At numbers 27 and 28 on New Row South in Blackpitts sits an old calp limestone, brick and slate warehouse currently home to South Studios. Over a dozen companies are currently based here, from a variety of fields including fashion, design and photography, creating a small ecosystem of collaborative endeavour. A former distillery, tannery, warehouse, creative studio and now – maybe – soon to be apartments, much of the history of the Blackpitts and Dublin’s industrial and architectural evolution can be told through this building and its environs.
The Poddle, historically Dublin’s freshwater source, flows beneath the building’s car park and down the back of the east side of New Row South towards St. Patricks Cathedral (originally ‘St Patrick’s de Insula’, a church on an island within the river). At the end of New Row South on Francis Street, the Franciscans had a Friary from 1233 until the dissolution of the monasteries by Henry VIII in 1541. The lands transferred to W. Brabazon, the Earl of Meath, whose ancestors in 1674 were given charter to establish markets in the area leading to the establishment of New Market Square. Closer by, on Fumbally Lane, archaeologists excavated medieval timber-lined pits associated with tannery use, from where the Blackpitts area gets its name.
New Row South was laid out in 1756, and in the early 19th century (1836) John Busby built the building now at 27/28 as an extension to the existing distillery. The building’s outdoor car park is contained in the ground floor of a four-storey shell of another of Busby’s babes – you can still see his initials ’JB’ on the rooftop water tank of the adjoining building on Fumbally Lane.
The name of the lane is derived from the Huguenot surname Fombily who set out the lane in 1720. French Huguenots, Dutch and Flemish Protestants fled their respective countries from persecution for their non-Catholic beliefs, bringing both skills and capital. They also brought the Dutch Billy, a 17th century gable-fronted construction style, that became common throughout the city. At the time the historical photo was taken (circa 1880) the buildings were possibly as much as 200 years old. The gables have been heavily modified and the windows recessed into the walls (an ordnance resulting from Great Fire of London). The new fashion was for the Georgian style and its popularity resulted in the remodelling of virtually every Dutch Billy. It’s confounding to think that from being a style that characterised the built landscape of the city from around 1670 to 1800, not one Billy remains.
The distillery ultimately became a tannery some time after 1883 – exactly when is now uncertain – but certainly by time Joyce wrote Ulysses. He obliquely references number 27/28 when characterising Fumbally Lane where the prostitutes hung out by the smell of ‘the Tanyard’ run by Kelly, Dunne & Co.:
‘Buss her, wap in rogues run lingo, for, O, my dimber wapping dell! A shefiend’s whiteness under her rancid rags. Fumbally’s lane that night: the tanyard smells.’
Number 27/28 – South Studios as we call it – is a ten-bayed, three-storey structure with a steel trussed and slated roof. At the ground floor, two large vaulted gateways have been in-filled, one by the ESB for a sub-station (always sensitive to our heritage). The complex, as a maltster and distillery must have employed hundreds of people. There’s presumably the remains of an old granite flagged floor in our ground level studio. Maybe we should do a bit of archaeology ourselves, the might have left some booze behind!
Approaching its 180th birthday, the building is to be remade again, as she’s due to come on the market with full planning permission for luxury apartments with ‘all the trimmings’. I wonder what Fombily, Busby et al would make of it. Being entrepreneurial folk I’d imagine they’d be tickled by the idea of sub-dividing a tannery into a home for the wealthy.
In this context our eight-year occupation of the building seems almost insignificant. Yet, in our tenure, we have seen the area navigate a recession, the establishment of the first Dublin distilleries in over a hundred years and actual new markets in Newmarket, continuing a tradition legally established in 1674 by charter to the Earl of Meath. Where do we go from here? While you watch this space, we’ll be looking for ours.
Gearóid Carvill is a partner at abgc Architecture and Design, Tankcollective and cofounder of the Dublin Honey Project and has been based in 27/28 New Row South since July 2007.
Words: Gearóid Carvill
Photograph: Sean Breithaupt www.seanandyvette.com