Woolen Mill on North Great Clarence Street

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Woollen Mill, Clarence StreetRecently, I was asked if I knew anything about the woolen mill on North Great Clarence Street. I had to admit that I had never heard of one but immediately resolved to find out more about it. The premises in question (No. 46) now houses the D-Lightg Studios, described on their website as ‘a creative, multi-functional space housed in a converted woolen mill’.

 

Woollen Mill, 46 Clarence St
[D-Light Studio, 46 North Great Clarence Street]

It is a very attractive building in the middle of an area that is full of contrasts and redolent with history. North Great Clarence Street and Dunne Street (with which the building intersects) have a healthy mixture of housing, from neat early 20th century terraces to later blocks of local authority flats and senior citizens communities, interspersed with institutional buildings like St. Agatha’s Roman Catholic Church, St. Vincent’s Schools for girls and boys and the beautiful Charleville Mall Library.

Charleville Library
 Charleville Mall Library, 1987 (Dublin City Library and Archives Digital Collection)

Checking through the 1901 and 1911 Census returns online, I found that in 1901 No. 46 was described as a ‘private dwelling’, a class 2 building (meaning it had between 6 and 11 rooms) and the head of the household was listed as Mr. John Kelly. He was living in the house with his wife Mary and his two sons, James and John. John Kelly Senior’s occupation was Carriers Foreman and his two sons were van drivers. Nos. 47 to 49 were described as a factory while no. 45 was a tenement’. The street held mainly tenements and private dwellings, with one or two shops.

In the 1911 Census the house at No. 46 was occupied by Mrs. Elizabeth Rudd, a widow who was living with her daughter and son and a lodger. Elizabeth Rudd’s occupation is described as home duties, but her daughter Mary is described as engaged in ‘home duties in shipper’s office’, suggesting she might have been working as a housekeeper, perhaps in the factory next door. Thomas Rudd was working as a clerk and the lodger, Charles Blythe is described as an ‘artist’.

The next step was a trip to the Archives in Pearse Street to have a look at the Thom’s Directories. The 1901 Directory was exciting because the listing for the building identified the owner and purpose of the factory:

  • 46-49 (Intersection with Dunne Street). Wallis & Son, factory and houses. £120 [rateable valuation]
  • Mail cart contractors, general carriers, railway and steam packet agents, etc.
  • 33 Bachelor’s Walk, 103c Summerhill, 12 Eblana Avenue, Kingstown, 31a Portland Row and 2/3 Litton Lane.

Could this be the John Wallis who was chairman of the Master Carters’ Association, one of the most influential bodies in the Federation of Employers during the 1913 Lockout in Dublin? My question was answered by a trawl through previous editions of the Directory, which showed that between 1893 and 1899 numbers 46-51 were described as ‘building ground’. The listing in 1900 was the same as the one quoted above for 1901 and it also showed that Wallis & Son had stables at No. 38.

The Wallis company’s traditional carrier business involved them in one of the most significant disputes in Irish industrial history. Padraig Yeates points out in his monumental Lockout Dublin 1913 that Wallis & Son was one of the main transport firms in the city, with two hundred horse-drawn vehicles lying idle after the strike began in August 1913. Many of its larger customers were starting to invest in motor transport but John Wallis seems to have resisted the option because he thought it would be prejudicial to the settlement of the dispute. Padraig Yeates notes that a motor show in London late in 1913 credited the Lockout with the upsurge of orders from Ireland for motorised vans and lorries. Those employers who did invest in motorised transport were later to make many carters redundant, as there was no longer a need for their particular skills. After a partial settlement of the strike had been reached in January 1913, Wallis & Son only took back a very small number of carters.

In the 1911 Census, John Wallis was 46 years old, living with his wife and four children in Dundrum in County Dublin.  He was an opponent of Home Rule, citing economic grounds. His position is likely to have been influenced by his railway agency business and his close connections with the railway companies and their directors, who were mainly opposed to Home Role. This was despite the convictions of William Martin Murphy, leader of the Dublin Federation of Employers but also a committed Home Ruler. Wallis was a member of the Church of Ireland and Murphy was a Roman Catholic but positions on the question of remaining in the Union or seeking Home Rule were not always dictated by religious affiliations and frequently had more to do with economic concerns.

William Martin Murphy
William Martin Murphy, pictured in the Lady of the House, 1910 (Dublin City Library and Archive Collection)

A search of subsequent volumes of Thom’s showed that in 1930 Wallis & Son were no longer listed as the owners of 46-50 North Great Clarence Street. In 1960, Nos. 40-45 were demolished, and No. 46 was taken over by R. Barrett & Company Limited, who were wool merchants. The Thom’s listing for the Barrett company simply describes it as ‘wool merchants’ but does not mention a milling enterprise.  The company was originally from Ballina but seems to have moved the business to Dublin. No specific usage is listed for No. 46 but presumably the reference to wool merchandising is where the suggestion originated that a woolen mill was based in the building. The last Thom’s entry for Barrett & Co. was in 1983 and for the next thirty years until the D-Light Studio opened in 2017 the premises in North Great Charles Street was occupied by a series of crash repairers and mechanics and other motor related services.

My interest in this fascinating building was initially sparked by the challenge of finding out what a woolen mill was doing in the middle of a densely populated urban area at the turn of the twentieth century. I haven’t been able to answer that question, or indeed to find out if there was a woolen mill at all. It seems more likely that the Barrett company was using the premises as a storehouse and distribution centre, since they consistently described themselves as ‘wool merchants’ rather than ‘wool millers’. Perhaps local knowledge can fill in the gaps in the archival evidence? Regardless, what I was lucky enough to find is a beautiful example of industrial design that on the outside at least is preserved much as it would have been when it was built in 1900, apart from the incursion of weeds in the stonework and likely structural problems given the lapse of time.
 

Dr. Mary Muldowney, Historian in Residence, Dublin City Library and Archive.

Dublin City Council Historians in Residence are available to meet groups and schools, give talks, walks etc, run history book clubs and advise on historical research.

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