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'It could have fallen into the street': How a derelict building in Dublin's Blackpitts was transformed

It’s now going to be part of a site that offers student accommodation.

mill st Source: Aoife Barry

DUBLIN’S BLACKPITTS AREA has suffered from neglect over the past decades, with some of the city’s most interesting buildings allowed to lie derelict.

The recession put paid to mooted developments (a microbrewery, for example), leaving plenty of empty and unused sites. But now two of the buildings, No 10 Mill Street, and its neighbour, the Methodist Mission Hall, have been transformed as part of a €41m student accommodation development. While the buildings won’t be lived in by students, they are set to become office space as part of the development.

The 2.5-acre site is being developed by Dublin-based Creedon Group and Dubai-based Global Student Accommodation (GSA) and it’s planned that the 400 students beds will be in use for the upcoming student year.

2016-07-06 10.00.25 Source: Construction on the site

GSA has been building similar properties in other student hubs like London and Tokyo, under its Uninest and Urbanest brands.

Sole survivor

Anyone walking past 10 Mill Street in recent years will have noticed a grand but dilapidated building at this very site, with boarded-up windows and doors.

But that appearance belied its role in Dublin’s built heritage: in a Dublin City report on the conservation of St Luke’s Church, the building is described as “perhaps the sole survivor in the area of the gable-fronted house type”.

If you’re familiar with what a gable-fronted, or Dutch Billy, building looks like, you’ll notice that it doesn’t look like that at all now.

That’s because in 1891, the roof and gables at 10 Mill St were removed and replaced during a Gothic Revival-style makeover. This took place when the house was incorporated into the Methodist Mission.

download (7) Source: GSA Accommodation

The Dutch Billy style was popular from the end of the 17th century into the early 18th century. The same report says that gable-fronted houses “often two or three-storeys high, were once a common feature throughout the area of the Coombe, although almost none have survived”.

The area was a mix of residential and industrial buildings, and other interesting buildings in the area include the aforementioned St Luke’s Church, which was the headquarters of the Weavers’ guild.

IMG_20170324_104607 Source: Cormac Fitzgerald

The textile industry was particularly important to the area, and saw Huguenots coming and bringing new skills with them.

The marriage and baptismal registers of St Luke’s church give us lists of the names and occupations of some of the residents in the area. Recorded in the early years are a large number of weavers, tanners, skinners, brewers, butchers alongside a smaller number of joyners, a shearmen, ropemakers, apothecaries, and many others simply listed as clothiers. Many of these belonged to a merchant class or were skilled craftsmen owning their own homes.

“It could fall into the street”

When the Creedon Group began work on the 10 Mill St site, the building “was totally derelict”, they told TheJournal.ie.

“The internal of it was totally destroyed by vandalism and fire, and just a flat felt roof was put on it a few years ago,” said a member of the company. The group acquired it towards the end of 2013, and set about getting specific planning permission so that they could immediately do some remedial work.

“There was every sign it could fall into the street.”

IMG_0065 Construction on the site. Source: GSA

A new roof and new internal supports were put in place, and then further planning permission was applied for so that the site could be refurbished, along with the adjoining Methodist Mission Hall.

While an entirely new development was built to house the student accommodation, the Mission Hall and 10 Mill St have been earmarked for office space.

No 10 Mill St was known for having a stunning ornate staircase inside – but sadly, this couldn’t be saved.

IMG_20170324_104641 Source: Cormac Fitzgerald

As a listed building, a conservation expert must always be on hand to oversee what’s going on. But there are also the needs of the fire safety and disability access to consider.

In cooperation with the conservation officer in Dublin City Council, the developers saved what they could of the interior. Due to vandalism and fire inside, there wasn’t a huge amount that could be saved, but they did save and refurbish any original material that they could.

download (8) The location of the student accommodation. Source: Google Maps

To the right of the site is an archway which has been rebuilt and reconstructed “and brought to its former glory”. There is also a new road being built in the area.

The development has helped to uncover some of the history of the Blackpitts area – like the tanning pits which were found at the back of the site. The area’s tannery history is also present in the names of some of the streets there – one, Skinner’s Row, no longer exists.

A full archaeological report has also been published, showing what was found during the dig at the site.

Signs of the old mill and part of the old mill stone – which gave the street its name – were found, and these artifacts will be among those put on permanent display at the site, or used in the landscaping.

It’s expected that the work on 10 Mill St will be finished in the first week of May, on the Mission Hall at the end of June, and on the student accommodation around the same time. When open, it will have the name Uninest Student Accommodation.

Read: Dublin set to get 400-bed student accommodation>

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