Wide Streets Commission

Repository: Dublin City Archives

Identity Statement

TitleWide Streets Commission
Archive ReferenceIE DCLA/WSC/
Web Link to this Entryhttps://iar.ie/archive/wide-streets-commission
Creation Dates1758-1851
Extent Medium84 volumes + 3091 items

Context

Creator(s): Wide Streets Commission

  • Administrative History ↴

    The Wide Streets Commission (full title ‘Commissioners for Making Wide and Convenient Ways, Streets and Passages in the City of Dublin’) was established in 1757 by Act of Parliament (31 Geo. II, c. 19). It was one of the earliest town-planning authorities in Europe. The Commission’s original brief was to make a new street ‘from Essex Bridge to the Royal Palace or [Dublin] Castle.’ This was opened as Parliament Street in 1762, the name chosen to honour the Irish Parliament at College Green, which provided funding for the project. The Commission went on to widen and develop such major thoroughfares as Dame Street, Westmoreland Street, D’Olier Street and Lower Sackville (now O’Connell) Street. It was also responsible for building Carlisle (now O’Connell) Bridge, thus shifting the city centre axis downriver from Capel Street to Sackville Street. The Wide Streets Commission originally held its meeting at the Dublin Tholsel, and later at Commercial Buildings, Dame Street and at the Royal Exchange, Cork Hill. The Commissioners were appointed by the Irish Parliament and were drawn from Dublin merchants and minor gentry; many had undertaken the Grand Tour and were influenced by English and Continental examples of town planning. The Lord Mayor of Dublin was ex-officio a member of the Commission; other members included John Beresford (the driving force behind construction of the new Custom House, designed by James Gandon); gentleman architect Frederick Trench; and William Burton Conyngham, responsible for planning and developing the village of Slane, Co. Meath. The Wide Streets Commission had the authority to acquire property by compulsory purchase; demolish it; lay down new streets; and set lots along these new streets by way of building leases issued to developers. In practice, the Commission re-designed medieval Dublin (which was built along a west-east axis, following geological formats) replacing it with a city aligned along a north-south axis, with streets following mathematically-straight lines. The Commission also had power to determine and regulate the facades of buildings erected along the line of new streets and to decide on the number of houses in a terrace; the materials to be employed; and the type and spacing of windows. This ensured that even where each house was constructed by a different builder, the resulting terrace was regular in appearance. Doors and fanlights were not covered by the Commission’s regulations and here each builder could put his own stamp on the design. The outcome was a series of formal terraces, varied by individuated doors and fanlights, which became the characteristic feature of Georgian Dublin. The Wide Streets Commission’s activities were originally financed by grants from the Irish Parliament, and by a duty of one shilling per ton levied upon coals imported to Dublin. The Commission also levied a Card Tax on Dublin gaming houses, such as Daly’s Club House. After the abolition of the Irish Parliament under the Act of Union 1800, the revenues available to the Commission were severely restricted as no further grants were forthcoming and gaming clubs went into decline; a further blow came in 1832, with abolition of the Coal Tax. The Commission reacted by issuing debentures at 6% and 4% but was eventually obliged to mortgage some of its considerable land-bank. From 1800 onwards, the Wide Streets Commission adopted a supervisory role in the development of Dublin, rather than initiating major re-structuring of the city as it had done in the second half of the 18th century. With the successful establishment of Dublin City Council under the Municipal Corporations Reform (Ireland) Act 1840, the centralization of the city’s administration became politically feasible. The Wide Streets Commission was abolished under the Dublin Improvement Act 1849 (12 & 13 Vict., c. 97). The Commission’s powers and property were transferred to Dublin City Council, with effect from 1851.
  • Archival History ↴

    The Wide Streets Commission’s records were transferred to Dublin City Council in 1851 and were placed in the Royal Exchange, which had just been purchased to serve as Dublin’s City Hall. The Commission’s archives were arranged, numbered and listed in 1892 by J.P. McEvoy of the Town Clerk’s Office. In 1954, Dublin City Council transferred most of the Commission’s archives on long-term loan to the Public Record Office of Ireland, retaining only the Commission’s minute books in City Hall. The publication of seminal works by architectural historian Dr. Edward McParland and by historical geographer Dr. Nuala Burke generated interest and further research by others. A retrograde step was the re-arrangement of the Commission’s map collection by Dr. Burke to reflect her own areas of interest. The original McEvoy arrangement was restored in 1976 by archivist Miriam Lambe, under the supervision of Dr. Philomena Connolly of PROI. In 1979 Dublin City Council appointed its own archivist and in 1982 the archives of the Wide Streets Commission were returned by PROI and were re-united in City Hall. A conservation programme was established for the collection. The minute books were re-bound by Antiquarian Bookcrafts (1984); the architectural drawings were cleaned, repaired and mounted before being photographed by the Green Studios (1985-88); and a long-term conservation project was launched for the extensive map collection. Conservators have included Patrick McBride of the Paper Conservation Studio; David Skinner of Celbridge Paper Conservation Studio; Susan Corr; and Elizabeth D’Arcy of PaperWorks. A number of architectural drawings and maps were mounted on acid-free card and framed for display in an exhibition to mark Dublin’s term as European City of Culture 1991, ‘A Vision of the City: Dublin and the Wide Streets Commissioners’ funded by the Heritage Council. In recent years, the Heritage Council has also provided funding for ongoing conservation of the map collection. Dublin City Archives was based at the Civic Museum 1995-2002 and moved to Dublin City Library & Archive in 2003, which is now the home of the Wide Streets Commission archives.
  • Immediate Source Acquisition ↴

    Official Transfer

Content & Structure

  • Scope & Content: Wide Streets Commission ↴

    Eleven series in total: minutes of commissioners’ meetings (1758-1851; 50 vols.); map collection (758 items, 1681-1849); architectural drawings (60 items, 1785-1847); jury books (13 vols. 1789-1802; 1810-1817); inquisitions (124 items, 1780-1843); acquisitions (1,721 items, 1750-1844); dispositions (236 items, 1761-1834); mortgages (88 items, 1815-1844); reconveyances of mortgages (31 items, 1823-5); Ottiwell leases (73 items, 1790-1812); financial records (21 vols. 1761-1850).

  • Appraisal Destruction ↴

    Permanent Retention
  • Arrangement ↴

    Arrangement as devised by J.P. McEvoy, 1892. Eleven series in total: minutes of commissioners’ meetings (1758-1851; 50 vols.); map collection (758 items, 1681-1849); architectural drawings (60 items, 1785-1847); jury books (13 vols. 1789-1802; 1810-1817); inquisitions (124 items, 1780-1843); acquisitions (1,721 items, 1750-1844); dispositions (236 items, 1761-1834); mortgages (88 items, 1815-1844); reconveyances of mortgages (31 items, 1823-5); Ottiwell leases (73 items, 1790-1812); financial records (21 vols. 1761-1850).

Conditions of Access & Use

Access Conditions Available to view by public who apply for research card in Dublin City Library and Archive Reading Room, 138-144 Pearse Street, Dublin 2.
Conditions Governing ReproductionReproduction subject to Dublin City Library and Archive Reading Room Terms of Membership and in accordance with copyright legislation. Publication by permission of City Archivist.
Creation Dates1758-1851
Extent Medium84 volumes + 3091 items
Material Language ScriptEnglish
Characteristics Tech ReqSome items withdrawn for conservation
Finding Aids Descriptive lists Archive Web Link →

Allied Materials

Copies InformationWSC Architectural Drawings have been photographed
Related MaterialIE/DCLA/WSC/Maps IE/DCLA/WSC/Mins
Publication NotePublications include: Nuala Burke, ‘Dublin’s north-eastern city wall: early reclamation and development at the Poddle-Liffey confluence’. In Proceedings of the Royal Irish Academy, lxxiv, sect. C (1974), pp 113-22; Murray Fraser, ‘Public building and colonial policy in Dublin, 1760-1800’. In Architectural History, xxvii (1985), pp 102-23; Michael Gough, ‘The Dublin Wide Streets Commissioners (1758-1851): An Early Modern Planning Authority’. In Pleanáil: Journal of the Irish Planning Institute, no. 11 (1992-93), pp 126-55; Niall McCullough (ed,.) A Vision of the City: Dublin and the Wide Streets Commissioners. Dublin, 1991; Niall McCullough, Dublin: An Urban History. Dublin, 1989; Edward McParland, ‘The Wide Streets Commissioners: their importance for Dublin architecture in the late 18th-early 19th century’. In Irish Georgian Society, xv no. 1 (1972), pp 1-31; Edward McParland, ‘Strategy in the Planning of Dublin, 1750-1800’. In P. Butel and L.M. Cullen (ed.), Cities and Merchants: French and Irish Perspectives on Urban Development, 1500-1900 (Dublin, 1986), pp 97-107; National Council for Educational Awards, Gardiners’ Dublin: A History and Topography of Mountjoy Square and Environs. Dublin, 1991; Maura Shaffrey, ‘Sackville Street/O’Connell Street.’ In Irish Arts Review Yearbook (1988), pp 144-56; C.E.F. Trench, ‘William Burton Conyngham (1733-1796)’. In Journal of the Society of Antiquaries of Ireland, IIv, (1985), pp 39-64; Robin Usher, ‘Domestic architecture, the old city, and the suburban challenge, c. 1660-1700’ in Christine Casey (ed.) The Eighteenth-Century Dublin Town House, (Dublin, 2010) pp 59-72. Theses include: Nuala Burke. Dublin 1600-1800: A study in urban morphogenesis (Ph.D. thesis, University of Dublin, 1972); Edel Sheridan, Dublin and Berlin: A comparative geography of two eighteenth-century European capitals. (Ph.D. thesis, National University of Ireland, 1994)

Descriptive Control Area

Archivist NoteMary Clarke
Rules/ConventionsISAD(G): General International Standard Archival Description. 2nd ed. Ottawa: International Council on Archives, 2000.
Date of Descriptions40575