The Masterplan Area
The Digital Hub campus comprises three distinct sites. Site 1 (North) is bounded to the north by Thomas Street, to the east by Thomas Court, to the south by Rainsford Street and to the west by Crane Street.
Site 1 (South) is bounded to the north by Rainsford Street, to the east by Thomas Court, to the south by School Street and to the west by Crane Street. Site 2 is bounded to the north by Bonham Street, to the west by Watling Street, and to the south by Thomas Street and James Street.
The sites are located in one of Dublin’s most historic areas, each of considerable architectural, archaeological, historical, industrial and cultural significance in local, national and even international contexts. Occupying two sides of Thomas Street where it intersects with James’s Street, the sites are positioned at the western end of the medieval Liberty of St. Thomas Court, adjacent to the site of the medieval St. James’s Gate which was positioned at the end of the slighe mor, one of several ancient routes to the city.
The area developed around the historic ‘Liberty’ of St. Thomas, one of Dublin’s principal historic ‘liberties’, the names of which have abided through the centuries to give the area its strong cultural identity. The medieval status quo remained until the St. Thomas Court Abbey was dissolved in the sixteenth century.
The development of the area was closely related to its position close to the main route from the west and also the River Poddle and Glib Stream, the latter which originally flowed down Thomas Street, before being culverted in the seventeenth century. These reliable sources of water initially powered the water mills in the medieval period, and eventually supplied the city water course which is shown on historic Ordnance Survey maps. During the late 18th and 19th century, The Liberties was dominated by many industrial enterprises such as tanning and skinning enterprises but in particular the great brewing and distilling families, most notably the Guinness family, who from 1759 built and developed the world’s largest brewery at St James’s Gate, and the Powers Distillery. In addition there were smaller rectifying distillers such as Millar’s (Nos.10-13 Thomas Street). Roe’s Distillery, which was located to the north of Thomas Street, was one of the largest distilleries of its time in Ireland, and its location is recalled by the windmill (Smock Windmill), which is one of only three structures to remain of this once extensive site. The windmill, now known locally as St Patrick’s Tower, has iconic landmark qualities, despite the loss of its sails. The Watling Street bonded store, as well as substantial Guinness buildings associated with the brewing and maturation of beer, give the sites their impressive industrial character, bisected by the busy commercial thoroughfare of Thomas Street.
The appearance of Thomas Street today is characterised largely by an early nineteenth-century urban grain, which historically supported lower mercantile and commercial classes, the details of which tended to change frequently. Although marked by unifying materials and features such as scale and massing, the area retains subtle differences in fenestration pattern and height, and buildings along Thomas Street are almost universally configured as a ground floor shop with domestic quarters over the ‘ordinary’ nature of much of the built form represents a threat to its significance, as it is a key characteristic of the area, punctuating the extensive industrial brewing and distilling enterprises which survive in varying degrees of completeness.
The oldest structures along Thomas Street are a unique pairing of early houses which were originally gable-fronted, representative of the ‘Dutch Billy’ typology of skilled Huguenot Flemish and Dutch weavers, and dating from a period of prosperity in the area due to the success of its weaving industry. Despite the later alterations, to present a more ‘fashionable’ appearance with flat parapets, aligned with Georgian tastes, these houses are believed to be unique as a pair, and contain original layouts and early interior fabric. This contrasts with the fine Edwardian offices of Millar & Co.’s rectifying distillers, one of the more successful small producers in the area, with a large manufacturing base to the rear. Although now largely gone, the backlands of Site 01 are of some historic interest, having accommodated various small manufacturing and trading enterprise, including metal, timber, slate stabling and various storehouses.
Culturally, the area is known to be a distinctive part of ‘real old Dublin’ (Curtis, 2013), with associations with key periods of Irish history, including the 1798 uprising and the 1916 Easter Rising. Also of social interest is the Glib Market, a well-known street market along Thomas Street, and the Dublin Corporation Library, which was Dublin’s first public lending library, located in one of the grander houses on the site, which was originally two separate houses.
Some of these key elements, structures and buildings are shown below:
St. Patrick’s Tower (Smock windmill)
84 James Street
Watling Street Warehouse
No 1 Crane Street
7 Thomas Street
St. Patrick’s Tower (Smock windmill)
This is a freestanding round-plan tapered nine-stage smock windmill. It was built 1757 and rebuilt 1805. A Copper ogee domed roof with figurative weather vane of Saint Patrick holding mitre and crozier to crown the structure. This structure was once the largest smock windmill in Europe and was built as part of the Roe whiskey distillery in 1757. Although it has lost its sails, it remains an iconic reminder of the industrial heritage of the area, particularly its extensive associations with the distilling and brewing industries. The Roe distillery was one of the predominant distillers in Dublin and merged with Jameson and the Dublin Whiskey Distillery to form the Dublin Distillers Company in 1889. The copper cupola with a figure of Saint Patrick was added to the tower in the late nineteenth century. ‘Smock’ mills took their name from their resemblance to smocks worn by farmers in the Netherlands, where their construction originated. The smock windmill is of undisputed architectural and historical significance not only in Ireland, but, in the international context as a rare, and unusually tall, survival of this building type. Its original function for power generation is of both scientific and technical interest. The skilled craftsmanship required to construct a tapering structure circular on plan, also contributes to the technical significance. The structure’s prominence as a landmark on the Dublin skyline could also justify the attribution of cultural significance. This building makes a striking contribution to the skyline and a central point to Pear Tree Crossing.
84 James Street
Despite references to a date of construction c.1800, 84 James Street is likely to be of mid-nineteenth century date. It first appears on the Dublin Town Map of 1864, replacing a group of four earlier buildings which are shown as late as 1847 projecting onto the north side of Thomas Street at the location of St James’s Gate. St James’s Gate was a historic toll gate, shown on Speed’s map of 1610, a short distance east of the city walls.
The house is the last to have an address of James’s Street, all buildings to its east having a Thomas Street address. An address of 84 James’s Street is recorded in 1850, but it appears to relate to the change of address rather than this property, and is listed as the flour stores of Francis Tuite, baker of Larkfield Mills, Kilmainham, who lived at No.163 Thomas Street.
Listings in Thom’s Directory confirm the mid-nineteenth century date of construction; the address does not appear until 1856 after a period when the site appears to be vacant, with an address of St James’s Gate, which subsequently only appears as the address of the Guinness Brewery. The house is occupied for the first time in 1857 by Hartford Biddy Esq, although the James’s Street address does not appear until 1860. The replacement structure is relatively easy to discern on historic maps, as the Parish Boundary between the Parishes of St James and St Catherine runs along its east wall, and the rear return is present on all historic maps.
By 1870 the final private occupant of the house is listed as Mrs M Smyth, and it appears to have been acquired by Guinness & Co. in the early 1870s. Although the main Guinness Brewery was located on both sides of James Street, just to west of this site, historic material indicates that the company was expanding to rent or purchase buildings to the east, of which this was one. In 1886, the building had a large structure attached to the rear (now gone and replaced by a car park).
No.84 appears variously as a dwelling house, annexed for a short time to adjoining buildings (Nos.84-87 James’s Street) which were in use as a visitor’s waiting room, but otherwise serving as housing for employees.
In 1935, the house was noted in the Guinness Chief Accountant’s papers to have been occupied by the ‘Town Travellers’. These were representatives of Guinness, concerned with the sales and quality of Guinness, and who interacted with publicans in their designated districts. Those in 84 James Street would have been those travellers assigned to Dublin.
Watling Street Warehouse
The warehouse at Watling Street is located at the north-west corner of Site 01, to the east side of Watling Street at its junction with Bonham Street. It was built in 1866 at the north-west corner of the extensive site owned by Roe & Co. Distillery, which operated between 1757 and 1890, when it merged with Jameson and the Dublin Whiskey Distillery, to form the Dublin Distillers Company, finally closing in the 1920s. The Roe Distillery was at one time the largest brewery in Ireland, contributing to a concentration of brewing and distilling industries in the area.
No 1 Crane Street
No 1 Crane Street is situated at the north-west corner of Site 02, where Crane Street runs south from St James Gate. Historically it was occupied by a nailer called George Graham in Thom’s Directory of 1846. At this time there were a handful of commercial properties among the tenements on Crane Street, but by 1855, all properties along Crane Street were in tenements, and it remained so until Guinness redeveloped the eastern side of the street with warehouses in 1871. It was in use by a vintner from the mid-nineteenth century, owned for several years by Mary O’Rourke, latterly by J. Whelan and finally operated as a public house by his niece, who appears to have occupied the property and looked after Mr Whelan’s family from the opening decades of the twentieth century.
Guinness gradually took over the eastern side of Crane Street in the nineteenth century as they expanded their St James’s Gate premises, and No.1 was the only building on Crane Street to remain outside ownership of the brewing behemoth for several decades, as most of the buildings were demolished to make way for the Guinness warehousing of 1871 which currently characterises much of Crane Street. No.1 generally follows the more varied architectural grain, scale and detailing of Thomas Street, and is shown to have supported domestic accommodation over the shop.
The 1901 census records that No.1 is the only inhabited house in Crane Street at the time, with seven females and one male listed, including three occupants with the surname of Whelan (Michael , Mary  and Ellen ), with one servant and the head of the family listed as Agnes Dawling [40), a cousin of the Whelan family. The abstract list the building as a ‘public house’, with one store. By 1911, Agnes Dawling is still resident and noted as a publican, with Mary, Ellen and another cousin.
Guinness appears to have finally taken on ownership of the building by 1919, as records show it to have been leased by Guinness to the Irish Agricultural Wholesale Society, which was founded in 1897 and remains in business today under the name ‘Aryzta’, now marketed as one of the largest frozen bakery companies in the world.
7 Thomas Street
No.7 Thomas Street is situated at the north-west corner of Site 02, at the junction with Crane Street.
No.7 Thomas Street first appears in Thom’s Directory of 1841, at which time it was a greengrocer owned by Thomas Roche, before being taken on by Catherine Ennis in 1845, a provision dealer and corn chandler who appears to have been long-lived, listed as the occupant until 1903 (although the name may have carried through to a next generation). In the first half of the twentieth century, Thom’s lists varied commercial uses including a greengrocer, boot shop and drapers, most likely with separate accommodation over the shop; the census of 1901 records a family of three including carpenter John Ryan, his wife Susan, a hardware merchant, and their servant. The last recorded commercial use was a greengrocer known as Tricia’s in 1985 – which was on the ground floor with flats above.
No.7 Vathouse was one of eleven vat houses on the Guinness Brewery site, lying just outside of the main brewery site at St James’s Gate. Guinness & Co was founded by Arthur Guinness in 1759, and it developed to become one of the largest industrial complexes in Dublin, of international significance. The building is located directly to the east of the main St. James’s Gate brewery site, located to the east side of Crane Street and the west side of site 02. Guinness represents a continuation of brewing on the site since the late seventeenth century, and is part of a concentration of brewing and distilling industry in the area, made possible by proximity to the city water course, which is shown on Ordnance Survey maps up to 1864.