I am so at home in Dublin, more than any other city, that I feel it has always been familiar to me. It took me years to see through its soft charm to its bitter prickly kernel - which I quite like too.

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The City Mapped

Patrick Duffy

Irish Historic Towns Atlas, No 26, Dublin, Part III, 1756 to1847, by Rob Goodbody, Royal Irish Academy in association with Dublin City Council, €35, ISBN: 978-1908996343
Frank Cullen, Dublin 1847: City of the Ordnance Survey, by Frank Cullen, Royal Irish Academy in association with Dublin City Council, €15, ISBN: 978-1908996350

The Historic Towns Atlas project started in Europe in the mid-1950s. The home of some of the oldest and important urban settlements in the world, the continent was still picking up the pieces from the Second World War, which had wrought such havoc on so much of its urban fabric. The town atlases aimed to assemble all available town plans and maps within an agreed format so that a comparative understanding of the historical evolution of Europe’s towns would be possible. Maps on similar scales for similar time periods would be accompanied by short commentaries on the history of the settlements accompanied by a comprehensive topographical gazetteer. Central to the atlas project is a reconstructed nineteenth-century large-scale map of the town based on surveys by national mapping agencies (in the case of Ireland, the Ordnance Survey) and a modern town plan that would allow a visual overview of the development of the town over time. The atlases also include a series of historical maps that illustrate phases in the growth of each town from the middle ages. There are more than five hundred atlases now completed. Unfortunately coverage seems a bit haphazard for some areas, with a dense cluster in north Germany, in Austria, southwestern France and northern Italy.

The Irish Historic Towns Atlas project (IHTA) has been in progress since 1981. There have been twenty-seven atlases published so far (Youghal No 27 by David Kelly and Tadhg O’Keeffe was published recently) for the following towns and cities: Kildare, Carrickfergus, Bandon, Kells, Mullingar, Athlone, Maynooth, Downpatrick, Bray, Kilkenny, Fethard, Trim, Derry-Londonderry, Dundalk, Armagh, Tuam, Limerick, Dublin part 1, Belfast part 1, Belfast part 2, Dublin part 2, Longford, Carlingford, Sligo, Ennis, Dublin part 3, and Youghal.

How many Irish people are familiar with these atlases? How many libraries hold these volumes? How many university schools of urban history or geography use the Historic Towns Atlases as source materials? We can assume that local communities, particularly local historians, will be aware of the existence of the atlas of their town and that they must represent a hugely important resource for local urban communities with a curiosity and interest in their heritage and history. At the very least, they provide histories of the setting where events happened down the centuries in their home place, giving material expression to life as it took place in streets and lanes and market-places and to the civic pride of urban communities in developing and managing their built environment down through the centuries.

But on a broader scale these atlases have much wider potential value in terms of comparative studies of the evolution of towns and cities. Each settlement certainly has its unique characteristics but in Ireland and elsewhere in Europe, each town shares a wider historical experience that has shaped the ways in which towns have developed. There are times when one visits towns elsewhere in Europe where, though the sunlight and sunshine are different, one is struck with a sense of déjà vu – echoes of familiar scenes, familiar shapes and morphologies in other places. Using maps with the same timelines and similar scales, the atlas project aspires to trace back the processes which shaped the town/city to allow a more comprehensive understanding of the processes of town or city formation, and the development, for example, of historical typologies of towns across Europe or indeed within Ireland. The IHTA encourages studies of towns with distinctive or similar histories – for example, towns with medieval monastic, or Norse origins, Anglo-Norman fortified towns, colonial plantation settlements, landlord estate towns, port or seaside towns, industrial towns and so on.

The Royal Irish Academy’s atlas programme is addressing this challenge to expand the scope of the atlases in its seminars and ancillary publications. In Maps and Texts: exploring the Irish Historic Towns Atlas (RIA, 2013), Brian Graham has addressed some of the limitations of the European atlas project, especially the editorial constraints which restrict the interpretive scope of the atlases. They have tended to adhere to a strictly descriptive focus on shape and pattern with no engagement with what he calls “the societal processes that might explain continuity and change” in the townscapes and permit more in-depth explanation. Also in Maps and Texts, Tadhg O’Keeffe similarly observes that the atlas privileges “the commensurable, that which is capable of measurement, and … leaves untouched the incommensurable”. In many ways these problems are evident in the Dublin atlas, though Frank Cullen’s complementary study here attempts to delve deeper beneath the topographical avalanche of detail. Ultimately I suppose if the project is to continue to profile towns across Europe it is tempting to stick to the “commensurable”: allowing authors to digress from the beaten path of empirical description calls for different skills and capacities which might end up with atlases of limited comparability.

The Dublin atlas, Part 3 describes the years 1756 to 1847 and follows the previous volume, No19, covering the 1610-1756 period. As with all the other Irish atlases in the series its format is based on a benchmark reconstruction of a mid-nineteenth century Ordnance Survey (OS) map, and a range of maps and plans for earlier periods. Because it is the capital city, it has a much more extensive range of maps and surveys than most other Irish towns. At the heart of this lavish atlas of Dublin lies a series of reproductions of maps of the city, bookended by John Rocque’s superlative survey of 1756 (a detail of which featured on the Irish £10 note in 1976) and the enormous OS 5-foot to the mile survey from 1847. In between is a sequence of maps providing cross-sections of the city in 1790, 1801, 1811, 1816, 1821, 1822, and 1836. In terms of accuracy and detail these maps (such as Wilson’s Dublin Directory maps 1760 and 1801, or Campbell’s map of 1811) are inferior to Rocque and the OS but are very useful generalised outlines of streetscapes showing the gradual expansion of the city out to the Grand and Royal canals by mid-century.

Also included are a number of enlarged details of various manuscript surveys and plans for close-up exploration of particular features and street ensembles, such as the Wide Streets Commission plans for Parliament Street, Westmoreland and D’Olier streets in 1759 and 1790 respectively. There is therefore a veritable cornucopia of maps here, spilling out of the RIA folder, a total of twenty-five separate maps. Also included for comparative purposes is a large-scale OS map of Dublin in 2012 plus an enormous colourprint of an Ordnance Survey aerial view of the city, (akin but superior to the Google earth views that we are familiar with today).

In many cases the maps and commentary are juxtaposed with plates of contemporary paintings and drawings of streetscapes and buildings, including familiar and not-so-familiar works by James Malton, Thomas S Roberts, Daniel Grose, William Ashford, Samuel F Brocas, George Petrie and others, which help to enliven the flatscapes of the maps. Dublin city has an extensive legacy of these views and it is interesting to see the streets, houses, public buildings, bridges, and quays alive with people, walking and talking in the streets mapped by John Rocque in 1756 or the Ordnance Survey in 1847. They depict the details of dress, modes of transport – including sedan chairs, carriages, wagons, coaches, carts, ships and boats and barges of all kinds, all of which are documented copiously in the Topographical Gazetteer, which lists coachmakers, livery stables and all the paraphernalia of a horse-powered city, as well as the makers of the wigs, dresses and stays, hats and uniforms illustrated. Of course these portraits of the city are restricted to the main thoroughfares, and the settings of landmark public buildings. Rarely do they illustrate the seamier (and more malodorous) underside of the city’s alleys and courtyards. Frank Cullen attempts to redress this by putting some flesh onto the bones of the streets and squares of the 1847 survey.

The final distinctive feature of the Atlas is the hugely comprehensive Topographical Gazetteer which is worth exploring in detail for the insights it provides into the day-to-day life of the capital city. It includes for example a 34-page list of street names (and their changes over the period) and lists of Religious Buildings, buildings to do with Defence (barracks, watchhouses, police houses), Administrative buildings (including over 200 post Receiving Houses). Lists of Manufacturing Activities capture the bustling urban economy with scores of bake houses, breweries, tanneries etc. Trades and Services list c130 hotels and inns, including the “Brazen Head”, still with us, and the “Sign of the Two Jolly Draymen” on Merchants Quay, which is long gone. Among many fascinating enterprises there were 148 printing houses in Dublin in the late eighteenth century.

How many times have the Dublin quays or their ancillary streets been dug up and filled in? Most city histories have witnessed regular modifications and upgrading, especially of their subterranean infrastructure of drains, cables and pipes. In general, apart from radical upheavals such as happened in Paris under Haussmann, these take place within inherited cadastral boundaries in the city. The principal alterations to a city’s fabric occur along or under the channels of its streets, or vertically, in properties lining those streets: the layout [ie. morphology] usually endures. Today we are all too familiar with the incremental modifications as Luas-ways are constructed through the older landscapes of streets. At times in the past more radical surgery was possible. Dublin, being the capital city, witnessed more and more changes brought about by the national parliament in College Green in the later eighteenth century. The Wide Streets Commission from 1757, for instance, was responsible for a series of changes that have shaped the city down to the present.

Faulkner’s Dublin Journal in June 1791 noted in relation to the construction of Carlisle (later O’Connell) bridge that “labourers are now at work on the third butment which, it is thought, will be finished in a couple of months. When the fourth is began, vessels can no longer pass, consequently the new customhouse must then be occupied.” When the bridge was completed a new set of streets was laid out on either side of the Liffey, improving accessibility to the parliament in College Green. An elaborate extension to the Houses of Parliament was constructed along the new Westmoreland street just a decade before the same parliament voted itself out of existence in 1800. With Sackville Street and D’Olier Street, these wide and straight new thoroughfares obliterated an older mesh of narrow streets and alleys to the north of College Green and served to open up the potential for the subsequent residential expansion in the Gardiner estate to the north and the Fitzwilliam lands to the south.

Rocque’s 1756 map, an extraordinary survey undertaken by himself, shows much of the older medieval city on the cusp of change, a jumble of narrow streets, alleys, lanes and courts, most of them named. The Wide Streets Commission set out to reorganise this legacy, inspired by Enlightenment ideas about order and rationality in urban design and the construction of public space in wide streets and squares and malls for spectacle and display, as well for improvements in hygiene, drainage and transport infrastructure. MPs in the so-called Patriot Parliament (“Grattan’s Parliament”) had the power and civic pride in their capital city to improve it with new buildings (like the Royal Exchange, now the City Hall) or more effective presentation of existing public buildings by redesigned street layouts, notably in Parliament Street, Dame Street and College Green. Much of the classical design in Gardiner’s plans is obscured today with the clutter of cars and buses on the streets. Indeed many maps of cities in the nineteenth century included marginal illustrations of their most significant municipal or commercial buildings. The Atlas includes “Cooke’s Royal Map of Dublin” for 1822, showing the city and parish boundaries and surrounded by images of many of its notable buildings – the Four Courts, Custom House, GPO, Dublin Castle, Wellington Testimonial, Nelson’s Pillar, Royal Dublin Society House [formerly Leinster House], Theatre Royal, Royal Exchange, Trinity College, etc.

Unlike Lisbon after the earthquake of 1755, where radical urban planning and design could take place on the tabula rasa of the city’s ruins, Dublin had no such opportunity and new designs often slotted into pre-existing shapes. Residential private buildings in Dublin never achieved the same distinction as its important classical public buildings. Landowners like Luke Gardiner or Lord Fitzwilliam exerted a limited influence on building design, which was largely left to the individual subcontractors in the various estates, which has given the “Georgian” facades such interesting textures. Gardiner had ambitious plans, most dramatically represented by his Royal Circus in the 1780s at the northern end of Gardiner Street, which were eventually abandoned and replaced by more modest terraces around the present Mater Hospital site. Maps from the mid-eighteenth century show the expansion of the city as a moving “urban fringe” beyond the Circular Road, and out to the canals by 1847. Campbell’s map of 1811 shows the edge of development at Brunswick Street (modern Pearse Street). Taylor’s map of 1816 map shows the villages beyond the canals which would be engulfed in the next century – Glasnevin, Drumcondra, Ballsbridge, Ranelagh, Harold’s Cross, Crumlin.

The enormous detail in the Topographical Gazetteer repays close examination. The changing land uses of the city’s streets are recorded from Rocque to the Ordnance Survey. All these activities are not necessarily contemporaneous, but are recorded for various periods between c1750 and 1847 and afford an impression of the nature of life in these narrow streets. In the decades before the establishment of a metropolitan police force, watchhouses marked on Rocque’s map at strategic street junctions provided local security. Manufacturing activity in small establishments and workshops was concentrated in the city centre, especially in streets and lanes off Thomas Street, Patrick Street, James Street, Francis Street, and across the Liffey in streets and alleys west of Capel Street.

In Cork Street there were nineteen tanneries in the years between 1786 and 1847; five breweries, a rope works, a vellum manufactory, a glue works, a dye works, a lace manufactory, two silk manufactories, a trunk manufactory, carpet factory, five cotton manufactories, a button manufactory, and chemical works. Tanning, which was an especially noxious and polluting operation, was concentrated in the Liberties with other noxious industries such as vitriol manufacturing, soap boilers, and slaughterhouses.

As throughout country towns, brewing and distlilling were important activities ‑ indeed beer was a safer drink than water in most cases: no doubt the beer allowance to students in Trinity reflected this. There were over forty breweries in Dublin and thirty distilleries.

Cook Street had a concentration of eighteen paper manufactories, three breeches manufactories, an iron foundry and two brass foundries, a brewery, distillery, tannery, glue works, dye manufactory, brush manufactory, two soap and tallow manufactories, two glove manufactories, two parchment manufactories, cotton, vitriol, and chemical manufactories. In his plans for housing developments off Sackville street, Luke Gardiner prohibited many activities and trades in his leases such as tallow chandlers, soap boilers, tobacco pipe makers, sugar boilers, cork burners, butchers and slaughter men, and tanners. There were twenty-five guilds in Dublin in 1812, listed in the Gazetteer and mainly concentrated in the Liberties with their own halls for meetings and socialising ‑ ranging from tailors, carpenters, joiners, weavers, stationers, shoemakers, goldsmiths, barbers, apothecaries, surgeons to brewers, bricklayers, butchers, coopers, glovers and skinners, saddlers and tanners, chandlers and smiths.

Reading the street names in Rocque’s map provides insights into life in the city which can be supplemented by John Rocque’s Dublin: a guide to the Georgian city by Colm Lennon and John Montague (RIA, 2010) which accompanies the Dublin Atlas, No.19 (1610-1756). There are a very few names in Irish such as Glasmanogue (or Glassmahonogue) in Broadstone and Stoneybatter, and the villages and townlands beyond the city like Cabragh or Glasnevin. The street names are vestiges of the bustling late medieval city – Petticoat Lane, Boot Lane, Fishers Lane, Beef Row, Cow Lane, Bull Lane, Duck Lane, Carters Lane, Red Cow Lane, Pudding Lane, Bow lane (around Smithfield), and south of the river, Skinners Row, Dog and Duck Lane, Dunghill lane, Dirty Lane, Wood Quay, Smock Alley, Fishamble Street, Winetavern Street, Copper Alley, Tobacco Alley. Rapparree alley in 1756, off St Stephens Green, became Glovers alley in 1847 and today. Cutt Throat Lane around the fields of Kilmainham and Cut purse Row (Cornmarket) presumably had sinister connotations in the eighteenth century. Although Tenterfields is not named in Rocque (with Weaver’s Street and Weaver’s Row it survives on the modern OS map) it was represented in 1756 in fields south of Cork Street with parallel rows of wooden frames (called tenters) on which were attached with iron hooks weavers’ cloths for drying. Dublin’s Linen Hall (beside King’s Inns) was established in 1728 as an incentive for the linen industry and was surrounded by streets with Ulster names – Derry , Lisburn, Lurgan and Coleraine Streets. However the opening of Belfast’s Linen Hall in the heartland of Irish linen killed off the industry in Dublin. The building was destroyed by fire during the Easter Rising in 1916.

Hospitals and dispensaries are extensively listed – many of them charitable institutions and many, like the Rotunda, continuing today. A number of these healthcare centres were on the western fringe of city ‑ the South Union Workhouse (on the site of St James hospital), Royal Hospital at Kilmainham, Dr Steevens’ Hospital and St Patrick’s Hospital.

There was an Inoculation hospital in Leeson Street in 1776; a Simpson’s “Hospital for blind and gouty men” (in Parnell Street); a “Hospital for the Sons of Decayed Citizens” in Oxmantown Green in 1773; a Cow Pock Institution had been established in 1804 in North Cope street [Talbot street] to offer free inoculation against cow-pock (cowpox) and was moved next door to the GPO on Sackville Street in 1847. There was an “Institute for worm complaints for the poor” in Purdon street (Gardiner Street) in 1835.

Many of the hospitals and dispensaries were connected with the large military establishment in Dublin: the Royal Military Infirmary had a lavish suite of facilities according to the OS in 1843: bath, chapel, dung pit, fever hospital, laundry, mad house, pump, purveyor’s office, resting place. Not least among the hospitals with military linkages were the Lock hospitals for the treatment and incarceration of prostitutes with venereal disease in a city, according to Sir Thomas Larcom, with the biggest prostitute population (and the largest garrison) in the Empire. Between 1756 and 1847 there were approximately six lock hospitals in the city – the Westmoreland Lock Hospital in Lazar’s Hill (Townsend Street) is marked on Rocque’s map; others in Sugar House lane (Bellvue), in Dorset Street, King Street north, Clarendon Street and one other, “location unknown”. World’s End Lane is recorded on Rocque’s map appropriately at the eastern edge of the city off The Strand, which marked the edge of the Liffey estuary in earlier centuries. It was subsequently called Montgomery Street (modern Foley Street), the notorious “Monto” red light district.

The gazetteer lists dozens of Stable Lanes, which are ubiquitous throughout Rocque’s map. These were back lanes and alleys for the accommodation of horses obviously but also for the removal of animal and human waste by scavengers, an important class of “service providers”. Many of these lanes had been subsequently re-named by 1847, presumably reflecting improvements in sewerage infrastructure: Frederick Lane off Nassau and Kildare street, Schoolhouse Lane off Kildare were Stable lanes in 1756; similarly Cuffe Lane off Capel Street, Anglesea row and Henrietta Place off Henrietta Street, Jervis Lane and many others. Stephen’s Green on the eastern fringe of the city in 1756 had its four sides named to reflect its importance for promenading by the city’s elites: Beaux Walk, Monk’s Walk, Leeson’s Walk, and French Walk, which by 1811 were renamed Stephen’s Green north, east, south and west.

Many of the city’s markets extended back beyond 1756 – the Hay Market, Corn Market, Castle Market, the Glib Market (for hides) on the south side, and the Ormond Market and Smithfield near the Four Courts. In the nineteenth century, the corporation reorganised wholesale markets on a more regulated footing. In the space of what Rocque mapped as the Green Market west of Capel street were established by 1847 the Potato market, Vegetable Market, Fish Market, Fruit Market, Egg and Poultry Market, plus Leinster Market in D’Olier street and Northumberland market in Abbey Street.

Entertainment and recreational spaces are copiously displayed on the maps and in the gazetteer: bowling greens, ball alleys, tennis and racket courts, cockpits, promenades, squares, parks and gardens, such as St Stephen’s Green, Oxmantown Green and pleasure gardens. Rocque’s map shows the northern half of Sackville street as a Mall, which was illustrated in Joseph Tudor’s view c1750, with fenced off central Mall for games and promenading. Portobello Gardens on the south Circular Road represented the apogee of pleasure gardens in the mid-nineteenth century when, as Frank Cullen notes, there was a “vast array of exotic animals on display including a Bengal tiger, Asiatic leopard, kangaroos, vultures, eagles and cockatoos”. Parks and gardens are intricately represented on the maps – although Rocque’s scale has limitations, he does identify the intensive cultivation in the outlying fields surrounding the city, south of Kevin’s Street and Stephen’s Green, northwest beyond Stoneybatter and also generalised detailing of inner city garden plots behind houses. However the OS five-foot plans which are outlined in detail in Cullen’s Dublin 1847 depict the elaborate internal garden and park designs – whether these are imaginative creations or accurate representations is a moot point. Up to twenty coffee houses are listed for the late eighteenth century, as well as music halls and theatres. By 1756 there was the Smock Alley theatre in Essex Street, City Theatre and Opera House in Capel Street and in the following decades a number of Royal theatres in Crow street and Hawkins street. There was a puppet theatre in Dame Street in the 1770s.

Frank Cullen’s exploration of the city of the Ordnance Survey contains foty-five extracts from the five-foot plans – which enable more of the rich detail of the original to be shown than in the single reconstruction sheet provided with the atlas. Cullen is not constrained to the same extent as the Atlas commentary and is able to address some of the issues about social relations and urban form raised by Brian Graham (above) and provides a more interpretive narrative which explores the modern metropolis by mid-century with its “railed garden squares and stylish buildings lining its many new, wide and airy streets”.

The five-foot plan in thirty-three sheets was rapidly taken up by local authorities and municipal engineers and architects. Because of the detailed OS chain survey of streets and houses, including interior plans of all public buildings, it was possible in 1843-7 to include in the street plans detailed layouts of drains, sewers and water mains, as well as house numbers, trees, shrubberies, and flower beds in exquisite detail. In addition there was an almost limitless potential for inserting details on street furniture such as fountains, pumps, weigh scales, cranes, ballcourts, not to mention stopcocks and gratings. The surveyors included the boundaries of individual properties, with division lines between building blocks identified. Comparable databases on such a comprehensive scale have only recently been made possible with GIS technologies. For example in the Grangegorman district extract on page 23, the detailed plan of the North Union Workhouse reflects a rigid institutional treatment of illness – to intimidate and incarcerate in the “House of Industry”, “The Lunatic Asylum”, Fever Hospital and workhouse. The Richmond Female Penitentiary exhibits the fashionable panopticon design to facilitate continuous surveillance of inmates.

Aldborough House in Portland Row off Amiens street was completed in 1798 as a centrepiece of development by Edward Stratford, Lord Aldborough, to compete with Lord Belvedere’s mansions nearby in a project which ultimately failed. “The large landscaped garden to the rear of the house was taken in the 1940s to build public housing. It is unfortunate that Stratford’s Dublin mansion has not been treated as kindly over time as its London counterpart. Now derelict and boarded up, the building strikes a forlorn and shameful image of neglect.” Cullen highlights the hidden underbelly of the elegant city in a close juxtaposition of luxury and poverty between Merrion Square East, Mount Street upper and lower. The streets were lined with the substantial residences of the respectable elites while in the back alleys and courts were the overcrowded and dilapidated tenements housing stables, dairy yards, and huxter shops. Sanitation was a major problem and the OS map showed some open drains running along the lanes, and others with no sanitary facilities whatever. There was only one water fountain for the tenements. Living conditions for most of the poor of Dublin can only be guessed at from the maps, and contrast with the elaborate and airy gardens of the rich. The poor are hidden too in the accompanying illustrations, which document the more appealing views and sartorial elegance of the wealthy in streets peopled by the same class. Only occasionally did artists such as James Malton record an occasional “picturesque” beggar outside the Parliament house, and Hugh Douglas Hamilton’s 1760 sketch of a poor young shoeboy at Custom House gate in John Rocque’s Dublin in 1760 is a rare enough scene.


Patrick Duffy is professor emeritus of geography at Maynooth University.



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