Its exciting to see the scaffold finally come down from the former ‘Frawleys’ site on Thomas Street. Nos 30, 32 – 36 Thomas Street form part of a new student housing development called Highlight, developed by UK company Hattington. The scheme – with 257 bedrooms set across a series of blocks, together with common rooms and courtyards – includes these restored front buildings onto Thomas Street, with shops at ground floor, as well as the main entrance to the complex. Other features include the previously hidden carriage arch to No 36, which has been beautifully restored.
No 36 is by far the most interesting piece in a complex that has thrown up so many great surprises and conservation challenges. Built around 1715 by the famous Quaker banker Joseph Fade (who bankrolled much of the development of early Georgian Dublin), the magnificent mansion was likely one of the finest houses in the city when constructed, with such high-end detail as Portland stone keystones and quoins, all now stunningly revealed by the Hattington scheme. The work, which included removing the previous painted render and details added in the 1920’s to unify the building with its neighbour, was undertaken by the site’s main contractor John Paul Construction and under the supervision of architects O’Mahony Pike and, first Alastair Lindsay and then, Neil Crimmins Conservation Architect. Credit also goes to Dublin City Council’s conservation team and a number of conservation groups and individuals who informed the project.
The 1920s Frawleys building (No. 34-35) is now restored to a brick and white cement frontage, with its beautiful bronze Art Deco-style ‘island’ shopfront carefully reinstated, after conservation work by Lambstongue Window Specialists. Next door at No 33, a restored timber shopfront can be seen.
The modern elements also aim to please. The new building fronting Catherine’s Lane will add life and activity to the laneway, replacing a drab wall and notorious dumping spot. The ground floor includes a gym and common rooms for the residence, while a new gate links though to the courtyard spaces within. On Hanbury Lane a new townhouse has been completed, plugging a gap in that street. Within the courtyard lies one of the complex’s treasures, a surviving section of wall believed to date to the 17th century. The wall may have formed part of a tannery located on what was the northern boundary of St Thomas Court Bawn – the former abbey and then administrative centre of the early Liberty of the Earls of Meath. Or it could have been a brewery – a brewhouse was known to existing behind No 29 Thomas Street, which at the time of the famous Malton view of St Catherine’s Church, was an ale house. The wall has been conserved and incorporated into the landscaping of the scheme.
The 8-month archaeological dig at the site in 2016/17 threw up some amazing finds and highlighted the complex and fascinating 800 year history of this street as the main western approach into Dublin. Many of the finds are still being examined and researched and the story of the site continues to unfold. Among the finds were burials, including pilgrim burials bearing the scallop shell badges of the Camino de Santiago, tanning pits (hence the thought that the wall may have been part of a tannery), numerous decorative floor tiles – assumed to be from St Thomas’s Abbey, pottery and artifacts. Listen to a presentation on the archaeological finds here.
All this marks the culmination of 3 years work on the site by Hattington. And its worth looking back to the condition of the terrace in 2012, when the then Thomas Street 90 Days Action Plan pushed the building’s receivers to paint the property, to at least mask the awful decline that had set in. At that time, a lick of Farrow & Ball paint was seen as a major win. The current reveal is much more satisfying.
The work continues. The first of this year’s residents to Highlight Student Housing arrive today. The various retail units along the street are let and will see their new tenants in the coming months including a planned KC Peaches. For now, the star of the show is the beautifully restored frontage – a credit to all concerned and a high point of the street’s continued renewal.