The buildings of Dublin’s quays are intrinsic to the character of the city and are synonymous with its modern development since the 17th century. They form a characterful ribbon of undulating facades and rooflines, providing a modest foil to grand public buildings such as the 18th-century Four Courts and Custom House.
This picturesque river scene may be considered the public face of Dublin – a parade of homes, workplaces, shops and amenities embracing the ebb and flow of the Liffey as is completes its journey to the sea.
Number 18 Ormond Quay Upper is a typical example of these merchant buildings, sited at the end of a terrace on the corner with Arran Street East overlooking Ormond Quay. It is positioned in an area that was originally located outside the walled medieval city on the south bank of the Liffey. The surrounding district on the north bank originally comprised the lands of St. Mary’s Abbey, a medieval Cistercian abbey that became one of the richest and most influential religious houses in Ireland by the 14th century. After its dissolution in 1539, its lands and property were incrementally redeveloped by private individuals including John Travers and the Viscounts Moore (later Earls of Drogheda).
1600 - 1700 Early development
The construction of Ormond Quay Upper and Lower – named after James Butler, 1st Duke of Ormonde - began during the 1670s with the development of the former lands of St. Mary’s Abbey by Sir Humphrey Jervis, and with the setting out of a formal quay-line and carriageway as part of the Corporation’s grant of substantial lands to Jonathan Amory in 1675.
These developments were facilitated by the construction of two bridges under the auspices of Jervis linking the walled medieval city with the new north-side suburbs: Essex Bridge (now Grattan Bridge), erected in the late 1670s, and Ormond Bridge (now O’Donovan Rossa Bridge), completed by 1684. The speculative development of the quay front soon followed, with the lands of Ormond Quay Upper developed as a fashionable residential parade with associated commercial uses under the freehold of Lord Santry, Henry Barry (later Earls of Barrymore).
Opposite: Approximate future site of Number 18 in 1673 encircled.
Number 18 originally started life as a river-fronting house constructed on the same site around the date 1680. Lease documentation indicates that intense building activity was already underway on Ormond Quay at this time, where Number 18 comprised just one of many houses and business premises being erected facing the river.
The earliest reference to the initial, likely 1680s house is a lease dated 29th February 1725, whereby William Meagher, gentleman, conveyed a lease for 48 years to William Cocksedge, gentleman, of:
'' all that house, messuage or tenement wherein Thomas Meaghar then dwelt on Ormond Quay, with the stables and warehouse lying partly behind it and partly behind Mr. Butler's holding ... at the yearly rent of £32...''
It is probable that the ‘warehouse’ refers to the rear house, or more likely the site of the present rear house, at No.67 Arran Street East.
This original late 17th-century building is likely to have been typical of modest city houses of its time, consisting of two storeys of brick construction with a steeply pitched dormer roof with a dormer window. Mullioned windows with small panes of glass known as ‘leaded lights’ would have overlooked the river.
Lease documents indicate that the initial 1680s house was substantially rebuilt in the years 1742-43 by one David Read, bricklayer, recorded in a mortgage deed dated September 1743. It recites:
''. . William Cocksedge was since dead and that Margaret Cocksedge, his widow and executrix by an endorsement on the back of the said lease dated 31 Aug. 1742, in consideration of £95 to her paid by the said David Read [brick-layer] did assign and make over unto the said David Read the said lease from the said William Meagher and all the ground, houses and premises thereby demised and all buildings and improvements thereon for the remainder of the said term of 48 years to commence from the 29th September then next at & under the rent & covenants of the said lease, and reciting that the said David Read was then building a good dwelling house and making other improvements on the said demised ground . . .''
It would appear that this new house is the house depicted on John Rocque’s map of 1756. It is likely to have been a typical gabled-fronted ‘Dutch Billy’, of brick construction with flush-framed sash windows and a two-room internal plan. This house style became commonplace in Dublin from the 1690s until the 1750s and can usually be identified by a distinctive ‘closet return’ hosting a series of small rooms projecting to the rear - as visible on Rocque’s map.
Opposite: Likely gabled appearance of the house constructed in the early 1740s.
During the period 1760-1770s, the former building to the rear of Number 18 was substantially altered or demolished and replaced with the present building,. This was recorded from this point onwards as a ‘warehouse’ – a term commonly used in the Georgian period to describe a shop premises. It is the oldest part of the present building and exhibits important 1760s features including an impressive Rococo cornice at first floor level, chunky architectural joinery and an early sash window with thick glazing bars. The building originally featured a pitched roof and an additional row of three windows overlooking the street – all since removed during the 20th century.
Title deeds record the issue of a new lease of “that house and warehouse” at No.18 Ormond Quay Upper owned by Arthur Dawson to James and Galbraith Hamilton, merchants, on 25th April 1789 for 61 years at £40 yearly.
It is likely that improvements were carried out at this time, including the integration of the front and rear buildings with a staircase straddling both structures. This stairs was probably the present main staircase surviving in the upper levels of Number 18, which is stylistically of the 1780s-1820s period, and which originally may have spanned the area now occupied by the Edwardian open-well stairs in the rear building and part of the present stairs position in the front building. This is also suggested by an 1842 lease plan which shows proposed improvements based on the existing 18th-century plan, with the stairs spanning both buildings.
The building may also have been updated in line with classicing improvements elsewhere in the city, with the likely curvilinear gable built up into a flat parapet.
Opposite: 1842 lease plan showing interconnection of the front and rear buildings. This plan appears to be anticipating rebuilding of the premises (then a tavern) with a shop, while replicating the previous layout. It is not clear if this plan was exactly executed, but it is likely that it was. Note the awkward position of the proposed staircase straddling both buildings.
1821 - Earliest recorded occupant of No.18 - tavern
In 1821, a new lease was issued from James Hamilton and John Hamilton of the City of Dublin, Merchants and Carpenters in Trade, to John Conroy, publican, “that house and concerns on Upper Ormond Quay … at present known as Number 20” on 6th April 1821 for 28 years at £80 yearly. This house was the same house built in the 1740s and likely modified in 1789. The lowly tavern function would also suggest a building of some antiquity and probable decrepitude by this point.
Particular emphasis was noted in the lease that John Conroy:
“shall not carry on or permit to be carried on, on the said demised premises or any part thereof, the business of a grocer or cause or permit to be sold groceries of any description save as such publicans usually sell, without the consent in writing first … obtained of the said James or John Hamilton…”
Also recorded on the rear of the lease:
“Schedule of articles contained in the demised premises to be returned in good and sufficient order on determination of the within demise, reasonable wear and tear excepted:
One iron safe in parlour with locks and keys
One marble chimneypiece and stove grate in front drawing room”
In July 1842, Number 18 was described in lease documents as being:
“in a very decayed and ruinous state and in danger of falling, and the said James Hamilton being about to expend a large sum of money in taking down and rebuilding same…”
“he hath applied to the said Anne Conroy and requested of her to assign and make over to him all her estate and interest (if any she now have) and all her right or equity of redemption in and to the said dwelling house and premises unto him the said James Hamilton which she hath agreed to do.”
With a consideration of ten shillings sterling paid by James Hamilton Esq. to Anne Conroy, Conroy “assigned, surrendered and yielded up” the premises at No.20 [No.18] Ormond Quay Upper on the 21st July 1842.
1842-1845 - Rebuilding Number 18
The essential exterior appearance of Number 18 today dates from the period of rebuilding in the early 1840s, with upper floor walls of wigged yellow brick (currently pebbledashed), a shallow-pitched roof, modest chimneystacks and a ground floor side elevation rendered in Roman cement - all characteristic features of the period.
The blind-arcaded granite shopfront appears to comprise a remodelling of the older shopfront from the previous building that was probably installed in c.1789, recycling the sheer granite piers, arches and spandrels of that earlier period, augmented with insert blocks to the piers dressed with cast-iron corbels to give additional height to the new, high-ceilinged shop interior.
Henry Shaw's Dublin Pictorial Directory of 1850 clearly depicts this new shopfront configuration approximately seven years after it was built. It shows a centrally-placed entrance with windows to the arches on each side. These arches feature a vent or grille pattern to the window aprons, which may have taken the form of decorative cast- or wrought-iron hoops, a lattice pattern, or cast-iron balusters.
1902 - Further improvements by Edward Corcoran, grocer
Considerable improvements were carried out to the property in 1902 by a new grocer occupant, Edward Corcoran, including installing proper sewers and water closets in the building, as noted in the lease:
"Edward Corcoran … will erect, build and construct in a proper and workmanlike manner all such sewers and other sanitary appliances and requisites as shall be required in or upon the said demised premises to the satisfaction of the Sanitary Authority of the City of Dublin or other Local Sanitary Authority…"
Corcoran was also required to: "within one year of the date of here lay out and expend the sum of £400 at the least in the manner described by and to the satisfaction of the said Robert Claude Hamilton … in permanent improvement on the said premises … to be expended under the supervision and to the satisfaction of Architect of the Landlord…"
It was at this point that the central entrance to the shopfront, existing since 1843, was moved to the corner, with both archways opened up and the corner glazed screen installed. This features a set of double-doors and sidelights hosting decorative glass etched with the cipher 'EC' for Edward Corcoran.
1912 - Douglas Hotel & Restaurant
The Douglas Hotel and Restaurant was established at Number 18 in 1912 and was already an established family-run enterprise on Eden Quay in the early years of the 20th century. The acquisition of Number 18 appears to have formed an expansion to the business, which itself was hastily rebuilt on Eden Quay in 1917 following the destruction of 1916 and which operated on Ormond Quay until 1937-1938.
The Southern Hotel subsequently moved into the premises in 1938, which by 1948 was listed as the Southern Restaurant only. From this time onwards it the upper floors were used as an informal boarding house until the occupation of the Watts brothers c.1970.
1970 - Watts Bros. Ltd., gun & rifle makers, fishing tackle manufacturers
The famous Watts brothers moved from an established shop on Abbey Street to 18 Ormond Quay Upper in 1969-1970. Originally trading in shooting equipment, firearms and fishing tackle such as handmade feathered flies, the business concentrated entirely on fishing in its latter years.
The initial trading in firearms prompted the breeze-blocking up of all upper floor rear and side elevation windows and the installation of security alarms. By this stage, the shop interior did not retain any historic elements of note. It appears that the Watts inserted the current stairs that leads from the ground floor shop to first floor level. The business closed in the year 2000.
In more recent times, the building was occupied and carefully maintained by Farcry Productions, who installed the memorable Adifferentkettleoffishaltogether signage. Many creative enterprises have been undertaken in the building during that time, lening Number 18 a uniquely enigmatic presence on the Liffey quays.