1891 - 1915: Early Developments
The Trust’s first buildings were erected by the Dublin Artisans’ Dwellings Co. in 1891 at the corner of Thomas Court & Bellevue, close to the Guinness Brewery. Two large three-storied, red brick blocks were constructed, providing 118 single room flats with shared toilet & bathroom facilities. The DADC handed over the property to the Trust in June 1892 and the Trust’s first Dublin office was located there for a short time. By 1894 there were 343 persons in the Thomas Court Buildings. This first enterprise was an experimental forerunner of the later and larger Trust buildings and seem not to have been entirely satisfactory. Rowton expressed dissatisfaction with them and in 1895 the buildings were sold to the DADC at a loss, for £5000.
1894 – 1901: Kevin Street
The Trust’s second enterprise, which was on a larger scale, commenced in 1894 to the south of St. Patrick’s Cathedral. A derelict site of slightly over two acres was acquired at the corner of New Bride Street and Kevin Street which previously had been part of a rope-making works.
Between 1894 and 1901, three vast blocks were built parallel and close together in a characteristic Trust style, red brick with impressive entrances and conspicuous Dutch gables. These buildings are five-stories high and originally contained 584 rooms in 336 separate apartments – 108 one room, 208 two room and 20 with three rooms.
Robert J. Stirling, a Dublin architect and engineer, designed the buildings and they were erected by Meade & Co. Plenty of light and ventilation was a prerequisite in the buildings. The sun was to shine in all windows at some time of day, and there was to be a wash house on each floor with a W.C. to every two families. The Kevin Street site was to be enlarged considerably in the 1920’s & 30’s when contiguous land was acquired and numerous new blocks erected.
Dublin Improvement (Bull Alley Area) Act: 1899
The most impressive collection of Trust buildings stands between Bull Alley and Bride Road, to the north of St. Patrick’s Cathedral. Lord Iveagh, and not the Trust, originally carried out the major developments here. The Bull Alley scheme was part of a fundamental redevelopment of the entire area between Christchurch and St. Patrick’s Cathedral – a complicated procedure, requiring several private acts of parliament. The total cost exceeded £220,000, to which must be added completion of St. Patrick’s Park and provision of the Iveagh Market, a further sum of £98,680. Eventually therefore Lord Iveagh spent an amount considerably in excess of the original London and Dublin Trust funds combined.
This was one of the most extensive urban redevelopment projects Dublin had seen entailing total demolition of the area between the two medieval cathedrals and complete rearrangement of its street plan. From south to north, the development comprised the construction of:
- St. Patrick’s Park: 1897 – 1904
- Bull Alley Buildings, Blocks A – D: 1901
- Bull Alley Buildings, Blocks E – H: 1904
- The Iveagh Hostel: 1905
- The Iveagh Baths: 1906
- The Iveagh Play Centre: 1915
Bull Alley Buildings: 1899 – 1904
Before St. Patrick’s Park was completed Lord Iveagh decided on a more ambitious scheme. He informed trustees of the Guinness Trust in December 1898 that he was promoting a bill in Parliament to empower him at his own expense “to acquire and clear about three acres of rookery in the heart of the city of Dublin adjoining the new St. Patrick’s Park now being formed” and afterwards to use the site for straightening and widening roads but chiefly for the erection of housing for the working class.
The Dublin Improvement (Bull Alley Area) Act of 1899 allowed Lord Iveagh to proceed with his plans. Complete clearance of the site rapidly proceeded and included the removal of a large rather infamous inn, the Queen’s Head, and demolition of St. Bride’s Church and graveyard on the corner of Bride’s Alley and Bride Street.
There were various ideas for the new lay-out of the site. The plan finally adopted entailed 8 T-shaped blocks, each of five stories, set out to line Patrick Street & Bride Street. Blocks A – D fronting Patrick Street were constructed first and completed in 1901. Blocks E – H fronting Bride Street followed, with completion in 1904. The Iveagh Hostel was to be located on Bride Road, a new straight road replacing Bride’s Alley. Two recreational buildings were to be provided; the Iveagh Baths located on corporation land opposite the Hostel & the Iveagh Play Centre, to be sited on Bull Alley street, facing the cathedral.
The completed scheme contained 244 dwellings for families, approximately half were fully self contained and half with shared wash & laundry facilities. The architects were Messrs. Joseph and Smithem of London, assisted by Messrs. Kaye, Parry & Ross, an eminent Dublin firm.
Accommodation & Rents, Bull Alley, 1903
32 three-room self contained tenements: 5s.9d per week
80 two-room self contained tenements: 4s.3d per week
32 three-room tenements with shared facilities: 5s.0d per week
80 two-room tenements with shared facilities: 3s.6d per week
20 single-room tenements: 2s.6d per week
Each living room possessed a substantial kitchen range, food cupboard, coal bunker and a dresser. All bedrooms were fitted with stoves and cupboards. Each tenement was adequately ventilated and its entrance amply lighted. Laundries were fitted with galvanised iron coppers and glazed stoneware washing engines. In associated blocks each tenant had exclusive use of a laundry for at least one day in the week; sinks and taps for ordinary water service were placed on each landing.
The completed Bull Alley scheme was a unique fully-serviced community in a central city location.
Iveagh House – The Iveagh Hostel
A prominent element of the new scheme was Iveagh House (later called the Iveagh Hostel) on Bride Road, a massive hostel for single men, completed in 1905. Five storeys in height with a basement, and almost 61 metres in length, Iveagh House was one of the largest residential buildings in Dublin. Messrs. Joseph and Smithem were the architects assisted by Kaye, Parry & Ross. Messrs. Samuel H. Bolton & Sons, a well-known Rathmines contractor, was responsible for building Iveagh House as well as the dwellings near by and almost all the building materials were Irish.
Described on completion as “a palatial workmen’s hotel” it contained 508 cubicles on the four upper floors while on the ground floor were public facilities including a dining room, smoking room & reading room. Ample sanitary facilities, a wash-house and barber’s shop were among the many amenities. A striking feature was the amount of light and air in the vast building, achieved by the outline plan, like a letter “E”, and an immense number of windows.
Each cubicle measured 7ft 6 inches x 5ft. The divisions were made with wood, finished at a distance of 18 inches from the ceiling, so as to secure ventilation without interfering with privacy. The walls of the passages and indeed much of the interior were lined with glazed tiles.
The Hostel soon became a well-known welfare institution, making a major contribution to the alleviation of accommodation needs among the homeless of Dublin. It should be remembered that in the early 20th century Dublin was an an exceptionally harsh place for the poor and contained perhaps the largest proportion of abjectly poor people to be found in any European city of comparable size. It seemed that the Hostel gave better value for money and greater freedom than other institutions for the poor and homeless established in the city. Rents at the Hostel were low at 7d per night or 3/6 per week from 1909. All types of adult men were housed in the hostel but principally labourers, many of them newly-arrived rural migrants seeking work in Dulbin.
The Iveagh Baths
Immediately opposite the hostel the Iveagh Baths were commenced in 1905 on a piece of Corporation land. Opened in 1906 the Baths were well equipped, with 198 private baths for men, 9 for women, and a swimming pool measuring 65ft x 30ft. As with the hostel, Messrs. Joseph and Smithem were the architects assisted by Kaye, Parry & Ross.
The Iveagh Play Centre
The final and most distinguished element in the great scheme was the large, two-storied Play Centre or recreational hall built between 1912 – 1915. Designed by the Dublin architects McDonnell & Reid, the centre is architecturally superior to the Hostel and residential blocks, appropriately fronting St. Patrick’s Park & Cathedral. This play centre was the successor of an earlier centre set up by Lord Iveagh in 1909 at Myra Hall, 100 Francis Street. Encouraged by the success of the earlier institution, Lord Iveagh decided to build and equip a new, larger centre at Bull Alley street, informing the Francis Street committee of his intention in April, 1911. Lord Iveagh took a special interest in the new centre. It was built at a cost of £38,000 and in order that it should be fully utilised, Iveagh endowed it with a gift of £10,000 before vesting it in the trust. A further £2,500 was donated out of Trust income to the working of the centre.
Besides its impressive exterior, the Centre at Bull Alley was remarkably well-appointed inside, containing classrooms, a gymnasium and assembly hall. A range of subjects was to be taught there by teachers employed by the Trust and periodic free entertainment provided. The place was in effect a “people’s palace” intended for education & recreation.