [1630s], and by some of the same builders, as the classical terraces designed by Inigo Jones in the foreground

The epicentre of that earlier, complex, multi-curved and scrolled gable treatment was probably Flanders and the great cloth trading cities like Antwerp and Arras. From there, this architectural influence crossed the channel to add layers of rich ornamentation onto the evolving Tudor/Stuart tradition in England which was shaking off its creaky half-timbered heritage. Across all sectors of secular building from palaces, manor houses to merchant houses, decorative ornamental gables in brick and stone began to appear wherever architectural showing off was required.

two extracts from Gerrit Berckhyde’s late 17th century painting of the Great Square in Haarlem showing some of the first curvilinear gabled houses to encroach on the dominance of stepped gables in one of Holland’s secondary cities

The Dutch, whether through a Calvinist rejection of florid ornamentation or not, developed a more serious and sober gable profile to their merchant houses that typically employed a classical pediment or ‘fronton’ flanked by simple sweeping curves creating that evocative silhouette that became instantly recognisable as a ‘Dutch’ signature, even though actual Dutch street-architecture then went on to add back in great dollops of icing sugar to that elegant and frugal formula.

What began to be built in great numbers in Dublin and elsewhere in the decades after 1690 were houses that incorporated this evocative ‘Dutch’ silhouette, but with the rationalization that the gable curves were invariably true quadrants rather than the tall elongated sweeps that would be more common in the Dutch tradition. What I think this tells us is that it was the idea of a ‘Dutch’ elevation that transferred, rather than a strand of the actual tradition.

Which brings us back to Potsdam. In theory the development of the ‘Dutch Quarter’ in Potsdam, between 1734 and 1742 at the instigation of the Prussian monarch Frederick-William I, should have been the most clear cut example of deliberate direct transplantation of Dutch street-architecture outside the Netherlands, being an entire district of four city blocks comprising some 134 houses built apparently, in part at least, by Dutch craftsmen under the direction of an invited Dutch artisan/architect specifically to entice a Dutch craft colony to settle in Brandenburg.

aerial views of the west end of Mittel Strasse in Potsdam’s ‘Dutch Quarter’

note the end house on the tapered site with the roof ridge splicing into two giving twin gables at the rear, like we saw at front at the corner houses on New Row South

street level view of the same houses

In reality however the ‘Hollandisches Viertel’ in Potsdam, though a magnificent piece of townscape, could not be mistaken for a district of an actual Dutch town any more than the contemporary Molesworth estate development here would have been, because although the dominant imagery in both cases is deliberately Dutch, the proportions and detail are largely local. Again it was the idea of building ‘Dutch’ houses that I think was manifest in Potsdam, not an offshoot of the tradition of building Dutch houses, if that makes any sense.

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