Founded in 1817 by Thomas Gresham, the Gresham Hotel occupied three Georgian houses on the east side of Upper Sackville Street, later O’Connell Street, Dublin. Much altered and expanded over the years, the hotel was destroyed in the fighting of early July 1922 which heralded the start of the Civil War. Funds secured under the Government compensation scheme enabled the Gresham Hotel Company to rebuild. On 29 October 1926 a contract was signed with builders McLaughlin & Harvey for a new 250 bedroom hotel to be built to designs by architects Robert Atkinson and A.F.B. Anderson. This photograph, taken in the first half of 1927, shows construction workers labouring on the reinforced concrete roof of the new hotel. Behind them is a view across the city from the Rotunda to the Kings Inns, with the roof of St Saviour’s on Dominick Street a notable feature. ‘Ferro-concrete’, as it was then called, had been first used extensively in Ireland during the rebuilding of Lower O’Connell Street after 1916. It was preferred for its fire resistant qualities, its availability, its speed in use, and its lower cost, and was used extensively again to rebuild Upper O’Connell Street in the second half of the 1920s.
Here McLaughlin & Harvey’s ‘concrete squad’ are tamping a section of freshly poured concrete. Their attire – jackets, waistcoats, shirts and flat caps – was very typical of building labourers of the time. Speaking at the opening ceremony for the newly completed hotel on 16 April 1927, Robert Atkinson noted that he had found ‘Dublin tradesmen were really first-rate and he had nothing to complain about. He had not struck such good workmanship for many years as that which was put into the building of that hotel’.
In 1995, while the Patents Office was still in occupancy, a robbery occurred at 45 Merrion Square and a number of chimneypieces were removed from the building. Included with those taken were three that had been noted by Alison Kelly in her 1965 history of decorative Wedgwood.
‘There are three chimney-pieces inset with Wedgwood plaques at No 45 Merrion Square set in the very simple marble surrounds of the turn of the [nineteenth] century. One of them has, instead of a rectangular fire-opening, the ogee line which was popular in France and infrequently used in Great Britain… The plaques are blue and green used together, for two chimney-pieces, and one entirely green.’
Alison Kelly, Decorative Wedgwood in Architecture and Furniture (London, 1965)
One of these Wedgwood chimneypieces, that featuring the life of Achilles, had been illustrated in the Georgian Society Records of Eighteenth Century Domestic Architecture and Decoration in Dublin (vol. IV, plate 94 (Dublin, 1909)) and photographs of all three were included by Kelly in her book. The chimneypieces were also recorded by the Irish Architectural Archive when it carried out a photographic survey of No. 45 in 1986, a full decade before there was any suggestion that the house might one day become its home.
As Kelly noted, the style of the chimneypieces – plain, but in one case with the ogee flourish – was the product of a Dublin marble workshop responding to specifically local tastes. This combination of local craftsmanship and imported jasperware makes the chimneypieces significant in the history of interior decoration and design in late 18C Dublin. The motifs of the jasperware plaques featured scenes from Greek mythology, notably the life of Achilles, and Kelly suggested that this implies a post 1790 manufacture date. This in turn implies that the chimneypieces are original to the house, inserted during or shortly after construction c. 1795.
Somewhat miraculously, two of the stolen Wedgwood chimneypieces were recovered by An Garda Síochána, one rectangular and one ogee. (The whereabouts of third chimneypiece remains a mystery.) These were reinstated in No. 45 during the restoration of the house by the OPW for the Irish Architectural Archive from 2003 to 2004. However, due to the theft, they had sustained some damage to uprights, lintels and shelves, and between them had lost a total of six of their jasperware plaques.
In 2016, Maighread McParland, former Head of Conservation in the National Gallery of Ireland and an old friend of the Irish Architectural Archive, undertook a project to have the chimneypieces restored. She made contact with Wedgwood (now part of the Fiskars group of companies) and tenaciously pursued them until they found the original moulds for four of the missing plaques. With financial support from the Primrose Trust, the four new plaques were ordered.
Lorna Barnes, an experienced conservator, took on the task of reinserting the four plaques, and cleaning the chimneypieces. This work was completed during the first Covid-19 lockdown of 2020.
Wedgwood have been unable to find the moulds for the central oval plaques to each chimneypiece, but temporary copies of these are now in place pending the exploration of other options for their recreation. Meanwhile, the replacement of the other missing plaques has transformed the appearance of the chimneypieces, and indeed of the rooms they occupy. They shine once again as elegant decorative features in these light-filled spaces.
The Irish Architectural Archive is grateful to Maighread McParland, Primrose Wilson and Lorna Barnes for their help on this project.
Featuring over forty original architectural drawings, as well as publications, models and photographs, for residential projects in Ireland, House and Home marks the fortieth anniversary of the Archive. An important criterion for the selection of these projects was that they should include at least one item acquired in each of the years of the Archive’s existence. House and Home is therefore a cross-section through the strata of the Archive, an expression of the richness and depth of its holdings. House and Home runs in the Architecture Gallery from Wednesday 26 October 2016 to Friday 31 March 2017.
A multi-media theatrical performance in Italian with English subtitles by the Fondazione Franco Albini
Conceived, written and directed by Paola Albini, Il coraggio del proprio tempo is the story of the Modern Movement and Design. The text is integrated with authentic videos and pictures of the time and is an overview of Italy between the two World Wars and of the intellectuals of the time. It is the story of Rationalism in Italy, the central role of the city of Milan and the life of the people who fought against a totalitarian regime in order to establish a Movement based on social redemption.
The fourth of a quartet of exhibitions in the Irish Architectural Archive exploring aspects of the architectural impact and legacy of 1916, Diagramming the Archive is now on in the front hall of 45 Merrion Square, Dublin 2.
This exhibition features new large-format prints of photographs of central Dublin taken by the antiquarian Thomas Westropp in the aftermath the Easter Rising. They are a vivid, still shocking, record of the destruction wrought to the centre of Dublin between 24 and 29 April 1916.