A small but charming Place

The Irish Architectural Archive is incredibly fortunate to be able to constantly grow its holdings through the generosity of donors. To date, some 3,090 donations are recorded in our Accessions Register. These can come in the form of the entire office archive of an architectural practice with tens of thousands of drawings and related documents, or they can be a single item – a book, pamphlet, photograph, document or drawing.

Late last year, the Archive was contacted by Kate Gunn, Newbury, England, who asked if we might accept a donation of ‘a small framed (rather charming) old pen and ink drawing’ in memory of her father, the historian Arnold Taylor. Naturally we responded that we would be delighted to accept such a donation. The drawing was passed by Kate to a good friend of the Archive, an Irish lawyer living in London, and he brought it to 45 Merrion Square earlier this month.

Drawing of St Laurence’s Gate by Francis Place, framed. IAA 2014/30.

The drawing is indeed small – it measures just 18cm by 19cm in its frame – and it is charming. A view of St Laurence’s Gate, Drogheda by the English painter and antiquarian Francis Place (1647-1728), it dates to 1698, making it one of the earliest known views of what Harold Leask called the finest surviving barbican in Ireland (Irish Castles and Castellated Houses, Harold Leask, Dublin, 1941, p. 21). Place landed in Drogheda in 1698, which is presumably when he produced this drawing, perhaps while making observations for his panoramic view of the town. He travelled on to Dublin and Kilkenny before leaving Ireland via the port of Waterford in 1699.

West side of St Laurence’s Gate viewed from Laurence Street, c. 1880. IAA Collection.

While most early views of St Laurence’s Gate, whether engravings or photographs, show the west or interior (town) elevation, this drawing shows the east or exterior side of the barbican. It has been said of Place that ‘his views are not only topographically accurate but have a clarity of vision which is not found again until the late eighteenth century’ (The Painters of Ireland c.1660-1920, Anne Crookshank and the Knight of Glin, London, 1978, p. 53). A comparison of the drawing with a 1959 photograph of the structure from the AA Collection in the Archive bears out just how accurate Place has been. Worth noting in particular are the positions of the windows and loops in the two towers.

Drawing of St Laurence’s Gate by Francis Place, unframed. IAA 2014/30.
East side of St Laurence’s Gate, 1959. AA Collection, IAA.
Drawing of St Laurence’s Gate by Francis Place, detail.

Given this accuracy, the recording in this drawing of elements of the building no longer extant is particularly valuable. The crenulated gate structure at the base is gone, as are flanking walls. There is also a strong indication that the tower on the left may in fact have been taller than it is now, interesting given that the barbican, even in its present sate, is considered extremely tall for its type.


Drawing of St Laurence’s Gate by Francis Place, detail.

The thatched cottage to the left of the gate, an example of a vernacular structure whose external form remained unchanged for centuries, might be considered characteristic of Place; he included a similar cottage in his view of Granagh Castle, Co. Kilkenny. Perhaps the only oddity in the drawing is the somewhat out-of-scale figure to the right of the gate.

Not all donations to the Archive are as old as this drawing, not all are by as talented an artist as Francis Place, not all depict an outstanding building such as St Laurence’s Gate. But each is valuable in its own way; each is important. And each is accessible in the Reading Room in 45 Merrion Square to anyone who wishes to visit, peruse the catalogues and explore the Archive’s ever increasing holdings.

With thanks to Kate Gunn and John Taylor for donating the Frances Place drawing of St Laurence’s Gate, Drogheda, to the Irish Architectural Archive in memory of their father Arnold Taylor.


Colum O’Riordan,
General Manager,
April 2014