14 Henrietta Street tells the story of 300 years of life within the walls of one Georgian house in Dublin city. Built over five floors, with a basement, it is located on one of the most beautiful, still intact, Georgian streets I have seen. On the day I visited with some friends we had a wonderful guide in Dublin actor, Phelim Drew (Yes, son of Ronnie Drew of The Dubliners’ fame). He brought the stories of the house to life for us as he took us through the various rooms.
It was built originally as a townhouse for a wealthy family and its first occupants were The Right Honourable Richard Lord Viscount Molesworth and his much younger second wife.
We were told the story of their lives, the babies that were born there and the social lives of the Dublin elite at that time.
In the 1800s, following The Acts of Union, many of the wealthy and powerful families re-located to London. The street was then taken over by the legal profession (it is right beside The King’s Inns) and at one stage it was even a barracks.
Changes by mid-1880s
But all this changed in the latter part that century. The population of the city increased and landlords took advantage of the demand for housing by converting many of Dublin’s beautiful Georgian houses into flats. In 1877, Thomas Vance bought 14 Henrietta Street, ripped out the grand staircase and housed 19 families in the once grand townhouse. By 1911, 100 people lived there.
The earlier part of the tour had taken us through the largely unfurnished, grand rooms of the earlier years of the house (below), brought to life by our wonderful guide and some audio-visual presentations. Amazingly, the floorboards are original.
Then we moved through a door and into a corridor and stairs painted in the original Reckitts Blue and Raddle Red, colours synonymous with Dublin tenements. You can almost smell the damp and hear the voices of the people who lived there: women chatting, men returning home drunk, children playing.
Our guide then brought us below ground level to get an idea of what it was like to live in a Dublin basement tenement in the early years of the 20th century. Life was pretty grim then, as the photo (below) indicates.
Housing eventually became a priority for the new Irish State and Dublin Corporation set out to improve living conditions for families. Houses were built outside the city centre with plenty of trees and fresh air, but not all families found the move satisfactory. Many missed the old ways of living in close proximity to your neighbours.
The tour’s finale was a faithfully recreated flat of the final residents of 14 Henrietta Street.
Many of us on the tour were brought back to our childhood with items such as Green Shield Stamps (below).
And there are other items that may resonate with some of you in the photo below.
In 1978, the final residents of 14 Henrietta Street tenement flats left the house and the once beautiful Georgian mansion fell into serious disrepair.
Dublin City Council bought the house in 2000 and following intensive and expensive restoration opened the doors to the public in September 2018.
The hour and a quarter tour of the house included several short, very interesting audio-visual presentations interspersed with the excellent storytelling style of our tour guide.
This is a wonderful experience for anyone (natives and visitors alike) wishing to learn more about Dublin, its history and its people over the past 300 years. And I believe it is very good value for its price of €9 with concessions of €6 for students, children and OAPs.
You can book a tour online at www.14henriettastreet.ie