From 18th century speculative landowners to present-day rehabilitation
Upper Buckingham Street, in Dublin’s north-east inner city, represents a microcosm of the city’s development from its initial layout by speculative landowners in the late 18th century ‘golden age’, through its largely middle-class residential status in the 19th century, its demotion to tenement use, then attempted rehabilitation in the late 20th century.
The housing on the street represents every era from fine Georgian residences to middle-class Victorian dwellings and a range of purpose-built flats intended for the working classes built both by a private semi-philanthropic housing company (DADC) and by the city authorities.
Upper Buckingham Street, Dublin
Click each image to find maps, pictures and stories from Upper Buckingham Street.
Upper Buckingham Street, Dublin in the 19th century
Laid out as an ambitious speculative development in 1788, the wide new thoroughfare of Buckingham Street was intended to be ‘as elegant a street as any in London’. Following the Act of Union which took effect in 1801, transferring the seat of government to Westminster in London, Dublin experienced a decline in political and economic fortunes. Property prices fell dramatically, while the lack of a strong industrial base and the influx of population from the poverty-stricken countryside hindered Dublin’s development potential. From the middle of the century, middle-class suburbanisation to independently-governed ‘townships’ accentuated the economic divide. The city became known for its high death rates, associated with the over-crowded slums. Whereas slum conditions in cities like Manchester were associated with an influx of population attracted to industrial employment, Dublin’s economy was relatively stagnant and by the end of the century, the city’s population had been eclipsed by that of Belfast.
Last great house built in 18th century Ireland
Aldborough House, built by Edward Augustus Stratford (1736-1801), 2nd Earl of Aldborough, was Dublin’s last great 18th century house, begun in 1792. Backing on to Buckingham Street, it should have secured the area’s status. However, the family never made it their permanent residence and it remained vacant for long periods, as well as serving a variety of purposes, including school, barracks and postal depot. It is currently empty.
The changing landscape: looking at maps
Although it had been laid out in the 1780s, the street was still not fully built up by the middle of the 19th century. This map shows the completed section of the street on its eastern side adjoining Summerhill, and the grounds of Aldborough House. Contrast the unbuilt area on the western side of the street with the later map, which shows the DADC Buckingham Street buildings and Victorian residences, as well as St. Joseph’s Mansions flats to the rear of Aldborough House.
Visit Cassini Historical Maps to explore the world of historical mapping.
The Dublin Artizans’ Dwelling Company (DADC), established in the 1870s, typically provided housing for the regularly-employed 'deserving poor' who could afford the rent, and paid modest dividends to shareholders.
The construction of purpose-built ‘block dwellings’, or flats, was one means of addressing the slum situation. Buckingham Street DADC blocks built in 1877, 'B Block' is pictured here, were reportedly unpopular with residents: 'they did not like to be with so many people' ref. Mr Edward McMahon (Drumcondra), Housing Inquiry 1885, qs. 24,619-24,620.
Take me up to Monto
As a port city with a large garrison, Dublin had a thriving red light district known as 'Monto', after Montgomery Street (now Foley Street).
Centred on Mecklenburgh Street Lower (now Railway Street) and the surrounding lanes and alleyways, in its heyday between 1860 and 1900, up to 1,600 prostitutes worked in Monto at any one time. This geographical proximity would undoubtedly have impacted negatively on the status of nearby Buckingham Street.
The growth of Dublin: looking at maps
In the 1860s, Dublin was still a relatively compact city, bounded by the circular roads and canals which are clearly visible on the map. Some middle-class suburbanisation has extended beyond the city boundaries to the south, into Ballsbridge and Rathmines. There are extensive unbuilt areas in the port area, while the Amiens Street terminus of the Dublin-Belfast rail line, completed in 1852, can be seen close to Buckingham Street.
Visit Cassini Historical Maps to explore the world of historical mapping.
Work, or the lack thereof
Employment opportunities were limited in 19th century Dublin. Many residents of the area worked as labourers and carters on the nearby docks and railways. About one-third of Dublin’s workers were unskilled labourers; their highly irregular and casual employment left them with a limited rent-paying capacity. Few jobs were available for women, with domestic service and dealing being the most common. Steady work in Guinness brewery and Jacob’s biscuit factory was highly prized.
Visit Joe Brady's gallery to see more postcards of Dublin.
Upper Buckingham Street, Dublin in the 21st century
Although Dublin was gradually transformed from the mid-1980s, fuelled by a series of urban regeneration programmes and later by an economic boom, the north-east inner city area fared less well. The adjacent docklands experienced substantial gentrification following its designation as the International Financial Services Centre in 1987, but there was little knock-on employment for the existing residents. High rates of inter-generational unemployment, low educational attainment and stigmatisation persisted in the inner city, while the heroin epidemic which swept the city in the 1980s had a devastating impact. However, this closely-knit community has fought back. Umbrella organisation ICON (Inner City Organisation Network) was formed in 1993 to deal with increasing disadvantage, social exclusion and long-term unemployment during a period of economic boom. It links up over 50 voluntary and community groups operating in the north east inner city of Dublin as well as individuals working and living in the area.
A plan to tackle deprivation: the NEIC IAP
An awareness that this area had not benefitted from the 1990s economic boom led to the North East Inner City Integrated Area Plan (1998), which aims 'to rejuvenate one of Dublin’s most deprived areas. In addition - by building on its unique character and strengths - it aims to create an area where people and families will choose to live, work and invest for the future.'
The privately-developed Bailey’s Court apartments were an early response to the IAP, outlined on the Reflecting City: Dublin website.
Life cycle of 9, Upper Buckingham Street
Originally built for banker John Claudius Beresford, number 9 is the finest Georgian house on the street. In the 1870s it housed St. Joseph’s Infirmary for Sick Children (now Children’s University Hospital, Temple Street), before being subdivided into tenements.
Used by the CYMS from 1923 to 1984, it was then used for a range of transient small businesses, as well as flats. It was fully renovated and converted into self-contained high quality apartments from 1999.
Modern social housing
Dublin City Council began to regenerate the street’s three social housing flat complexes in the early 2000s. The first project, at St. Joseph’s Mansions, retained the original shell but enclosed the access decks, installed lifts and provided additional facilities. It won the inaugural Community Housing Award in 2003 for quality in design.
By contrast, both Mountain View Court and Sean Treacy House were completely demolished and replaced with new designs encouraging neighbourly surveillance and interaction.
In 2012, Sean Treacy House won the Irish Architecture Award for Best Housing.
History repeating itself?
The economic downturn has affected both private development and social housing provision in the area. Phase 2 of the Mountain View Court regeneration, a public-private partnership to include 65 dwellings and a health and day care centre, has yet to commence and it remains a cleared site. The time lag in development is reminiscent of the delay in completing the original construction on the street due to economic decline in the early 19th century.
Community strength in adversity: ‘Home’
In 1996, the local community began a campaign to reclaim the streets from the drug dealers who had colonised the area. In that year, a Christmas tree was erected at the junction of Buckingham Street and Sean MacDermott Street to commemorate those who had died from drugs. The sculpture ‘Home’ now stands as a permanent memorial. Its location serves as a political statement of the reclamation of space by relatives and residents from the drug dealers. Visit the Fire Station Artists' Studios website for more information.
Upper Buckingham Street, Dublin: 20th century
At the turn of the 20th century, Dublin was an impoverished city. Over 6,000 tenements housed over one-third of the population in 1901. An inquiry into working-class housing published in 1914 found that 30,000 people urgently required re-housing. The scale of the problem meant that suburban ‘cottage estates’ became the preferred form of local authority housing provision from the 1920s. Where flats were built, these were concentrated in city centre slum clearance areas and were generally allocated to the poorest members of the working classes, reinforcing social segregation and the concentration of poverty in the centre of the city. Continuing suburbanisation in the second half of the 20th century led to significant population decline in the core. Whereas nearly two-thirds of the entire city population lived in the central ‘inner city’ area in 1926, this had fallen to less than one in 12 by the early 1990s.
The changing landscape: looking at maps
By the late 1930s when this map was surveyed, Buckingham Street was complete. The most recent addition is the St. Joseph’s Mansions flat complex, just south of Empress Place.
A terrace of ‘tunnel-backed’ Victorian houses on the opposite side of the street contrasts with the large block form of the DADC dwellings. Two dairies operated on the street at this time, with the cows kept in yards to the rear of the buildings.
Explore maps of Ireland from 1824 to the present day at the Ordnance Survey Ireland website.
Population movement and stability
The families living on Buckingham Street in 1901 and 1911 can be traced using free online census data from the National Archives of Ireland.
This sample shows the six-member Reilly family sharing a single room in a tenement occupied by six families. The father worked as a coal labourer in the docks. Most families living in Buckingham Street in 1901 remained in this close-knit area ten years later, though few remained at the same address.
Explore The National Archives of Ireland Census for 1901 and 1911.
Dublin Civic Survey 1925
'Housing in Dublin today is more than a ‘question’ and more than a ‘problem’ – it is a tragedy!' ref. Civics Institute of Ireland, prepared by Horace T. O'Rourke, 1925, p.58.
In 1923 the Dublin Civic Survey Committee for the Civics Institute of Ireland undertook a major study of Dublin, using modern methods including questionnaire surveys, aerial photography and traffic counts. The Civic Survey’s housing maps revealed increasing congestion due to in-migration from rural areas. This extract illustrates housing quality, with poor housing shaded in black and unhealthy areas shaded brown.
Poverty and charity
By 1937, one-third of Buckingham Street’s buildings were in tenements. Unlike Scotland’s purpose-built tenements, these were former single-family homes which had been subdivided. Poverty and severe overcrowding contributed to high death rates.
The Catholic Young Men’s Society (CYMS) provided food for the needy from a former tenement house at 9, Upper Buckingham Street. Timmy ‘Duck Egg’ Kirwan remembers ‘we’d go over to the stew house - and you got a mug of stew over there’ ref. Kearns, 1994, p65.
Buckingham Street in the 1940s
This image shows the mix of uses on the street in the 1940s. The Georgian streetscape is largely intact; in 1956 numbers 10 to 18 were demolished to make way for the Sean Treacy House flats. Notice the ‘three spheres’ of the pawn shop, as well as the shop front of the dairy at number 10. The horse has not yet been entirely supplanted by motorised transport.
Slum clearance and social housing
Slum clearance in 1930s Dublin saw the construction of the first local authority flats on Buckingham Street, St. Joseph’s Mansions (1937-9), which mostly rehoused people from the immediate locality. Their architectural style links back to the 19th century Peabody Trust model of surveillance. The later Sean Treacy House (1960s) and Mountain View Court (1970s) with their open plans, communal access and ambiguous public-private space, experienced problems of anti-social behaviour in later years.
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