The weaving industry flourished in The Liberties in the late 17th and 18th centuries. Governed by a powerful weavers’ guild, and supported by the influx of new communities into the area in the late 1600s (particularly skilled Huguenots), weaving became the dominant industry in the area.
The trade gave its name to many of the placenames of the area off Cork Street: Weaver Square for example, as well as the various references to ‘the Tenterfields’ and ‘Tenters’, named for the tenter fields used to stretch out and dry cloth. The cloth was strewn across frames called ‘tents’ or ‘tenters’ and attached and made taut with the use of ‘tenterhooks’ (hence the phrase ‘on tenterhooks’, meaning a state of nervous tension).
While the weavers’ guildhall was located on The Coombe (a building that remained in existence until the mid-1950s), the average weaver operated in much less salubrious conditions and the majority of tenters were in the open. This of course meant that the cloth-making process was largely seasonal and wholly subject to fair weather.
By the beginning of the nineteenth century it was estimated that The Liberties had over 550 looms, each employing up to 8 people to operate it. Taking into consideration the size of families at the same, it is estimated that as many as 22,000 people may have been directly dependent on the industry at the time. The conditions for weavers in the winter in particular, with no opportunities to work, were horrendous: weavers and their families were frequently reduced to misery and want, and driven into the streets, hospitals, and charitable institutions of the area or imprisoned for debt.
In 1814, the businessman Thomas Pleasants, proposed to fund the construction of a new Tenter House, which would accommodate the poorer members of the guild and allow cloth to be dried and stretched indoors. The new building, built off Brickfield Lane the following year, was built of brick, 275 feet long with two end pavillions and a central cupola. The building included four large furnaces which in turn heated halls that were used to dry cloth. The upper floor was given over to the drying of woollen warps, which required less heat.
Pleasants operated the Tenter House as a not-for-profit operation, regarding it as a charitable endeavour. Weavers paid a fee for the services of the Tenter House, which was in turn used to fund coal and the buildings upkeep.
In order that the weavers should not lack the “urge to work” mottoes were displayed over the fire-places intended to attract their attention, such as, “The Sluggard shall come to Want,” “Industry is the Weaver’s Shield,” “The hand of the diligent maketh rich,” and other inspiring mottoes intended to give the impression that “to work is but a pleasure”; certainly such was the case, for idleness disappeared and weavers ceased to be confined in the prisons for small debts; the public also gained, for the material was received in better condition, consequently larger quantities were used, and altogether the motto “Industry is the Weaver’s Shield” was never more true than when St. Joseph’s Refuge was the Stove Tenter House. [Extract from The Dublin Historical Record, Vol. V, 1942-43]
The loss of valuable home markets after the Act of Union, as well as increased pressure from London through increased tarrifs and levies on trade, led to the dramatic decline of the weaving industry, particularly in the latter 19thC. The Stove Tenter House fell into disuse. In 1861 it was acquired for use as a refuge for homeless. In 1871 the Sisters of Mercy took over the building and converted it to a convent.
In the 2000’s the former Tenter House and the wider convent lands were developed by Sophia Housing and the 200 year old Tenter House was repurposed to residential use.