Re: Re: ‘Dutch Billys’

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@Zap wrote:

Thomas Street is a fantastic street – how more fantastic it would become if these two Dutch Billys were restored – or at the very least the one on the right which is very easy to imagine as a Dutch Billy

Zap: That sketch of a Dutch Billy top on no. 20 was a bit conjectural. I don’t have enough information to be sure that this was the original arrangement. That isn’t to say that a restoration isn’t posible, just that much more detailed survey work would be needed.

I agree with you completely that some sort of campaign is needed to raise consciousness of this vanishing (and immensly valuable) layer of our built heritage, before there just won’t be enough left to ever be able to read this chapter at all.

For example, there was blanket coverage in the media this week of issues to do with the Battle of the Boyne and the enduring impact on this country of William of Orange, but there wasn’t a single mention of the remarkable architectural legacy (bearing his nick name) that is inextricably intertwined with this political and historical heritage.

I think if you go into the story of ‘Dutch Billy’ architecture, you find that there are probably two identifiable sources:


A common North European source that developed out of the common desire to advance beyond the medieval vernacular building traditions and build modern, comfortable and impressive houses on tight urban plots. This source connects the ‘Dutch Billy’ in Ireland with the traditions that gave rise to tall gabled brick houses in parts of England, Holland and across the Baltic coast from Lubeck to Gdansk.


The political statement source. What appears to have happened is that a small number of Dublin gentry made the remarkable decision to celebrate the triumph (on Irish soil) of William of Orange, and their own ascendancy that this event ensured, in the bricks and mortar of their own new houses.

My gut feeling is that the second source is the one more critical to the ‘Dutch Billy’ story, but it is what happened next that is really remarkable. Within a handful of years, a full blown indigenous architectural movement had evolved, that took this initial willful idea and combined it with elements of pre-existing building tradition (in part, eminating from the first source) and brought it way beyond any two dimensional, political statement, or pattern book concept. In no time, the movement had developed a complex language to tackle and exploit tricky urban challenges like the awkward corner, or how to replace repitition with rhythm and, to a standard not equalled since, how to address and definin urban space.

McCullough makes the point in Dublin, an Urban History, that had poverty come in the1750s, it is this version of Dublin (and the other urban centres of Ireland) that we would be familiar with today. Instead, however, the outrageous self confidence that had given rise to the movement in the first place, increasingly turned to self consciousness about it’s ever more apparent divergence from English practice. What had been architectural daring began to be percieved as backward provinciality and pride increasingly turned to embarrassment as neighbour after neighbour, either moved to more modern ‘Georgian’ addresses, or hastely modernised their homes to try to conform to the new minimalist palladian doctrine. In this way, a heavy Georgian curtain came down on this vibrant urban tradition, a curtain that it’s not easy to peep through. So thoroughly has this phase of our architectural development been erased from the urban record, that, to all intents and purposes, one of the brightest chapters in our story has been reduced to little more than a footnote.

What I think we badly need now is a detailed inventory of our surviving stock. I’m pretty certain that enough survives to develop accurate typologies. Archaeologists do this all the time, once the typologies are cateloged and understood, it doesn’t matter how miserable the shard of pottery you find is, you can quite easily compare it’s characteristics to your typology database and the original shape and form can be deduced with very little conjecture. Buildings might be more complex than neolithic pots, but the principle is the same and they come with many more clues.

I’m not saying we should start the wholesale restoration / reconstruction of Dutch Billys across the city, but there are examples which might merit this attention and, in any case, a 3D computer model wouldn’t be beyond our capabilities. What ever else we do, we’ve got to stop knocking these things down before we even know what we have.

This is all too much talk and not enough pictures. Here’s another nice pair of ‘Billys’ on the north side of Thomas Street, nearly opposite the two we discussed earlier. I understand that the one on the left has a nearly intact panelled interior. Notice the very steeply pitched roof and the absolutely massive single central cruciform chimney stack.

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