Dublin houses using coal in the 1690s

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    • #939665
      Chris Dickinson


      I’m interested in the export of coal from Whitehaven/Parton in Cumberland to Dublin from the 1690s.

      My specific question here is: is there any evidence (architectural, achaeological or documentary) to show whether that coal was used for domestic purposes rather than industrial ones?

      I have images in my mind of Dublin Georgian houses with coal holes; but, of course, that doesn’t prove anything about a slightly earlier period. I’m assuming that buildings designed for coal use, rather than for peat (or wood maybe?), would have narrower hearths and narrow hoods to draw the flame, but that may be an incorrect assumption.

      Thank you.


    • #939877

      Chris, that’s an interesting subject you’re enquiring into.

      There wouldn’t have been much ‘industrial’ demand for coal in Dublin in 1690, as such. Most industrial activity was still home-based at this time. The cloth working industry is the classic example of this. While there were thousands of weavers, cloathiers, dyers etc. in Dublin at this time, each operation was largely self contained within the artisan’s dwelling house, albeit often under contract to a major cloth merchant.

      A weaver’s house could be distinguished from other houses by some characteristic features and occasionally we get references to a ‘drying loft’ etc. It is widely believed that weaving looms were located in the attic storey of these houses to take advantage of greater availability of natural light here. We know of examples on Chamber Street where larger windows were clearly added to the gabled top floor of the elevations giving credence to this notion. One interesting innovation in the 1690s was the invention of a ‘napping engine’ patented by a Frenchman, Jacques Delabadie. This was essentially an advance on the water-powered ‘fulling’ mills of the time, a process used to plump up cloth. The first such napping engine in Dublin was installed to the rear of Ald. Braddock’s houses on the east side of Meath Street, after which Engine alley is named [not a Dublin miss-pronunciation of ‘Indian’ as it is widely believed]

      Other professions that involved industrial processes like the tallow chandler, the ‘glew-boyler’, maulster, brewer and distiller were likewise predominantly operations of domestic scale in Dublin until the early decades of the 18th century.

      The main exceptions to this pattern of domestic industrialisation were lime production and glass making. These operations would have been comparatively big users of coal, but there were probably no more than five or six lime kilns and two or three glass works in operation in the city at any one time. The best known glass works in Dublin were in the Lazy Hill [Townsend St.] area, Ringsend and Oxmanstown, and their conical towers can be seen in various topographical views of the city. The glass works in Oxmanstown blew up in March 1697 killing at least seven people. This was evidently a minor set back to what was clearly a profitable concern as it was rebuilt shortly afterwards.

      Coal was absolutely the predominant fuel in Dublin from the 17th century, if not earlier, and I’m not aware of any evidence that turf contributed in any significant measure to the fuel needs of the city.

      You’re no doubt .aware of the much quoted petition of Edward Spragg and other Protestant coal-porters of the city to the Irish House of Commons in 1695 complaining that ‘one Darby Ryan, a captain under the late King James, and a papist, notoriously disaffected, who buys up whole cargoes of coals, and employed those of his own persuasion and affection to carry the same to customers, by which the petitioners were debarred and hindered from their small trade and gains’.

      This Dublin coal trade was predominantly with Whitehaven. Eventually, a certain amount of coal was sourced from the Castlecomer works in Kilkenny, developed by the Wandesford family. Later, in the 1730s, the ‘Ballycastle or Irish Coal Yard’ was established on the east end of Bachelors Walk, by the Boyd family as they sought to develop their small coal field in Co. Antrim. The Bachelors walk yard was adjacent to a new glass works established by the Trinity professor, physicist and early industrialist, Dr. Richard Helsham.

      Those attempts to supply Dublin with native coal, only go to emphasise the importance of the Whitehaven connection. The Whitehaven/Dublin coal trade is historically of huge significance. Prominent Whitehaven families who established merchant dynasties in Dublin in the early 17th century include the Lowthers and the Nicholsons. Other Whitehaven merchants who became involved in property and development in Dublin in the early 18th century include, Richard Bamber, Thomas Lutwidge, William Stephenson, James Grayson, Henry Littledale, and James Bennet. The number of merchants and artisans in the city whose origins are described as Cumberland would be a great multiple of this.

      I’ve come across dozens of other Whitehaven connections that I can’t put my finger on right now.

      Some anecdotes you might check out are;

      A house on the south side of Newmarket which was known by the sign of Whitehaven, and which was in the possession of a William Bibby in the 1720s.

      Also, the Dublin merchant and former Lord Mayor, Bartholomew Van Homrigh, father of Esther [Stella], received plaudits from the administration for his services in arranging at short notice the transportation of troops from Dublin by hiring the coal fleet. Van Homerigh, with Sir William Robinson held the position of Commissary in Ireland and in August 1703 he organised the dispatch of up to 1,600 troops from to bolster the British regiments serving in Portugal at that time. Chief Secretary Southwell noted in a letter to Lord Nottingham, ‘. . luckily we had a great many Whitehaven ships in port and in a few hours, he had done as desired.’

      I would be interested to hear how your research progresses. Best of luck.

    • #939935
      Chris Dickinson

      Many thanks for your very detailed and lengthy reply. I really much appreciate it.

      My main reason for making the enquiry was that the inherent assumption in everything I’ve read is that Whitehaven coal to Dublin was for domestic use. I have wondered whether that is quite right, and thought that the best answer would come from an architectural form. In the latter, I’ve been proved right.

      To comment on your comments, largely by paragraph.

      There was a great period of yeoman house building in West Cumberland in the late seventeenth century onwards. Most of this is simply a consequence of newly-acquired wealth, cultural transition (such as a need to store spices), and social ambition; but I’m intrigued by your comments about a ‘drying loft’. I shall look at that further, as I will any advances in fulling in Cumbria.

      To add to your list of industries, another coal intensive one was salt. I have no idea how Dublin got its salt, but here’s an Irish link:

      Slade – 17th century salt production on the Hook

      which gives the coal as sourced from Wales – but maybe there were other projects like this that used Whitehaven?

      Thanks for your comments on Dublin-Whitehaven coal links. The 1690s saw an attempt to break the Lowther monopoly by a Fletcher-Lamplugh-nonconformist alliance based at the Parton pier. It failed – the Lowthers had deeper pockets.

      There are, as you comment, a very large number of connections between Dublin and Whitehaven in this period, partly through the coal trade. Whitehaven port records are limited, but show ships, masters, traders and cargoes in the surviving years. Probate inventories also show ship names and ownership. Many years ago, I put some Cumbrian ship names (not necessarily, though probably, travelling to Dublin) at:


      Thank you for the comment on ‘the sign of Whitehaven, and which was in the possession of a William Bibby in the 1720s’. ‘Bibby’ or ‘Beeby’ is a well-known Cumbrian surname, typically at this time Quaker. Just to swap information – the will of Jonathan Fletcher of Dublin (another Cumbrian) in 1745, proved 1746, (in ‘Quaker Records: Dublin Abstracts of Wills’, ed. Beryl Eustace & Olive Goodbody, Dublin Stationery Office 1957) mentions the ownership of ‘The Sign of the Black Lion’, ‘The Sign of the Golden Bull’, and ‘The Sign of the Merry Shepherd’.

      Thank you, too, for the comment on troop transportation by the coal fleet. Cumbrian probate does show mariners/sailors owed wages for government services at this time. A Joseph Dickinson (of my family, lost at sea) was described in his 1718 probate as ‘Master & Commander of the Ship Westmorland’ (the ‘Commander’ shows government employment), though he may (born in 1680) have been too young for that 1703 event.


    • #940181
      james newell

      Currently doing a family tree on Dublin merchant Richard Bamber who died in 1729. While one of Richard’s sons, Thomas, stayed in Dublin, another son relocated and died in Whitehaven, Cumberland. Over a succession of generations Bambers married into other well known Cumberland families. Never knew the coal connection before.

    • #940194

      James, after the death of Thomas Bamber, the bulk of Richard Bamber’s extensive property holdings in Dublin, mostly in the Capel street area, passed to Thomas’s younger brother Paul Bamber. Paul, as you observed, returned to Whitehaven before 1737, at which point he mortgaged the Dublin properties [and others holdings in Kildare and Meath] to Thomas Lutwidge Esq. of Whitehaven.

      Richard Bamber also had a daughter called Elizabeth, whose married name was Watkins. In Dec. 1736 she, then a widow, leased a house on St. Mary’s Abbey that I believe she inherited from her father, Richard, ‘in behalf of Richard Brown Bamber, a minor’ to whom she was guardian.

      I’m not sure if that helps in any way.

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