Demolishing Dublin's heritage

Sir, – The development of an office block to be known as "Sixtyone Thomas Street", trumpeted in the Commercial Property pages of this newspaper (November 28th) , drives a stake through the heart of the designated Architectural Conservation Area.

It could be argued that the demolition of the existing structures here was granted planning permission before Thomas Street was designated an ACA in 2011 and before the full extent of the surviving 17th and 18th century fabric of the structures was known. Nevertheless, in an affront to its own ACA and against conservation advice, Dublin City Council granted a renewal of that planning permission in 2014 in spite of increasing evidence of the building’s significance and its entitlement to automatic, pre-1700, National Monument protection.

There is strong evidence that 61 Thomas Street was constructed before 1682 by the prominent Dublin bricklayer/developer Thomas Brown as a purpose-built inn then known by the sign of the “Golden Last”. The scale of the front reception rooms of this impressive, four-storey, inn are still stunning, as is the survival of early timber panelling recently revealed on the first floor.

The street facade was rebuilt in 1779/80 and is a fine example of classic Dublin Georgian which has miraculously survived later degradations and partial demolition in the 1980s. This new facade was probably built by the merchant Airy Jessop who we know bought and rebuilt the timber-framed house next door at No 62, which is also to be demolished as part of the proposed office block development. These 18th-century layers, which include the insertion of a carriage archway and vaulted chamber underneath mirror the alterations made to the recently conserved Fade Bank building nearby at No 36 Thomas Street, and are a critical part of the legibility of the structure.

It is presumably one of the salvaged “original feature structural oak beams” of the earlier cage-work house at No 62, incorporated into the alterations made to No 61 in the 1780s, that the promotional article boasts will feature in the reception area of the office block along with “restored 17th-century brick and lime walls”.

Architectural Conservation Area status was meant to mean more than this. It was meant to awaken a new consciousness of the value of the built heritage in an area and inspire new approaches to redevelopment that go beyond these kinds of token gestures.

At a time when the pioneering entrepreneur, Harry Crosbie, is seeking planning permission for an out-sized hotel behind the adjacent Vicar Street venue, the case for halting the demolition of the only surviving example of a purpose-built, 17th-century, Dublin inn and re-evaluating its redevelopment must be self-evident. – Yours, etc,


Dublin 8.