Mapping Church Street
Dublin’s inner city was once home to the affluent, but with the Act of Union in 1801 transferring the power to Westminster, Dublin was demoted to a regional capital. As a result of this, the capital’s aristocrats and other wealthy citizens moved to London or out to the leafy suburbs of Ranelagh, Rathmines and Ballsbridge, beyond the boundary line of Dublin Corporation, between the Royal Canal and Grand Canal. This caused a huge financial impact on the Corporation, as their projects and day to day expenses could only be funded by rates on property. Although there had always been poverty in the city centre, this migration made it more noticeable. (Prunty, 2001)
The principal areas of poverty in Dublin City can be seen in Figure 1. The Liberties, to the south of the River Liffey, and the Smithfield area to the north, were both overcrowded and disease ridden parts of the city. (Prunty, 1998) “Rack-renting” was the source of the tenement problem, where landlords or “house jobbers” charged exorbitant rent and families were forced to
share houses and in some cases, even share rooms. Tenements were described by the Housing Committee as “houses intended and originally used for occupation by one family but which, owing to change of cirumstances, have been let out room by room are now occupied by separate families, one in each room for the most part.” (Local Government Board, 1914) Labourers from around the country were attracted up to Dublin by ongoing works in the city and a higher wage. However once this work was completed, instead of returning home, the workers began to stay in Dublin and wait for more work to arise. With the ever-increasing rent prices, families began turning towards tenements as the only feasible option. (Dublin Corporation, 1918) Famine refugees seeking shelter and charity in the city only worsened this situation in 1847. (Prunty, 1998)
“Ireland is a country of wonderful charity and singularly little justice, and Dublin…. A city famous for its charitable institutions and its charitable citizens, should also be infamous for the perfectly hellish conditions under which its people are housed and under which its men, women and children labour for a living”
Jim Connolly, early 1913 (Neary, 1992)
According to North City Survey carried out in 1918, 41,148 people were living in 3,172 tenement houses on the north side of the city alone. This astonishing figure representing 12,290 families equates to over 25% of the population of North City. The Sanitary Staff of Dublin Corporation who carried out the survey classified 627 of these tenement houses as “First Class”.
“Houses which appear to be structurally sound; they may not be in good repair, but are capable of being put in good repair, called First Class;” (Dublin Corporation, 1918)
Nearly 20% of the tenement houses in the city were deemed safe, however the figures indicate that 12,509 people were living in 627 “First Class” houses. This equates to a figure of almost 20 people per house. Despite the fact that these houses were safe to live in, the problem of overcrowding was still a major issue. The Report goes on to name a number of streets where they were principally situated in the city. Since Church Street is my main focal point of interest in this essay and it wasn’t named, I will focus on the information for “Second Class” and “Third Class” homes, as this would appear to be more relevant.
The remaining 80% of the tenement population lived in 2,545 “Second Class” and “Third Class” tenements which the Coporation Staff describe as “Houses which are so decayed or so badly constructed as to be on, or fast approaching, the border line of being unfit for human habitation, called Second Class; Houses unfit for human habitation, and incapable of being rendered fit for human habitation, called Third Class”. (Dublin Corporation, 1918) According to this report, an alarming number of families, 5,506, occupied one-room tenements (see Figure 4). From studying the Census (1911) information, I learnt that there was a family of 12 occupying one room in a tenement on Church Street in 1911, where there were 6 other families ranging in size living in the same building. Figure 5 illustrates the number of families living in each tenement across the North City. With such a high density of people in a small area with such little fresh air and daylight, it’s hardly surprising that infectious diseases were so rampant.
I have decided to study Church Street in 1911 and the effect that the built environment had on its occupants. According to Jacinta Prunty, the institutions based in the surrounding area of Dublin 7, had a serious social effect on Church Street (see Figure 6). The Royal Barracks were situated to the west, while the Hardwicke Fever Hospital was located to the north of King Street as was the House of Industry, which formed the North Dublin Union Workhouse. Meanwhile, further north again, was the Richmond Penitentiary, along with three Refuge Houses for released prisoners, a good number of lunatic asylums and three more hospitals; the Blue Coat, the Richmond and the Whitworth. Prunty also refers to the markets in the area, which were very important to the local economy, while they were “an obvious disincentive to better class residential development”. (Prunty, 1998) Examples in the Church Street area are highlighted on Figure 8.
In a survey initiated by the Hardwicke Fever Hospital in 1817/1818, Dr Cheyne focused on Barrack Street and Church Street area, where most of their fever patients had come from in the previous year. He described Church Street as densely crowded where “a few respectable shopkeepers excepted, the entire street is inhabited by persons of the lowest order”. (Cheyne, 1818) The population of Church Street was particularly vulnerable to the fever due to close contact sustained with the infected, which was nearly impossible to avoid in such close quarters. This was multiplied by the “neglect of cleanliness and the density of the population” (Cheyne, 1818), which could only be expected of a community whose primary source of running water was an intermittent supply from public fountains. (Prunty, 1998) Another unfortunate factor were the sick travelling up to the Hardwicke Fever Hospital who would stay in the Church Street area, the night before being admitted and would invariably come in contact with other occupants and spread the fever further. (Cheyne, 1818)
“Every criterion which might be employed in defining a place as a slum was found here to a notorious degree.”
Church Street, named after the ancient church of St Michan, one of the oldest buildings in Dublin (1095), after Christ Church, is the oldest inhabited area of North Dublin city. It was once the principal thoroughfare on the north side and it was connected to the south side of the city by the only bridge crossing the Liffey up until the late 1600s. (Prunty, 1998)
According to the 1918 Housing Committee Report, it was primarily a business street in 1850 with 26 tenements located on the street, with 67 in 1875 and 73 in 1900. This can be compared to the 1911 tenement map (see Figure 9) of part of Church Street with 23 tenement houses on the stretch south of Kings Street alone. The building uses appear to have changed significantly since 1850, according to the Thoms Street Directory (see Figure 10), and were mostly residential and religious in 1911. (Thoms, 1911) According to Prunty (1998), one of the most significant and evident housing changes between 1850 and 1900, was the abandonment of the back alley housing. Instead, the tenements were faced onto the main streets of Dublin, in plain sight for everyone to see. This could only have aided the calls to rid the city of dilapidated and dangerous tenements.
I took information from the Census and mapped the number of occupants in each building on one side of Church Street (see Figure 14) and the results were quite astonishing as it illustrates the density of the tenements. Number 56 ranked highest with 36 occupants, number 68 had 33 occupants and number 54 had 31 occupants on the day of the Census. From these 32 houses, I calculated an average of 16.6 people per house, which according to Prunty, greatly outweighs even the worst, most congested slums of London, which only measured 10.94 people per house (see Figure 12). (Prunty 1998) I repeated the method of Figure 14, but using the amount of families renting one room tenements. Number 56 had 10 different families renting one room tenements under one roof, while number 54 had 9 different families, and both 64 and 67 had 7 different families living in one room each. (Census, 1911)
I decided to study the occupants and the site of numbers 65 – 68 Church Street quite closely, because when number 66 and 67 collapsed in September 1913, a number of photos were taken showing that end of the street, which I thought would be useful. The Census gave me a huge amount of information, which I have illustrated in Figures 14 – 24.
Out of 124 occupants in these 4 tenements, 43 people were employed at the time of the census. Discounting children and teenagers, who were classed as “scholars”, this gives an unemployment rate of over 22% (see Figure 20). (Census, 1911) Surprisingly, this compares quite well to the Hardwicke Fever Hospital survey of 1817/1818, where “among the residents almost one third had no employment” in a sample of 71 houses on Church Street. I illustrated the jobs of the residents as given in the Census (1911) in Figure 20, according to their house and compared the average wage of their profession, which I sourced in the Housing Committee Report. Out of the 43 employed occupants, 15 were employed as different types labourers at that time. During the Lockout in 1913, up to 25,000 semi skilled and unskilled workers who were striking were laid off for a number of months, which must have been felt by the occupants of Church Street, most of whom were unskilled workers. In order to compare their wages to something, I graphed the average weekly rent at the time and found that the most common price for a one room tenement in North Dublin city was between 2 and 3 shillings. (Dublin Corporation, 1918)
According to the Census (1911), almost half of the occupants in 65 – 68 Church Street couldn’t read or write in 1911. What I found interesting about these literacy findings was that in most cases, it was entire families that could not read or write. Perhaps certain occupants may have placed a higher value on education, as there were entire families (with the exception of very young children) who were literate. Another sad statistic relates to infant mortality in these four tenements (see Figure 24). I was utterly shocked to see the amount of women who had lost children. Prunty (1998) describes the worse situation in the south of the city, where “62% of all children born had died within the first ten years of life”.
“I heard a cracking noise in the wall separating the two houses. I turned around and noticed the mantelpiece as if it were going to tumble out. Just then there was a swaying of the wall, and … I darted onto the street. Scarcely was I out the door when there was a terrible crash behind me.”
Edward Joyce, 2 September 1913 (Corlett, 2008)
On Tuesday, 2nd September 1913, at around 9 o’clock at night, number 66 and 67 suddenly collapsed, killing seven people, trapping and injuring many more. According to Neary (1992), the two tenements were four storeys high and their front walls collapsed on to the street without warning. A number of photos taken that night show the utter devastation of the scene and were published in newspapers across Dublin over the following week. This publicized the massive extent of the housing crisis in Dublin and prompted the housing inquiry of 1913, which was subsequently publish in 1914.
“Suddenly, after the disaster on 2 September, the two previously separate issues of working and housing conditions became united and ignited.”
The Church Street Corporation housing scheme was one of the first and largest implemented following the 1914 Housing Report. By 1917, the site had been acquired, razed and 146 artisan’s dwellings were being built. They consisted of one and two storey houses, with wide but short roads separating the front doors. According to Prunty (1998), in 1900, there were 73 tenement houses on Church Street. By 1918, this number had reduced to 28 tenements on the entire street.
Although some improvements had been made, the 1925 Civic Survey of Dublin still shows a great number of third class tenements all over Dublin city. The delay was most likely related to the Anglo Irish Treaty, which granted Ireland independence from England in 1922, followed by the Civil War in 1923.
Gráinne Nic Gearailt
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Neary, B. (1992) Dublin 7. A concise history of the Areas of Ashtown, Broadstone, Cabra, Cardiffsbridge, Church Street, Grangegorman, Oxmantown, Phibsborough, Royal Canal, Smithfield, Stoneybatter and the Quays. Dublin: Lenhar Publications
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