Museum of Dublin tenement life set for Henrietta Street

The house, built in 1748, comprises ‘time capsule’ untouched for more than 100 years

New plans by Dublin County Council hope to reveal the changing functions of the Georgian houses on Henrietta Street through a new heritage museum. Olivia Kelly reports. Video: Enda O’Dowd

 

A social history “time capsule”, charting the use of a Georgian house in Dublin over almost 300 years, is to be opened to the public next year.

Dublin City Council has published plans for the conservation, repair and reuse of 14 Henrietta Street as a museum, showing its development from a mansion for the very rich to a tenement housing more than 100 of Dublin’s poorest citizens.

Funding of €1.5 million has been allocated by the Department of Arts and Heritage for the project.

The house was built in 1748 by Luke Gardiner, who was responsible for much of the construction of the Georgian north inner city. It was first occupied by Richard, Viscount Molesworth, and then by lord chancellor John Bowes.

Unlike other Georgian houses north of the Liffey it did not immediately turn into a tenement following the Act of Union in 1801, but, along with other houses on Henrietta Street, became offices for the legal profession and subsequently the encumbered estates court, a repossessions court set up after the Famine, before housing the Dublin Militia.

It was, however, among the first houses on Henrietta Street to become a tenement in 1883 with 17 families, more than 100 people, living in number 14 at the time of the 1911 census. It remained a tenement up to the 1970s and has been mostly empty since, making it ideally placed to reflect the city’s social changes, council heritage officer Charles Duggan said.

No modern interventions

“The house, probably more so than any other house in the city and in fact in the British Isles, reflects the passage of time over nearly 300 years, and that’s in the very physical fabric of the building.”

There are no modern interventions, and few 20th-century alterations to the house, he said. “It hasn’t received a lick of paint in over 100 years. There are no plumbing or electrical facilities in the house, there are no toilets. It is in effect a capsule from history and we want to make sure it remains that, but also allow it to be open to the public and to be celebrated by everybody.”

The council undertook major stabilisation work on the building in 2009 to prevent its collapse, and it has been used for occasional cultural events, most notably the Living the Lockout theatre performance, but to open it permanently to the public requires more significant work.

The council plans to install a lift and build toilets in a block attached to the back of the building, where the outdoor tenement toilets would have stood – “retrieving part of this history but doing it in a contemporary way”, Mr Duggan said – as well as undertaking structural repairs and renewal where necessary. A more significant alteration will be the reinstatement of the original grand staircase, to give people a “sense of the original grandeur of the house and to contrast that with other parts very much reflective of the tenement era”.

Submission on the plans can be made to the council until June 12th.