Polishing a Diamond in Waterloo Road
January 23, 2017
The New Year has barely begun, and yet already things are as busy as ever. I am delighted to announce a new project commencing soon, located in Dublin’s Waterloo Road. This single-family residence retains a wealth of historic fabric, and essential repairs and internal refurbishment will see it returned to its former character.
From the 14th century, the Fitzwilliam family controlled a large proportion of what is now this area of Dublin 4. First developed from the mid-18th century by the 6th and 7th Viscounts Fitzwilliam, the estate was left to the 11th Earl of Pembroke c.1816 after which it became known as the Pembroke Estate. The lineage of the Earls of Pembroke had been created for the second time in 1551 by the young King Edward VI. Development reached the Grand Canal and Baggot Street Upper in the early decades of the 19th century, and the second phase of development saw the formation of Waterloo Road in 1844. The area was then, as now, among the most fashionable districts in Dublin and was home to wealthy professionals, gentry and merchants, rather than the political class who had largely departed the city centre after the Act of Union some 30 year previous.
Development was intended to follow the London pattern of an elite, planned suburb and was carried out on leaseholds, with many plots being sold and developed in groups in four. The subject property is unusual in that it is paired only with its neighbour to the north. Their roofs’ central hips form a shared valley, and quoins to the outer corners and a shared parapet underscore their contemporaneous development. A deed dated 9th June 1845 and bearing the names Sidney Herbert and David Simpson forms the first legal record for this single-family residence, and indeed the date corroborates the development of Waterloo Road as well as the period of architectural detail seen internally. Though rather diminutive in comparison to many houses in the street, the pair of houses formed a substantial and Classical development in the streetscape.
The current property owners happen to be two eminent professors at Trinity College Dublin, who in years past applied their considerable research skills to the uncovering of a rather illustrious story tied to the property:
The Diamond Thief
By 1855, it appears that the property was conveyed to Elizabeth Jameson, who some five years later assigned the house to Anne Bourke. Upon Anne’s death in 1891 the house was left to her son, Edward Thomas Bourke, by then a 50-year-old man. In the early 1870s Edward had separated from his wife and emigrated to Buffalo in upstate New York where he established himself as a saloon-keeper. At the time of his mother’s death he returned briefly to Dublin, no doubt in relation to the settlement of her estate. Quite ominously, he was known to have used the alias ‘de Burgh’ at that time. Records show that he then absconded back to America aboard the ship Aurania, traveling first class and carrying six pieces of luggage, a notable detail given his impending fate.
Bourke’s return to America was short-lived. In early autumn 1892 he was extradited from America to Ireland on two counts: for the theft of diamond studs from a jeweller; and also for obtaining goods on false pretences. Bourke was held on remand in Kilmainham, and the trial judge refused a bail application. It seemed at first like an open and shut case. The trial, which began in October 1892, was picked up by all the papers, including the Freeman’s Journal, which provided one of the more detailed accounts. Under the headline: ‘THE ALLEGED ROBBERY OF DIAMONDS IN DUBLIN’, Edward T. Burke, alias De Burgh, was charged with the theft of four diamond studs valued at £30 from Mr. E. Johnson, a jeweller of Grafton Street. Evidence was given in court to the effect that in summer 1892 Edward T. Bourke obtained goods including rings and items of clothing to the value of over £200, which he paid for by 12 cheques, drawn on the Baggot Street branch of the Ulster Bank. Bourke’s cheques bounced after he sailed for America, and he was found to have had only 4 shillings 11 pence in the bank account on which the cheques were drawn.
The defence lawyers appear to have tried to cast doubt that Bourke clearly intended to defraud, and initially focused on the evidence of the man who sold him his return ticket to America. The court heard that when Bourke bought his ticket, he gave his name and his address in Ireland as the subject property in Waterloo Road. His lawyers’ argument appears to have been that Bourke hadn’t tried to leave a false trail.
Next Bourke’s lawyers successfully challenged the validity of his extradition on the basis that ‘obtaining goods by false pretences’ did not constitute grounds for extradition, as defined by the relevant act (1870, Extradition Act). The Grand Jury was left to consider the charge of larceny against Bourke, and one newspaper account recorded that ‘After 20 minutes the grand jury found there was no basis… and the case was discharged.’ The New York Times noted Bourke’s acquittal and added: ‘He complains bitterly because he was not compensated for the loss of time and money resulting from his unfortunate experience in Dublin.’
Bourke returned to America where he married another woman without having properly divorced his first wife, and was involved in another scandal in which he personally found and ensured the prosecution of a young girl who stole his watch from a hotel room. Karma does not appear to have caught up with Bourke. His daughter by his first marriage inherited the house in Waterloo Road and passed it down until the 1930s when one Harriette Bourke died.
The Pembroke Estate remained on the title deeds as the property was conveyed to various parties over the next 35 years, during which time the property was let in flats. The client purchased the house in 1981, by which time the rear façade had been covered with a cementitious render and the services upgraded. In the 1990s, before the advent of built heritage legislation, the rear return was replaced with a modern structure.
The building’s history of long-term single-family residents has allowed almost all of its internal fabric to remain intact, including floorboards, decorative plasterwork, chimneypieces, the staircase, floor plan, and other fine architectural details. This structure is decidedly 19th century in character and is a fine example of an intact residential townhouse.
Recent water ingress has caused a significant amount of damage both to the external render and to the internal plasterwork and joinery. Furthermore, structural cracks have opened internally in three areas: to the front of the ground floor partition that separates the entry foyer from the reception room; to the rear of the ground floor partition that separates the stairwell from the reception room; and at high level in the stairwell. The cracks have appeared in the modern wallpaper introduced during redecoration in 1989. The River Swan estuary runs underneath a portion of this area and its accompanying high water table can be viewed by opening a well cover to the rear, with standing water visible some 2m below the surface. Within the last ten years an extension was also constructed to a neighbouring property, and the client reports that the cracking to the rear partition worsened at that time. It appears that a number of factors have contributed to the recent subsidence, according to the assessment of a consulting structural engineer. There also appears to be some rot to the joists bearing into the front facade, and a lack of support for an internal two-storey partition.
I recently secured a Section 5 Declaration of Exempted Development for remedial works. I also secured a Section 5 for the replacement of the modern, aluminium windows with historically-accurate timber sash windows with slim-profile double glazing. I am the project Interior Designer, as well. The upcoming programme will see the cementitious render removed in favour of a breathable, traditional lime render, along with internal refurbishment. The structural deficiencies will also be addressed, in addition to internal redecoration.
It is increasingly rare to find single-family townhouses of such an intact nature, with a significant portion of their historic character retained internally. I look forward to this project and to sharing updates with you as the project progresses. We can only hope there may be a few diamonds stashed beneath the floorboards…
Return to the Blog