Archaeologists do love boundaries. From the circular crop mark of an enclosure, perceptible only from the air, to rivers and watercourses still extant, to parish boundaries fossilised in twentieth-century housing estates, boundaries are where things tended to happen and in many cases they are all that’s left of an archaeological monument in the contemporary landscape. This is true of the Linen Hall Barracks, the scene of the greatest destruction of the city’s built fabric wrought by the Volunteers, where the boundary survives in its northern wall with perhaps more significant fabric survival of the adjacent Yarn Hall evident the Dublin Institute of Technology’s School of Architecture off Henrietta Place.
As the name suggests, the three-acre site had a long history prior to its partial acquisition by the British army in the 1870s. The Irish linen industry had developed slowly throughout the seventeenth century, assisted to some extent by the tariffs imposed on the woollen trade and conversely by government attempts to foster the industry by importing high quality flax and foreign experts. The most significant of these was possibly Louis Crommelin, a Dutch merchant banker of Huguenot extraction who was invited to Ireland by William III and quickly established ‘A Society for the Improvement of the Linen Trade’ in 1698. In 1711 ‘A Board of Trustees of the Linen and Hempen Manufacturers of Ireland’ (or simply the Linen Board) was founded from the Society’s membership to encourage and extend the linen trade beyond the Ulster heartland. It consisted of eighty members (twenty for each of the four provinces) and it met on a weekly basis, generally in Dublin.
The Linen Board was responsible for encouraging and supervising the industry and was entrusted with the disposal of parliamentary grants, which varied from £10,000 to £33,000 a year. As the industry developed there was a perception that a centralised market was necessary. A Linen Hall was proposed in 1722 and several sites were considered in the city before an undeveloped site was chosen at the start of the ‘Great Northern Road’. The complex was designed by Thomas Burgh (with later additions by Thomas Cooley) and it opened for trade on 14 November 1728, just in time for an inaccurate impression of its façade to be included as an illustration on Charles Brooking’s map of the city.
John Rocque’s 1756 depiction of the city shows the building within a network of new streets named after the principal linen centres of the country. Its façade looked down Linen Hall Street and there was sufficient space to expand the complex to the northeast to accommodate a Yarn Hall and a Cotton Hall by 1784. The Linen Hall contained a large trading floor with 550 compartments or bays for the storage of linen. There was also a large boardroom for the use of the trustees and what was described as ‘a large and elegant coffee-room for the accommodation of factors and traders who daily crowd its courts’ (Warburton, Whitelaw and Walsh, 1818, History of the City of Dublin, 967).
With the opening of the Belfast Linen Hall in 1783, the Dublin industry went into terminal decline and the Linen Board was abolished in 1828, where the market function of the complex appears to have continued. During the 1870s the Linen Hall was used as a temporary barracks by the British Army and it was taken over by the Board of Works in 1878. On the 1907 25 inch mapping the site is annotated as the Linen Hall Bks (Disused) however in April 1916 it was at least partially occupied by the Army Pay Corps.
The Yarn and Cotton Halls appear to have been alienated from the main complex and at some stage prior to 1880 at least part of the complex was occupied by the well-known firm of Hugh, Moore and Alexanders Ltd. who had branched off from the linen trade to focus on the manufacture, sale and distribution of veterinary and pharmaceutical products. The ‘Hall’ from where the company operated featured in their advertisements for products such as Hall Health Salt (‘Cleanses the system and keeps the blood cool and pure’) and Hall Boot Polish (‘Creates a quicker, better and more lasting shine than any other’). On the evidence of contemporary newspaper advertising, Dubliners would have been familiar with ‘Dr. Kirn’s Phospho-Lactine’, which was particularly suitable for ‘children, fastidious persons, delicate women, and nervous men’. Developed by Dr. Leon Kirn of Paris, phospho-lactine was a ‘wonderful powder’ made from cod liver oil and albuminous sulphate of lime.
Several of the witness statements recount setting the barracks on fire on the Wednesday of Easter Week. The operation commenced at midnight under the command of Captain Dinny O’Callaghan when an attempt was made with picks and crowbars to bore a hole in the western wall on Coleraine Street, close to the Lisburn Street corner,. Dynamite was stuffed in the hole but failed to detonate (Sean O’Duffy BMH WS303). Another attempt was made to set fire to an adjacent shop however according to one witness (Gearoid Ua h-Uallachain BMH WS328) the main gate was ‘hammered’ until it was opened by some of the soldiers inside. The unarmed garrison of 30 or so surrendered and were escorted to the Fr. Matthew Hall, where one account has them filling sandbags.
Oil and drums of tar were taken from Moore’s coachworks (Sean Cody BMH WS1035) where Ua h-Uallachain refers to ‘oils and paints we had brought from a druggist’s shop in North King Street’. They were ‘spilled the in a large room on the first floor, and then [we] piled up the bed-boards. We then lighted the fire. The fire spread with amazing rapidity and Dinny suggested it might be better if we opened the windows. I crossed the room to open the windows and I will never forget the heat. It took me all my time to get back, and the soles were burned off my boots in a few minutes. The fire continued throughout the day and Wednesday night, and we had to use hoses on it to keep it from burning the dwelling-houses in the vicinity’ (BMH WS328). This relates to the houses on the eastern side of Lurgan Street and indeed the fire spread to the east into the premises of Hugh, Moore and Alexanders, where there was also an oil store which ignited. The fire had the effect of illuminating the area to an extent that made it difficult for the Volunteers to move around at night without attracting sniper fire from the surrounding British positions.
The files of the Property Losses (Ireland) Committee suggest that the destruction of the barracks inconvenienced more organisations than the British Army. James Dillon, honorary secretary of the Irish National Foresters Brass and Reed Band claimed £9 11s 6d for the destruction of a clarinet, case and clothing, for which he was given £7 18s (NAI PLIC/1/6365). Another clarinettist, an Edward Fulker, then resident at Islandbridge Barracks but who was probably one of those captured by the Volunteers, claimed £7 for the destruction of another clarinet, music and clothing, a claim which was declined by the Committee (NAI PLIC/1/6236). The St. Patrick’s Ambulance Association in the personage of its secretary, Percy J Chillingworth claimed £14 4s for the loss of stretchers, first aid equipment and property, where £13 was recommended by Committee (NAI PLIC/1/4287). Other more commercial enterprises were also using the old Linen Hall. Victor Reginald Harold Jameson, acting on behalf of Kodak, claimed ‘£6 9s 9d for destruction by fire caused by insurgents of Kodak films, paintings and property at Linenhall Barracks’ and the Committee recommended a €5 payment (NAI PLIC/1/6114). A more complicated claim made by Richard Dickeson and Company Limited, the wholesale grocers, specified inter alia ‘destruction of buildings by fire’ at the barracks (NAI PLIC/1/4592).
The destruction wrought on the barracks is evident from the photographs taken immediately afterwards and serves to illustrate the effects of fire − as opposed to artillery − on the city’s built heritage during the conflict. Four of the photographs were taken by the antiquarian Thomas J. Westropp from Lisburn Street and the Lurgan Street entrance where another was taken from the yard to the east of the main barracks complex, looking to the northwest across the range of buildings designed by Cooley in 1784. These were occupied by Hugh, Moore and Alexanders in 1916 where the 1907 mapping appears to indicate a certain amount of pre-existing dereliction, with Cooley’s courtyard now covered over. The practice of Millar and Symes had been commissioned by the company to design repairs and alterations for what was referred to as the Linen Hall in 1904, which were possibly being undertaken by J. and P. Good as the map was being surveyed (Irish Architectural Archive, Dictionary of Irish Architects 1720-1940).
The afterlife of the Linen Hall Barracks throws some light on the early, post-independence attempts of Dublin Corporation to eradicate slum housing conditions in the city. Where other former army barracks (such as the Richmond Barracks in Inchicore, the Marshalsea Barracks off Thomas Street and Beggarsbush) were acquired for conversion into social housing, the remains of the Linen Hall were demolished and in September 1925 the 2¼ acre site was leased to the Corporation for 99 years for the erection of 70 temporary dwellings ‘for the poorer class of workers’ (Dublin Corporation Reports and Printed Documents (Housing Committee), 224/1925). It is not clear if the temporary dwellings were ever erected as the Linenhall Public Utility Society (PUS) applied for permission in 1926 to erect 63 four- and five-roomed houses on the site, having acquired it from the Corporation for an annual rent of £126 (R. McManus, 2002. Dublin 1910-1940. Shaping the City and the Suburbs, Dublin, 246).
The PUS was founded in 1925 with the assistance of the Rev. David Henry Hall, a protestant cleric who had championed the formation of similar societies across the city. The 1925 Housing Act was instrumental in encouraging such schemes which were partially financed by private capital and partially by state assistance given at the same rate as grants to local authorities. In the case of the Linenhall PUS, two of the major local employers, Jameson & Sons and Maguire and Patterson, provided considerable support where a number of their employees would obviously benefit from proper housing. The Church Representative Body also invested £6000 in loan stock (McManus, 246). Collen Brothers were awarded the building contract at a cost of £30,500.
What survives today of the original complex? The northern boundary of Burgh’s Linen Hall survives in the plot boundary to the rear of Linenhall Terrace against the Dublin City Council Housing Services yard to the rear of Coleraine House. The wall is of calp limestone with frequent blocked openings with brick reveals which accommodated windows and a doorway. The wall returns to the north behind the houses on Linenhall Parade, before returning east again at the boundary to the King’s Inns.
The most significant survival in the area is perhaps the remains of Thomas Cooley’s Yarn Hall, which, although not part of the barracks in 1916 was gutted by the fire started by the Volunteers. The claim made by Hugh, Moore and Alexanders Ltd. was for £32,752 19s 4d, to cover the destruction of premises and property by fire at Linenhall, Henrietta Place and Bolton Street. A payment of £20,500 was recommended by Committee (NAI PLIC/1/3763).
Where the building appears to have been substantially gutted, the walls survived at ground floor level at least and the rusticated arcading survives to this day ubder a heavy render on the DIT School of Architecture. The arcade on the southern elevation makes a partial appearance on a photograph in the collection of the NLI, where the roofless remains of the eastern portion of the Linen Hall are evident in the background. The arcades have been filled in to create arched window opes which survive along the entire frontage on the elevation shown below and indeed in the northern elevation, where they are now within the extended building.
Another look at the Keogh Photographic Collection in the NLI has uncovered two more photographs of the Yarn Hall after the fire. The first shows a group of men standing on a pile of smoking rubble with what appears to be the cast iron skeleton of the roof structure placed over the courtyard and depicted on the 1907 mapping.
The second identifies the location as being ‘Hugh Moore’s premises’ and shows the same group of men, possibly in front of the arcaded northern elevation, now within the DIT School of Architecture. Captions such as this only encouraged the popular perception that the shelling of the city was more extensive than it actually was. The photographs do however demonstrate something of the destructive nature of fire. The project will be looking in some detail at the insurance claims arising from the Linen Hall fire, which extended as far as the Bolton Street frontage where Nos 57-59 were completely rebuilt after the Rebellion.