The Street

Aungier Street was laid out c.1661 by Francis Aungier, 3rd Baron and later 1st Earl of Longford, as one of Dublin’s first residential suburbs outside the old city walls. Developed as a speculative venture, it was designed as a fashionable residential enclave measuring an impressive 70 feet (21m) in width, making it one of the widest streets in Dublin at the time. Aungier was an influential member of the Convention Parliament of 1660 and hence one of the few people in Dublin who could claim to have had a direct hand in the restoration of the monarchy.

With property interests in both London and Dublin, Aungier was ideally positioned to know what the prevailing architectural fashions were in London and to direct that his developments in Dublin conformed to those tastes. His Aungier Street enterprise successfully pursued this strategy, attracting some of the wealthiest and most influential individuals in the city to take up residence in large-scale mansions, conveniently and strategically located next to the viceregal court in Dublin Castle. Notable early residents included Sir Robert Reading, Robert Ware, Sir Henry Ingolsby and the Earl of Donegal.

John Rocque's Map of Dublin, 1756. Number 21 is depicted as the largest house on the street.

John Rocque's Map of Dublin, 1756. Number 21 is depicted as the largest house on the street.

Early development

The new thoroughfare cut though the old monastic precinct of Whitefriars that Aungier’s grandfather had acquired subsequent to the dissolution of the monasteries in 1539. Its distinctive, lozenge-shaped outline can still be determined in the curving street pattern of the area. Other lands in the Aungier estate were obtained from the City, from the Vicar’s Choral of St. Patrick’s Cathedral and from St. Peter’s parish.

Aungier Street was, in many ways, a template for the future urban expansion of the city.  In time, developers such as Dawson, Domville, Dominick and Gardiner, and ultimately the Wide Streets Commissioners in the second half of the 18th century, all followed the basic template set out by Aungier. The concept of a simple wide street as the genus loci of a new suburban development clearly had a resonance in Dublin and it remains one of Aungier's enduring legacies.

The initial wave of development on the street consisted of a mixture of large-scale mansions predominantly located on the east side of the street, as well as a number of smaller houses catering for the merchant class. Many of these houses were built in the Anglo-Dutch style commonplace in London at the time, usually of three storeys with massive square chimneystacks, steeply pitched roofs, dormer windows and overhanging bracketed eaves. Surviving examples include Numbers 9-9A and Number 21, both of which were extensively modified during the 19th and 20th centuries, altering their exterior appearance beyond recognition of their original form.

Opposite: The King James Mint at 27 Capel Street was constructed in 1689. Its steeply pitched roof, dormer windows and bracketed eaves cornice are similar to the style of mansion erected on Aungier Street during its early phase of development.

Second wave

A second wave of development occurred on Aungier Street during the 1720s and 1730s when James McCartney and Michael Cuffe inherited the estate. By this stage, demand for larger houses had fallen and speculation turned to cater for the merchant class and barristers, taking the form of gable-fronted brick houses or ‘Dutch Billies’ with distinctive curvilinear gables, cruciform-shaped roofs and projecting rear closet returns. Much of the fashionable move away from Aungier Street was influenced by the development of other estates such as those of Dawson, Jervis and Molesworth, as well as the competition from nearby St. Stephen’s Green.

This caused a number of the existing large mansions on the street to be subdivided into smaller houses, apartments and business premises from the early 18th century onwards. These were also joined by new purpose-built residential streets such as Cuffe Street and Digges Street which were lined with fashionable gable-fronted houses.

In turn, many of these buildings were modified during the later Georgian and Victorian periods, when a number of new commercial premises were built on the street, often recycling the carcasses of much older, existing buildings. This has characterised the nature of development on Aungier Street up to the present day, and is the reason it continues to throw up architectural 'surprises' behind deceptive facades. 

Opposite: Digges Street towards the end of the 19th century showing a terrace of gable-fronted houses dating from the second wave of development in the Aungier Street area during the 1720s-1730s. They feature rounded-headed, cut stone doorcases with emphatic keystones in a style popularised by the Irish architect Thomas Burgh. Stone platbands dress the facades and exposed box sash windows are still apparent.

Number 21

Number 21 Aungier Street was built in the 1660s for Robert Reading, Esq., a powerful colleague of the Duke or Ormond and also developer of a large tract of Aungier Street and adjacent York Street following extensive land acquisition in 1672. Ultimately, he built an even larger mansion for himself on the west end of York Street facing St. Stephen’s Green and the house was subsequently occupied by the Parson family, Earls of Rosse.

Number 21’s construction was similar to many houses of the period, representing the transition from the timber-framed building tradition of the late medieval period into the mass masonry age. Identifiable features in Number 21 include the use of timber framing infilled with panels of brickwork, massive square beams supporting floors and ceilings, and substantial square-shaped chimneystacks to the gable and spine walls. To the centre of the house, the original staircase survives within a self-supporting timber-framed compartment, consisting of six full flights featuring handsome vase-shaped balusters, a low chunky handrail and shallow steps.

By the early 18th century, Number 21 was occupied by William Fielding, a coach maker, who was based there for much of the 1700s. Next door, Number 22 was owned by Alderman King, maker of the magnificent brass staircase in Castletown House, and was also occupied for a time by the famed sculptor, Van Nost The Younger.

Number 21 was extensively modified in the late Georgian period, involving reconstruction of its front façade to conform with the regular classical format of Dublin street architecture. It was at this time that the house was likely to have lost its original steeply pitched roof that probably featured dormer windows and a heavy bracketed eaves cornice. This alteration may have been carried out by one John Gardner or Gardiner, cabinet-maker and upholsterer, who occupied the premises from 1792-1805 or immediately after his occupation. Robert Gibton of the famed Dublin cabinet makers and upholders, Mack, Williams & Gibton, was also based here during 1789-1793 before moving to Number 28 in 1794.

In spite of these changes, the original massive central staircase and much of the early structural timber framing characteristic of the 1660s survived into the late 20th century. It was this remarkable early fabric, concealed behind the later Georgian façade, that was first identified by the architectural authority Ian Lumley in the early 1990s. Thus began the process of Dublin Civic Trust moving to secure the house and advance its restoration.

17th-century timber-framed walls supporting the original staircase

17th-century timber-framed walls supporting the original staircase