Young Irish Georgians - Architectural and Lost Fashion History in the Liberties
Posted by IGS
The Liberties was the thriving textile district of Dublin from the late 1600s onwards and over the years there has been every kind of textile production in this quarter from silk and linen weavers, leather tanners, cloth dyers and poplin manufacturers. This tour took a stroll through the fascinating fashion and textile history with a look at where and how textiles were produced and taking in buildings of architectural and cultural significance from Tailors' Hall on Back Lane, the Iveagh Markets on Francis Street to the heart of the silk weaving area of Weavers Street and Newmarket Square.
Our tour was led by fashion historian Ruth Griffin. Beginning at the arch of the National College of Art and Design (NCAD) Ruth took us on a journey through the centuries, detailing the history of the Guilds that thrived in the Liberties district from the 17th century onwards.
The Liberties was a district that fell just outside Dublin’s medieval city walls, in the 17th and 18th centuries French Huguenots (fleeing religious persecution in France) arrived in Dublin, settling mainly in the Liberties, where they became part of the existing weaving guilds. They were experienced silk weavers and their expertise contributed to the establishment of a thriving silk and poplin industry. Poplin (a fabric composed of wool and silk) was admired for its rich texture and lustre, and was widely used in Irish and English dress.
The group had the opportunity to see inside Tailors Hall, the city’s oldest surviving guild hall - saved from demolition in the 1980s by the Irish Georgian Society. Tailor’s Hall had a variety of different uses, including a meeting place for the Tailors' Guild and other Guilds, it was used for entertainment, teaching, as an army barracks and a court house. The back lane behind Tailor’s Hall housed shoe and leather factories, some even operating up until the 1990s.
From Fumbally Lane, the group studied the last intact Georgian house (‘Atkinson House’) on New Street (one of Dublin’s oldest streets despite its name!). This Georgian house was once owned by Richard Atkinson, the Silk Merchant, industrialist, philanthropist and two time Lord Mayor of Dublin. Atkinsons pioneered the manufacture and trade of Irish poplin - transforming it from a cottage industry into a factory one and establishing a market for it abroad. Atkinson’s was the leading manufacturer of Irish poplin in the Victorian period, and Queen Victoria’s trousseau contained Atkinson’s Irish poplin, woven in the Liberties, in 1837 she had granted Atkinson’s a Royal Warrant.
In the 17th century, European tradesmen settling in the area brought their own distinctive architectural styles to the city, such as gable-fronted houses or ’Dutch Billys’ as they were known. One such house was the Dowager House on 10 Mill Lane, near Newmarket Square - the townhouse of the Brabazon family. The Brabazons, who later became Earls of Meath, were the dominant landowners in the Liberties for over 300 years, and many of the street names reflect this: Meath Street, Brabazon Street and Ardee Street. Newmarket Square was laid out by the second Earl of Meath in the 1620s.
In 2009, Dublin City Council noted that the house “appears to be the last extant double gabled Dutch Billy” in the city. The house is currently undergoing conservation, and change is rapidly happening in the area, as new student flats are being constructed close by in Blackpitts.
The tour concluded at Weavers Square, where Weavers Hall once stood and those who remained headed to beloved Liberties haunt Fallons pub for a pint of Guinness and King crisps!
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Thank you to our guide Ruth Griffin, and to Ian Lumley for faciliating a visit inside Tailor's Hall.