The Fitzwilliam Estate
Number Twenty Nine is located on lands collectively known as the Fitzwilliam Estate. The development of Fitzwilliam Street Lower was approved by the Wide Streets Commissioners in 1791, and the first houses were built by late 1793, or early 1794. The street was part of the vast estate originally owned by the Viscounts Fitzwilliam, who held an ancestral home at Merrion Castle, on the shore of Dublin Bay.
Upon the death of Richard, 7th Viscount Fitzwilliam in 1816, the bulk of these estates passed to Rt. Hon Sidney Herbert, 11th Earl of Pembroke. In such a family history can be seen the derivation of many of the surviving street names in the area; Merrion Square, Fitzwilliam Street, Herbert Place, and Pembroke Street. Through their agents the landowners let plots of land with a street frontage for two to three houses to speculative builders, who themselves may have sub-let to a third party, before letting to the occupier. The first wave of houses built in the Fitzwilliam Estate in Merrion Street and Square consisted of large mansions, four storey over basement, with a wide street frontage. This was property for the upper classes. Leases in the area were strict and laid down very clear guidelines relating to the size and proportions of houses to be built, as well as the materials to be used.
Fitzwilliam Street area
From the windows of her new home, Olivia Beatty, the first occupant of Number Twenty Nine would have looked out on an area that was still very much in transition. Standing in her front drawing room looking north west, in front of her was Merrion Square park, then private and only very recently enclosed by railings. Around the park were the large mansions of the aristocracy. Beyond lay the centre of the city, some distance away by foot, but more easily accessible in a sedan chair, or by one of the numerous hackney carriages that had their stalls on Merrion Street, ten of which had been installed in January 1794.
Directly outside her window ran a street which was unfinished. Building at this time in this area would often start with the striking of an under street vault or the construction of a range wall, and then soon afterwards stop, sometimes for a number of years. Since standard leases for the area contained clauses demanding the pavement of the street by the lease holder up to ten feet in front of the property, as long as Fitzwilliam Street was unfinished, it was incompletely paved. The street may also have been poorly lit, and as the ornate foot-scrapers common to the area show, pathways were often dirty.
Mrs Beatty’s nearest parish church lay in Dawson Street. Saint Stephen’s, known as the Pepper Canister was not built until 1824. From the back of the house Mrs. Beatty would have seen in front of her a long narrow garden, terminated by a rear stable lane (her coach house was not constructed when she moved in). Beyond this lane, later known as James Street East, lay open countryside, the coast at Irish Town and Ringsend, and the roads to the outlying villages of Donnybrook and Ballsbridge.
In Mrs. Beatty’s first years here she probably had few immediate neighbours. She left the street in 1806. In the following years Fitzwilliam Street Lower was completed and occupied by professionals, particularly those associated with the law. The area no doubt had an overwhelmingly residential character; the leases of the Fitzwilliam Estate stipulated as much. Slowly however, commerce began to creep in, at both the front and backs of the houses. Directories for 1848 show dual residential and commercial use in single houses on Fitzwilliam Street Lower, with medical and legal practises operating from the ground and first floors of some dwellings, including Number Twenty Nine, where in that year Mr. Arthur O’ Hagan esq. held his legal practise and where he also lived. In the back lanes, activity at the other end of the economic spectrum was taking root, with occupations such as bottle dealer, dairy-keeper, and horse shoer appearing.