Guide to Pre 1840 Collections

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The city of Dublin has been governed by its own elected representatives since the 12th century. The Dublin City Assembly which flourished during the Middle Ages and survived until 1840, met at the great feasts of Christmas, Easter, Midsummer and Michaelmas for the transaction of business, but extra meetings could be held if necessary. The Mayor presided at meetings of the Assembly, whose members consisted of two sheriffs, 24 aldermen, 48 sheriffs’ peers and 96 representatives of the Dublin trade guilds. The municipal franchise was not democratic in the modern sense, as it was largely confined to members of the trade guilds and to their descendants.

Search or browse the Dublin City Assembly Archive online.

Dublin City Charters 1171 - 1727

Gallowglass from Dublin City Charter issued by Elizabeth I, 1582The City Archives includes the magnificent series of 102 Charters granted to the city by successive English monarchs. The earliest charter was issued by Henry II in 1171-1172, giving the men of Bristol the right to live in the City of Dublin. Later charters contain grants to the city of rights, privileges and property, and taken together they form the basis of municipal law in Ireland.

Search or browse the Dublin City Charters online.

Texts of selected charters can be accessed in the Calendar of Ancient Records of Dublin available in the Reading Room.

Guild Records 1192 - 1841

Dublin Guild Merchant Roll, c. 1200Guilds were mutual benefit associations which flourished in Western Europe from the 11th century. The guild system in Dublin was licensed under a charter by Prince John in 1192 and dominated the commercial and political life of the city. There were four types of Guilds: Guild Merchant or Merchant Guild, Craft Guilds or Trade Guilds, Religious Guilds and Military Guilds. Guild membership could be acquired by three means:

  • Service – by completion of an apprenticeship with a guild member
  • Birth – obtained by sons of guild members
  • Freedom – honorary membership to be conferred on dignitaries

Freedom Records 1225 - 1922

The ancient Freedom of Dublin was instituted at the time of the Norman Invasion. The inhabitants of Dublin in the middle ages were either free or non-free. Holders of the freedom of the city were known as ‘Free Citizens’ and were entitled to special trading privileges and the right to vote in parliamentary and municipal elections. In order to qualify for the freedom it was usually necessary to have been born within the city boundaries or ‘franchises’ and to be a member of one of the trade guilds of Dublin. Members of ‘the Irish nation’ were excluded, but in practice many people with Irish surnames succeeded in obtaining the freedom. Under the Penal Laws, Roman Catholics were excluded from the Freedom of Dublin from 1691 until 1793. Under the Representation of the Peoples Act, 1918, the ancient Freedom of Dublin was abolished to make way for a more democratic franchise. Nowadays all inhabitants of the city of Dublin who have reached the age of 18 are entitled to vote in municipal elections. It is possible to trace several generations of old Dublin families through these lists which form a useful source of genealogical research.

Search the Ancient Freemen of Dublin database.

Liber Albus or White Book of Dublin (13th – 17th century)

This book contains transcripts of documents in abbreviated Latin, French and old English relating to the administration of Dublin illustrating civic transactions with lands, buildings, mills and water-supplies. It contains one hundred and eleven leaves written on vellum and a translation of its contents is in the Calendar of Ancient Records of Dublin available in the Reading Room.

Chain Book of Dublin (14th - 17th century)

Chain Book of Dublin, mid 15th centuryThis book acquired its name from having been chained in the hallway of the Dublin Guildhall for reference by citizens. It contains lists of the laws and ordinances of the city of Dublin, legal proceedings and acts, lists of prisoners in Newgate and directions for pageants on Corpus Christi. The book is on vellum and a translation of its contents is contained in the Calendar of Ancient Records of Dublin is available for consultation in the Reading Room.

Assembly Rolls 1447 - 1841

Inscribed on parchment, the Rolls record the minutes of the Dublin City Assembly. Transcriptions of the Rolls can be viewed in the Calendar of Ancient Records of Dublin (19 Volumes) which is available for consultation in the Reading Room.

Expired Leases 1492 - 1869

Expired Lease no. 75, 1682The Expired Leases collection contains over 1,560 deeds relating to property generally owned by Dublin City Council and its predecessor the Dublin City Assembly. The collection relates to the leasing of premises predominately in the Dublin area but also in Rathbarry Co. Cork, Lisboyne Co. Laois, Rathmacree Co. Wexford, Baltinglass Co. Wicklow, Taghadoe, Co. Kildare, Co. Clare, Co. Carlow and Co. Louth. Dublin City Council also leased out a number of services and privileges to private enterprises such as: the Liffey Ferry Service; farming of oyster beds on the Liffey and at Poolbeg; and the collection of city tolls and customs. These deeds are also part of the Expired Leases collection. Deeds are legal documents which record accurate information on the names, addresses and trade, profession, business or marital status of an individual.

The Expired Leases Database is available for consultation in the Reading Room.

Dublin City Staple Books 1596 - 1678

Dublin City Staple SealWool, leather and sheepskins were designated as the staple or basic items of merchandise by Edward I in 1291 and could only be sold to foreign merchants in designated staple towns. Dublin, Drogheda and Cork were designated as Staple towns in the 13th century, with Waterford and Galway being added on separate occasions in the 14th century. No evidence of an organisation to enforce these regulations exist until 1530, it was known as the staple and its members were called staplers. The Dublin staple was closely linked with the Dublin City Assembly and the staple was gradually integrated into the civic administration. In 1573, the mayor of the staple was among six officials appointed as keepers of the keys to the hanaper, the oak casket which held the Dublin city seal. One of the most important functions of the Dublin staple in the 17th century was the recognizance of debts. The mayor of the staple had the power to imprison a default debtor, take possession of his goods and use them to make restitution to the creditor.

The Dublin City Staple Database is available for consultation in the Reading Room.

Dublin City Staple: Archives | Dublin City Staple: Introduction

Tholsell Court 1659 - 1762

The Tholsell or "Toll Booth" was erected in Christ Church Place and was one of the most important public buildings in the city. The collection includes the Tholsell court roll noting proceedings of the Court (regarding debt, trespassing etc.); Liber Querelorum (Complaints Book) which is a record of pleas heard in the Thosell Court; Recognizance Book recording name and station of the person offering the recognizance before the Tholsell court; Libri Manucaptori (Bail Book) record of bail granted; judgement Book giving summary of judgements handed down in the Tholsell Court; Book of Returns record of actions heard in the Tholsell Court and returned to a higher court; Precedent Book, a compilation of precedent and practice drawn from proceedings in the Tholsell Court.

The records of the court do not run continuously.

Tholsell Court Rolls List (PDF 155Kb)  Cannot access PDF?

Dublin City Surveyors – Book of Maps 1695 - 1827

Grafton Street, City Surveyor's Map, 1695Dublin City Assembly acted as one of a number of landlords with estates in the city following a policy of leasing its lands to improving tenants. The City Estate was leased to Dublin’s merchant class who built houses, stables, ware-houses and out-buildings on their holdings.

The post of the City Surveyor was established in the late 17th century when there was no overall planning authority for the city. The role of the City Surveyor was to record rather than to plan such development. His involvement in planning was confined to dividing ground in lots for setting. The collection is an example of urban cartography and documents the development of the ancient Dublin City Estate within the original walled city.

Search the Book of Maps of the Dublin City Surveyors (1695-1827) online.

Wide Streets Commissioners 1758 – 1851

Dubln Wide Street Commission, 1787The Commissioners for making Wide and Convenient Ways, Streets and Passages in the City of Dublin was established by an Act of Parliament in 1757. The Commission had extensive powers with the authority to acquire property by compulsory purchase, demolish it, lay down new streets and set lots along the new streets to builders for development.

The Commission created Parliament Street, Westmoreland Street and D’Olier Street, widened Dame Street, built Carlisle Bridge (now O’Connell bridge), and extended lower Sackville Street (O’Connell) down to the river Liffey.

The Commission was abolished under the Dublin Improvement Act of 1849 with the final completion of its work in 1851. The Collection contains a complete set of minute books; architectural drawings by leading architects; series of Jury Books and inquisitions containing valuations of properties purchased by the Commission; legal documents; series of leases to Henry Ottiwell; 800 manuscripts maps documenting the city before, during and after the work of the commission.

Search and browse the Archive of  Wide Street Commission Collection online.

Viewing of original Wide Street Commission maps and architectural drawings is strictly by appointment only. Email cityarchives@dublincity.ie for further information.

Wide Streets Commission Minute Books List (PDF 86KB) Cannot access PDF?

Wide Street Commission Maps

Wide Street Commission Map showing Thomas StreetMaps were commissioned by the Wide Streets Commission between 1757-1851 from land-surveyors and cartographers including Jonathan Barker, A.R. Neville, John Roe, Thomas and David Henry Sherrard and Samuel Sproule.   The maps document every aspect of the Wide Streets Commission’s work including acquisition of property; development plans; and layout of new streets.  Geographically, most maps relate to the area between the Grand and Royal Canals.  Collection includes maps produced 1681-1750 by Dublin City Surveyors for Dublin City Assembly, relating to property purchased by Wide Streets Commission and includes property in Co. Dublin

Dublin City Archives has an ongoing project to conserve and digitise the maps. Only maps which have been fully conserved are listed in the indexes and descriptive list below. In 2015, 16 additional were conserved, with the support of DCC Heritage Office and Dublin Public Libraries and Archives.

Search and browse the Wide Street Commission General Maps online.

View Wide Street Commission Maps Image Gallery.

Learn more about the Wide Street Commission and the ongoing map conservation project at Dublin City Library and Archive.

Conservation Notice:  In order to reduce handling damage and to ensure the long term preservation of these fragile drawings, all researchers are requested to view the digitised images in the first instance. High-Res versions can be provided on request.

Viewing of original drawings is strictly by appointment only: please apply to cityarchives@dublincity.iePlease note: A  minimum of 3 days notice is required to process your request and a maximum of 10 maps may be ordered per visit.

Wide Street Commission Architectural Drawings

WSC Map 445/2 ‘Elevation of North Side of College Green from Anglesea Street to Foster Place’.The Wide Streets Commission had the authority to determine and regulate the facades of buildings erected along the line of new streets developed by it. The Commission decided on the heights of buildings, the number of houses in a terrace, the materials to be employed and the type and spacing of windows. Builders had to conform to specifications and the Commission could, and did, order re-building where its instructions had been flouted.

As a by-product of its interest in and impact on the architecture of Dublin in the period 1757-1849, the Wide Streets Commission amassed a total of 60 elevations of buildings and terraces.

Search and browse the Wide Street Commission Architectural Drawings online.

The WSC Architectural Drawing Catalogue was prepared by Dr Mary Clark, City Archivist and published by Dublin City Council in 1988. It provides detailed description of the full set of architectural drawings in the archives of the Wide Street Commission. The catalogue is now being published online, along with an image gallery of the architectural drawings.

Wide Street Commission Architectural Drawings (PDF, 243KB) Cannot access PDF?

View Wide Street Commission Architectural Drawings Image Gallery

Conservation Notice:  In order to reduce handling damage and to ensure the long term preservation of these fragile drawings, all researchers are requested to view the digitised images in the first instance. High-Res versions can be provided on request.

Viewing of original drawings is strictly by appointment only: please apply to cityarchives@dublincity.iePlease note: A  minimum of 3 days notice is required to process your request and a maximum of 10 maps may be ordered per visit.

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