Pictures at an Exhibition

Part One: 12 Henrietta Street

A couple of weeks ago I styled the poster for the Opera Theatre Company’s upcoming production of Don Giovanni. Starring David Kempster, Kip Carroll shot the photos, and the location was number 12 Henrietta Street.


The Heritage Council describes Henrietta Street as “one of the first and finest planned Georgian streets in Dublin” and it served as a blueprint for much of Georgian Dublin as we now know it.

Number 12 was built in 1730 on a street so grand that, by 1792, it housed one archbishop; two bishops; four peers and four MPs.

Photo: William Murphy

Photo: William Murphy

Following the enactment of the Act of Union in 1801, (ie: The dissolution of the Irish Parliament) many of the politically significant residents of Dublin would move to London to take their seats in the new Parliament of Great Britain and Ireland. The socially significant went with.

Whole streets of grand Georgian dwellings were left in the hands of agents. House prices plummeted and the slum landlords cashed in, at a time when famine-stricken families were arriving into the city in droves, looking for work and a place to live.

By the 1890s many houses on Henrietta Street had been bought by the Lord Mayor of Dublin, Alderman Joseph M. Meade.

Under his direction the houses were divided up into the maximum possible number of tenement rooms.

The 1901 census records 11 separate dwellings within number 12, occupied by 73 people, ranging in ages from 1 to 76. These were for the most part semi-skilled and skilled workers: Carpenters, Iron Roofers, French Polishers and Upholsterers, Bridle Stitchers, one ex-Lancashire Fusilier, one 70-year old Nurse.


The house still bears the scars of the many divisions and sub-divisions required to provide accommodation to so many people.

Much of the restoration has involved stripping back those modifications, and allowing the bones of the house to be seen again.

Photo: Leona Lee Cully

Photo: Leona Lee Cully

Ian Lumley, the owner, and Built Environment & Heritage Officer for An Taisce, Ireland’s National Trust, rents out the house to film crews and for photo shoots and that money then gets ploughed back in to restoration. As it stands – made safe but still some distance from its original beauty – it is a very lovely, very photogenic space.


Photo: Ian Lumley

Photo: Ian Lumley

Beauty only goes so far, though. Sanitation was non-existent. Those stunning high ceilings and huge windows make the place a bitch to heat, the house becomes damp, maybe you lose a few roof tiles in a storm and, without constant maintenance, a building like this starts to crumble.

In 1913 seven people were killed when two tenement houses on Church Street collapsed.

In 1963 two people were killed when a four-storey house collapsed on Bolton Street. Ten days later another two people died when two buildings on Fenian Street collapsed. The solution?

Headline from Irish Independent, July 1963

Headline from Irish Independent, July 1963

And now here we are in 2015. Plus ca change, plus ca la meme chose.



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Filed under Architecture, Dublin looking pretty, History

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