Hen­ri­etta Street tells the story of Dublin

A glimpse of Dublin’s first Ge­or­gian street.

Vocable (All English) - - Édito | Sommaire - GABY WOOD

Dublin boasts won­der­ful Ge­or­gian style prop­er­ties- one thinks no­tably of the fa­mous coloured doors im­mor­talised on post­cards from the city. This style of ar­chi­tec­ture is par­tic­u­larly im­pres­sive on Hen­ri­etta Street, where most of these im­pos­ing build­ings have been ren­o­vated re­cently. This New York Times ar­ti­cle of­fers a glimpse of a street full of his­tory and se­crets…

In 1787, Mary Woll­stonecraft, later to be­come the mother of the writer Mary Shel­ley — and there­fore, in a way, the grand­mother of Franken­stein — moved to 15 Hen­ri­etta Street, Dublin. She was 28 and had been hired as a gov­erness to the aris­to­cratic fam­ily of Lord Kings­bor­ough. It wasn’t a job she par­tic­u­larly wanted — she had al­ready es­tab­lished her own school in Lon­don and had writ­ten a book about the ed­u­ca­tion of girls — but times were hard, and she needed to sup­port her­self.

2. Ten years later, one of the girls ran off with her own un­cle, and a fu­ri­ous Lord Kings­bor­ough mur­dered him. Although Woll­stonecraft had died by then, the in­flu­ence of her rad­i­cal fem­i­nist teach­ings was widely blamed. The scan­dal in­flamed Ire­land. Lord Kings­bor­ough was ac­quit­ted.


3. This is just one of the tales with which these cob­ble­stones are scorched. A stubby, sin­gle-block dead end on the sup­posed wrong side of town, Hen­ri­etta Street is enor-

mously wide, and the 18th-cen­tury brick houses that flank it are flat-fronted and vast: four sto­ries high, with as many as five win­dows across each. The ear­li­est Ge­or­gian street in Dublin — and the most in­tact col­lec­tion of early-to-mid-Ge­or­gian houses in Ire­land — it was built be­gin­ning in the 1720s for the Ir­ish aris­toc­racy.

4. Af­ter the Acts of Union were passed in 1800, unit­ing the king­doms of Great Bri­tain and Ire­land, the coun­try lost its own par­lia­ment, and the great and the good, who now spent most of their time in Lon­don, no longer had a need for Dublin grandeur. Over time, Hen­ri­etta Street be­came more de­prived and more in­hab­ited: In the ten­e­ment era, which be­gan in the late 19th cen­tury and lasted un­til the 1970s, up to 19 fam­i­lies lived in each house.

5. In pho­tographs from the 1960s, many of these build­ings ap­pear as car­casses, huge smashed things left for dead. More re­cently, they were still derelict. No. 3, bought in No­vem­ber 2016 by the 63-year-old de­vel­oper Pa­trick Wig­glesworth, is in the process of be­ing re­stored through a part­ner­ship with the 59-year-old ar­chi­tec­tural con­ser­va­tion­ist named Ian Lum­ley, who lives at No. 12.


6. Over the time I spent lis­ten­ing to the in­hab­i­tants of Hen­ri­etta Street, its story came to sound not like one of sim­ple re­gen­er­a­tion, but like a much stranger fa­ble, with a mo­ral bent. Blind­ing am­bi­tion, of the kind that en­abled these as­pi­ra­tional homes to be built, had dis­in­te­grated into hard­ship, and at least two res­i­dents re­ferred to a pas­sage in James Joyce’s Dublin­ers (1914), in which a young le­gal clerk walks down the block and makes his way through a “horde of grimy chil­dren,” “minute ver­min-like life”. This pe­riod is the one en­shrined at 14 Hen­ri­etta Street, a new ten­e­ment mu­seum. Although that house was first in­hab­ited in 1751 by Vis­count Molesworth and his fam­ily, that era is only faintly traced, as if the ac­tual builders were just the out­lines and the real lives that mat­tered were those from the late 19th cen­tury.


7. “‘Gen­tri­fi­ca­tion,’ ” Lum­ley says, is a word that “would re­ally be re­sented” by the res­i­dents, nor is it par­tic­u­larly apt. There are no bou­tique ho­tels here yet, nor shops that sell ex­pen­sive sneak­ers. Fer­gus Martin, a 63-year-old artist who has a stu­dio in­side No. 6, notes, with some pride, “I think this is the Wild West.” Tech­ni­cally, it’s the wild North. There is, as in Lon­don, a wa­ter­way di­vid­ing the city, and it is the north­ern ter­ri­tory above Dublin’s River Lif­fey that has tra­di­tion­ally been seen as the rougher side of town. Although the build­ings on Hen­ri­etta Street are beau­ti­ful, they are also daunt­ing. 8. Still, a few in­trepid buy­ers and de­vel­op­ers have sought to tame them. Un­til the 1970s, they were pre­dom­i­nately owned by ten­e­ment land­lords. There are now four owne­roc­cu­piers of the street’s 13 houses, as well as four in­sti­tu­tions: the Hon­or­able So­ci­ety of the King’s Inns, where lawyers are trained; the Daugh­ters of Char­ity of St. Vin­cent de Paul, where nuns live; Na Píobairí Uil­leann, a pipers’ club, where a valu­able col­lec­tion of Ir­ish bag­pipes is held; and now the ten­e­ment mu­seum.

Over time, Hen­ri­etta Street be­came more de­prived and more in­hab­ited.


9. Some of these land­lords have sought sim­ply to pre­serve the build­ings from de­struc­tion; oth­ers have re­stored them in de­tail, with at­ten­tion to his­tory; one or two live pri­vately enough to sim­ply call them home. “From child­hood, I was drawn to old houses,” says Lum­ley, sit­ting at the top of his house, in a room painted Vene­tian red. In buy­ing this prop­erty in 1982, he con­tin­ued his in­volve­ment in a loose move­ment he refers to as “the con­ser­va­tion scene.” For years, [Hen­ri­etta Street] ap­peared to have been for­got­ten. But now, in its new life, there’s a pur­pose­ful re­mem­brance.

(Wil­liam Mur­phy. Flickr: Hen­ri­etta Street - Dublin, via Wikimedia Com­mons)

Hen­ri­etta Street is the ear­li­est Ge­or­gian Street in Dublin.

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