Tuesday, 22 January 2019

How a woman brought
Victorian housing to
the streets of Wexford

The terraced houses on Upper George’s Street, developed in Wexford in the 1870s and 1880s by Mary O’Connor (Photograph: Patrick Comerford, 2019)

Patrick Comerford

It is easy to pay attention to the historical, commercial and ecclesiastical architecture of Wexford. The shops and premises on Main Street and the streets leading off it, such as the former Mechanics Institute, churches such as Saint Iberius, the Friary Church and Richard Pierce’s ‘Twin Churches,’ historic buildings from West Gate, Selskar Abbey and the town walls to Cromwell’s former House, Cornmarket and the YMCA, or modern buildings such as the new library, constantly attract the attention of photographers and architectural and local historians alike.

But in the side streets off North and South Main Street, the domestic architecture of Wexford also has interesting stories to tell.

In my early 20s, when I lived in Wexford in the mid-1970s, I was familiar with the Abbey Cinema on Upper George’s Street, and still remember the party atmosphere there when as a group of friends we attended a weekend late-night screening of Pink Floyd at Pompeii.

The Abbey Cinema is long gone, and has been replaced by modern commercial and residential buildings. But across the street, on the other side of Upper George’s Street, an interesting terrace of grouped, late Victorian houses, provides an interesting example of the development of housing in Wexford in the 1880s.

No 6-8 Upper George’s Street is an end-of-terrace, three-bay three-storey house, built in 1883, and now in use as offices. It is one of a terrace of four houses forming part of a group of seven.

This well-composed, middle-size house was built by Mrs Mary O’Connor (1837-1927), who is an interesting example of a woman who was a property developer and building contractor at the end of the 19th century. She developed a number of other terraces of houses in Wexford, including Glena Terrace with eight houes on Spawell Road, in 1890-1895.

She built her terraced houses on a site owned by the Bolton family of Island House as one of a terrace of four related houses that form part of a larger group of seven houses.

They make a interesting and imaginative contribution to the streetscape of Upper George’s Street Upper with their rooflines corresponding with or following the slight incline or slope in the street.

These houses have kept much of their unique character despite undergoing extensive redevelopment in the late 20th century, and they still have their early iron work and cast-iron embellishments.

No 10 is a terraced, two-bay, three-storey house that is part of this terrace of four forming part of a group of seven.

This is a well composed middle-size house that has been turned into apartments. It has been reasonably well maintained and retains much of its original features.

No 12 is a two-bay three-storey house that is part of a terrace of four forming part of a group of seven. This is another well composed middle-size house built by Mary O’Connor.

No 14 is a terraced two-bay three-storey house, built by Mary O’Connor in 1883, and is one of a terrace of four forming part of a group of seven. The square-headed door opening has a cut-granite step and a hollow timber panelled pilaster doorcase on cut-granite padstones, and the timber panelled door has an overlight. Inside, the windows still have timber panelled shutters.

No 16 is a terraced, two-bay three-storey house, built in 1876 by Mary O’Connor. It is one of a terrace of three forming part of this group of seven, and is now in apartments. The square-headed door opening has a cut-granite step, there is a hollow timber panelled pilaster doorcase on cut-granite padstones, and the timber panelled door has overlight. Inside, some of the windows still have timber panelled reveals or shutters.

No 18 is also a terraced, two-bay three-storey house, built by Mary O’Connor in 1876, when she was still in her 30s. This house, which is now divided into apartments, is one of a terrace of three forming part of this group of seven.

Here too there is a square-headed door opening with a cut-granite step, a hollow timber panelled pilaster doorcase on cut-granite padstones, and a timber panelled door with overlight. Inside, some of the windows also retaining their timber panelled reveals or shutters.

This group of houses, although it attracts little if any attention from visitors to Wexford, makes a positive contribution to the streetscape of Upper George’s Street and of Wexford town.