14 Henrietta Street | Georgian townhouse to tenement dwelling

From aristocratic beginnings to tenement living

Dating from the 1720s, Henrietta Street in Dublin's North inner city is the most intact collection of early to mid-18th century aristocratic townhouses in Ireland. These vast houses were divided into tenements from the 1870s to the 1890s to house the city’s working poor.

Built as a townhouse for the members of Dublin’s ruling elite, 14 Henrietta Street was divided into 19 tenement flats in 1877, with some 100 people living under its roof by 1911. It remained a tenement house until the last families left in the late 1970s.

14 Henrietta Street tells the story of the building’s shifting fortunes, from family home and powerbase to courthouse; from barracks to its final incarnation as a tenement. The stories of the house and street mirror the story of Dublin and her citizens.

14 Henrietta Street seeks to help you deepen your understanding of the history of urban life and housing in Ireland, through people and memory. Taking the stories, personal experiences and objects of former residents of the tenements, coupled with new ongoing social and architectural history research, the Museum gathers, interprets and preserves Dublin’s tenement history.

More information on our tours here

What is a tenement?

In London and Glasgow, a tenement is defined as a house where there are two separate living spaces on the same floor. In Dublin, a tenement is typically an 18th or 19th century townhouse adapted, often crudely, to house multiple families. Tenement houses existed throughout the north inner-city of Dublin; on the south-side around the Liberties, and near the south docklands.

Why tenement living developed in Dublin

After the Acts of Union were passed in Great Britain and Ireland in 1801, all power shifted to London and most politically and socially significant residents were drawn from Georgian Dublin to Regency London. Dublin and Ireland entered a period of economic decline, exacerbated by the return of soldiers and sailors at the end of the Napoleonic Wars. The rise of the cotton mills of Lancashire had a negative impact on the Irish poplin industry.

For a time, Henrietta Street was occupied by lawyers. Dublin’s population swelled by about 36,000 in the years after the Great Famine, and taking advantage of the rising demand for cheap housing for the poor, landlords and their agents began to carve their Georgian townhouses into multiple dwellings for the city’s new residents.

Houses such as 14 Henrietta Street underwent significant change in use – from having been a single-family house with specific areas for masters, mistresses, servants, and children, they were now filled with families – often one family to a room – the room itself divided up into two or three smaller rooms – a kitchen, a living room, and a bedroom. Entire families crammed into small living spaces and shared an outside tap and lavatory with dozens of others in the same building.

Conditions deteriorating

These cramped conditions coupled with poor ventilation, high unemployment and malnutrition, bad air quality from tons of coal burnt every day in houses, and factories, abattoirs and breweries, meant that by 1879 Dublin’s average annual mortality rate was 35.7 per 1,000, significantly higher than London’s 23.6.

Another consequence of poor living conditions was the frequent outbreak of contagious diseases such as Typhus, Typhoid, Dysentery, Cholera, and Tuberculosis. The city’s fever hospitals, Mendicity Associations and other charities as well as the Workhouse did as much as they could, while campaigns to disinfect interiors and clothing tried to keep disease under control. The hall and stairs of 14 Henrietta Street, as other tenements, were painted with Reckitt’s Blue, a laundry bleach, believed to inhibit the spread of germs and disease.

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