No 37 Thomas Court is a sorry sight. Tucked in behind St Catherine’s Church on Thomas Street, the austere, rendered front suggests an ordinary non-descript building well past its prime. Only the stone door cases hint at the intriguing building behind.
Originally the home and office of the sexton of St Catherine’s Church (essentially the custodian and manager of the church and parish), No 37 is a last link back to the pre-Georgian morphology of Thomas Court. The narrow street of today was once a route connecting Thomas Street with the old abbey lands of St Thomas Court and Bawn. No 37 is the oldest surviving building on the street.
A church to St Catherine was established here in 1185, serving the nearby Abbey of St Thomas. The medieval church was demolished in 1765 to make way for a new building, designed by the architect John Smyth. Construction was completed in 1769 of what is considered one of Dublin’s finest Georgian churches, albeit minus the originally intended steeple (which was never completed due to lack of funds). The church closed to worship in 1966 and was deconsecrated as protestant congregations had declined dramatically in the city. For a number of years the church was used by Dublin Corporation for exhibitions and concerts. Then in the 1990s, the church was refurbished and reconsecrated for the Anglican ‘CORE’ church.
The sexton’s house appears to pre-date the 1769 church. John Rocque’s map of 1756 shows a pair of houses at this location, including a carriage arch at the southernmost portion of the row leading into a yard behind the church. The houses correspond to the plot of No 37. The shape of the older church differs from the new building constructed a decade later. The west door (likely the main entrance to the church is set with the line of buildings either side, not set back as now). Rocque also shows buildings continuing up to Thomas Street and this awkward end of terrace appears in Malton’s famous view of St Catherine’s. The houses were likely removed by the Wide Streets Commissioners.
The Buildings of Ireland website notes that No 37 is “of historical interest due to its use as the office of the Meath Charitable Loan Society, founded in 1807 to lend small sums to local people of modest means. As the house of the sexton, who was responsible for the maintenance of the church buildings, it was of some social importance in the parish… Thom’s Directory of 1850 lists William Singleton as the Secretary of the Meath Charitable Loan Society Office, and that of 1862 lists the sexton as Andrew Hamilton.”
It also states: “Due to its form and imposing scale, it makes a formidable impression on the streetscape. Its façade is enhanced by carved granite Gibbsian surrounds, which provide artistic and technical interest, and attest to the artisanship employed in the construction of the building. Timber sash windows, which are retained throughout, lend a patina of age.”
The more recent history of the house is sketchier. After the church closed, the Sexton’s House continued to be lived in. In the mid 1990s it was sold by the Parish of St Catherine’s, sundering the link between the house and church. It remained lived in until a fateful night in 2012 when the house went on fire. A second fire significantly damaged the stairs and many of the rooms. It left the 300 year old house in a sad condition, in need of a saviour.