Wives, widows and mothers: recovering records of women in the early eighteenth century building trade

Melanie Hayes, Irish Research Council Advanced Laureate Project Fellow CRAFTVALUE

The early eighteenth-century building industry was a male-dominated arena. Craftsmen populated both building site and records of the same; building-craft skills were handed down from father to son, from master-craftsman to young male apprentice, while the industry’s organisational framework, at least in Dublin, centred on the freemen of the city. Female involvement, save unskilled labour in the brickfields, was peripheral and prominent figures like Eleanor Coade, who was active later in the century, were the exception rather than the rule. But what of the ancillary industries and associated supports within the building trade? Does the overt gender-bias in the documentary record represent a true picture of the reality on the ground, of the role (or lack thereof) of women behind the scenes in the complex, multifaceted mechanics of the early Georgian building industry?

Trawling through the catalogue of Trinity College Dublin’s muniments in the college’s Manuscripts and Archives collections my colleague, Andrew Tierney and I were struck by the (relatively) frequent appearance of women’s names in the College building accounts.* Between 1700 and 1745 a number of women were involved in the supply of labour and materials to the major building works then taking place on campus, the New Laboratory or Anatomy House, 1710-18; the New (now Old) Library, 1712-32; and New Kitchens, 1719-22. Although these women may have been drawn into the building trade through necessity or the demise of their male relation, several seem to have carried on successful enterprises in their own right.

Jane Spencer, plastering and painting

Jane Spencer’s account, Documents concerning College building’s, TCD Mun/P/2/30/14

In April 1715 Jane Spencer, widow, was paid £2 2s. 8d. for ‘plastering worke done in Trinity College Dublin,’ which was measured by Henry Kinder. The bill, which appears to be in Jane’s own hand presumably relates to work previously carried out by the plasterer Nathaniel Spencer, who had worked at the college since 1707. Nathaniel, like several of his contemporaries, carried out works in both plaster and paint (despite moves by the painter’s guild to prohibit this encroachment on their trade), and was admitted to the Guild of St. Luke in 1701 (NLI MS 12,122 ff75r). Nathaniel had submitted his final bill to the College in October 1714 (TCD Mun P/2/26/27), and therefore appears to have died sometime in the intervening six months.

This occurrence is far from unique. The lack of either state support or indeed opportunities for their own gainful employment meant the widows of tradesmen had little or no means of their own, and were forced to pursue their husband’s creditors soon after the latter’s demise, often for relatively small amounts of money. Indeed, building accounts for Powerscourt Co. Wicklow (NLI Mss 3162; Mss 4875) are peppered with such payments to the widows of building craftsmen and suppliers in the 1730s, while the College accounts contain several other instances of such remittance to newly widowed women.
Jane Price received 5s. for carpenter’s work in March 1732, presumably relating to work by the carpenter Gabriel Price, who had worked at Trinity, sometimes in collaboration with Isaac Wills since 1700 (TCD Mun P/2/63/18). In 1705 Alice Banks received 14s. 6d. for plumbers work, likely carried out by her husband John Banks, a plumber who had also worked at the College from 1700, and had last received payment in January 1704/5 (TCD Mun P/2/14/1-2); whereas Ellen Smith continued to submit bills for plastering and painting work for almost five years after payments ceased to the plasterer James Smith, including a large bill of £23 17s. 6d. for ‘painting and gilding the new organ case and pipes’ in 1706 (TCD Mun P/2/15/8).

‘Agnes Heatly, slater’

Agnes Heatly account, Documents concerning College building’s, TCD Mun/P/2/47/20

Between 1707 and 1743/4 Agnes Heatly regularly signed for work carried out by the slaters Abraham and Thomas Heatly (alternately Heatley, Hately). The Heatlys were one of Dublin’s most prominent families of slaters. Abraham Heatly, who had worked at the Royal Hospital had been employed at the College since at least 1686, when he received a yearly salary of £20 for maintaining the College roofs (TCD Mun P/2/3/4).
Over the course of the next four decades Abraham received frequent payments for slater’s work, and on June 24th 1730 signed a new agreement with the Provost &c. for the maintenance of the College roofs worth £45 p.a. (TCD Mun p/2/60). During the 1720s several payments for slater’s labour and materials were made directly to Agnes Heatly, ‘for the use of my husband’ (TCD Mun p/2/47/20), and by 1730 Agnes seems to have taken over management of the slating contract, after which time Abraham Heatly’s name no longer appears in the records.
In 1685 ‘Thomas Hately’ received a single payment of £4 10s. for slater’s work at the College, but it was not until 1710 that this individual began to receive more regular employment, at the New Laboratory and the Library. Thomas continued to work at College until 1746, carrying out slater’s work for Richard Castle and John Ensor (TCD Mun P/2/86/11; p/2/90/5). He appears to have taken over Abraham’s maintenance contract in 1746 (TCD Mun P/2/90/7).

Agnes’s relationship to Abraham and Thomas is not directly stated in the records, but it appears that she was the wife of the former, and mother of Thomas. She certainly seems to have acted as a financial manager of sorts for the family business during the first half of the century. Women of the mercantile class and above would have been trained to keep domestic accounts, and were usually responsible for household management. It is therefore unsurprising that some of these enterprising individuals would have stepped outside the female domain, to apply their skillset in supporting roles in the business sphere.

‘Joan Delane, glazier’

Joan Delane account, Documents concerning College building’s, TCD Mun/P/2/43/14

A similar situation occurs in the case of Joan and George Delane, glazier. George Delane had been employed at Trinity College since the 1690s, when according to Arthur Gibney he replaced William Vizer, carrying out glazing work on several ad hoc projects, such as the gate house in 1705 (TCD Mun P/2/14/7). He was the only glazier employed at the College during this period and worked extensively at the New Laboratory and Kitchens in the 1710s. In November 1720 Joan Delane first makes an appearance in the records, when she signed for work carried out by George (TCD Mun P/2/40/19). This practice continued at regular intervals throughout the following year, until January 1721/2, after which time ‘Joan Delane, glazier,’ began to submit bills in her own right, and George’s name no longer appears, although he may well have executed some of the works.

Over the next five years there were several large invoices submitted, all meticulously set out in Joan’s neat hand, including bills for ‘work on [the] library’ for which she was paid £28 3s. 9d. in February 1723, and a further £30 in April that year (TCD Mun P/2/52/9-10). The last payment made to Joan Delane was in September 1726, suggesting that she had carried on the management of contracted glazing work at the College, for several years after George Delane’s absence from the records (TCD Mun P/2/56/10).

Ellen Jeffers, building supply

Ellen Jeffers account, Documents concerning College building’s, TCD Mun/P/2/39/61

The College accounts also offer evidence of female involvement in the supply of building materials, which supports the broader picture emerging of this sector. In 1718 Ellen Jeffers supplied 10 brass sheaves, or grooved pulley wheels, at a cost of £4 12s. 4d. for use at the Library (TCD Mun P/2/37/59), and a further six sheaves the following year (TCD Mun P/2/39/61). In 1720 she presented a much larger bill for £29 15s. for a brass boiler and furnace for the New Kitchen. This business seems to have been previously carried on by one George Jeffers, who in 1711 had supplied the College with a copper still for the Laboratory for the sizeable sum of £12 15s. 1 1/2d. (TCD Mun P/2/20/38), while in 1713 he supplied pulleys for the gin at the Library (TCD Mun P/2/25/50). That Ellen was still responsible for the operation some seven years later suggests a less peripheral, and more sustained involvement of such women in this seemingly male dominated environment. Ellen Jeffers was not alone in this regard. At the former Parliament House at College Green Anne Staples was listed as the supplier of ‘nails, &c.’ receiving quite considerable payments of £18 1s. 2 1/2 d. and £27 1s. 10d. in 1730 and 1731 respectively (JHCI Vol viii, f. 68 & 11). These records, however cursory and fragmentary they might be, offer a tantalising glimpse into the role women in the early eighteenth century building industry, and begs the question of how much more these wives, widows and mothers were responsible for, behind the scenes.

• James Ayres, Building the Georgian city, London, 1998.
• Arthur Gibney, Livia Hurley and Edward McParland (eds.), The Building Site in Eighteenth-Century Ireland, Dublin: Four Courts Press, 2017

* Catalogue of Documents concerning College building’s, TCD Mun/P/2, Trinity Manuscripts & Archives Research Library.

We are very grateful to Estelle Gittins and the staff of the TCD Trinity Manuscripts & Archives Research Library for providing us with access to this valuable resource, and for facilitating this research in the Manuscripts & Archives collections, during the resumption of services in the early autumn.

For further information on this ongoing research and the Irish Research Council Laureate project, CRAFTVALUE visit www.craftvalue.org

‘The Show Must Go On’ – Ina Boyle Song Recording in London

Ina Boyle portrait, TCD MS 4174/1

If she were alive in 2020, the Irish composer Ina Boyle (1889-1967) would be unfazed by the current Covid-19 restrictions. She was accustomed to living a relatively isolated and solitary life, rarely venturing far from her family home at Bushey Park, Enniskerry, Co. Wicklow. Yet that did not prevent her from seeking every opportunity to have her music performed and published, as she meticulously chronicled in her ‘Musical Compositions Memoranda’ (TCD MS 4172).

So Boyle would have been very gratified that a long-planned project to record most of her songs at the Wigmore Hall in London was not derailed by the pandemic, in spite of a few late obstacles. The original plan for a public lunchtime concert and live recording had to be abandoned, but the three Irish singers Paula Murrihy (mezzo-soprano), Robin Tritschler (tenor) and Ben McAteer (baritone), along with pianist Iain Burnside, assembled on the appointed day (28 October 2020) so that the recording team from Delphian Records could still capture their performances for a CD due to be released in 2021.

‘Musical Compositions Memoranda’, TCD MS 4172

Only two of Boyle’s songs for voice and piano were ever published, so in preparation for the recording 35 songs had to be edited and typeset from the original manuscripts held at the Library of Trinity College Dublin. There was a last-minute hiccup when the editorial team needed to recheck some details in the manuscripts, but found that the campus was by then open only to TCD staff and students. Happily, Research Collections staff were able to save the day by calling up the manuscripts, taking photographs of the relevant pages and dispatching them urgently to the editors so that they could meet the deadline for preparing definitive typeset scores for the performers.

3 Songs by Walter de la Mare, TCD MS 10960/3

The 37 songs recorded – from a total of 66 preserved in the manuscript collection – represent the full span of Ina Boyle’s life as a composer, from 1909 until 1966 (only a few short months before her death). About half come from the 1920s, her most prolific decade. Boyle was inspired to set words by a wide range of poets, from Sir Philip Sidney, George Herbert and Robert Herrick to more recent writers such as Walt Whitman, Rudyard Kipling, Edith Sitwell, and Walter de la Mare. Settings of poems by several near-contemporary Irish poets also feature – Eva Gore-Booth, Patrick Pearse, W.B. Yeats, Austin Clarke, and James Stephens.

An RTE television news report on the recording session is available (Boyle segment at 39:00 – 41:00). And four of the songs were included in Ben McAteer’s recital at the 2020 Belfast Festival (Boyle songs at 26:06 – 37:40). As well as the forthcoming CD, the typeset scores will be published next year by TU Dublin so that other singers will be able to add some of Boyle’s songs to their repertoire. This project is another great success for the Ina Boyle Society and its indefatigable director, Katie Rowan, in achieving their primary aim of bringing the music of this pioneering Irish woman composer to the ears of a much wider audience.

UPDATE: A video report of the Boyle song recording at the Wigmore Hall, including interviews with the artists, score editors and others involved in the production, is now available. The central role of the manuscripts collection is acknowledged.

Roy Stanley

Berkeley and Byrne

Whilst the physical Library is closed, research on the collections continues apace. In our latest post Dr Clare Moriarty, IRC Postdoctoral Fellow in Philosophy, writes about her research into the intersection between maths and art and the early nineteenth-century Irish mathematician Oliver Byrne, the ‘Matisse of Mathematics’.

Clare will also be presenting at the The Art + Science Reading Group on 18 June at 6.30pm and registration is via this link. The group is now a virtual gathering of thinkers, researchers and the incurably curious. Organised by PhD candidates Amelia McConville (School of English and Institute of Neuroscience) and Autumn Brown (School of Education and Science Gallery Dublin) and supported by Science Gallery Dublin and the Trinity Long Room Hub, the series will explore the evolutionary and revolutionary kinship between two approaches to understanding the universe and our place within it.

Clare writes;

One is a name familiar to all who know the university: George Berkeley. Berkeley was an 18th century philosopher, Anglican bishop, mathematical malcontent, and Trinity student and tutor. The second, Oliver Byrne, is a different creature altogether. Born in 1810 near Avoca in Wicklow, Byrne mixed a life-long devotion to mathematics and mathematics education with: circulating tracts in America detailing close-combat styles (!) to be used in pursuit of Irish Independence, inventing something called the Byrnegraph, writing colourfully against phrenology, and basically living the hard life of an inventor-cum-educator with his wife Eleanor, who was herself a brilliant meteorologist. Byrne had a connection of sorts to Trinity. He claimed he learned his mathematics here. However, he is not recorded as ever having matriculated. So, we have two figures, a century apart, from very different worlds, but united by lifelong preoccupations with mathematics (regard Berkeley’s ‘Of Infinites’, an essay presented to the Dublin Philosophical Society in 1707).

Byrne—if he is known by people at all—is known for his majestic edition of Euclid’s Elements.

Here, Byrne uses coloured diagrams to present that Junior Cert syllabus treasure, the Pythagorean Theorem. This is not “art for art’s sake”; Byrne had a serious pedagogical insight into the difficulties of teaching maths and believed using colours could more judiciously represent the abstract properties of geometric objects.

Example: It’s a mistake to think of a geometric line as having any breadth. When concentrating on a line in its own right Byrne brings this into focus by using two colours bumping up against each other, to suggest a one dimensional boundary, rather than anything with suggested thickness.

Byrne shows a distinctive philosophy of education here: grappling with overcoming the problems of representing necessarily abstract geometric objects in a 3-dimensional learning scenario.

Byrne continued to use colour as a conceptual tool in his instruction. In the little-known work ‘The Young Geometrician’, which lives in Early Printed Books, Byrne expands his method to describe geometric constructions, or, how things need to move when setting up various geometric problems. This time colour is used to mark fixed versus moving parts. So, in these diagrams, Byrne conveys that the moving one of two set squares is the red one.

The process starts out simply, but we can see that it quickly develops into a procedure for fairly sophisticated direction.

TCD Manuscripts are the custodians of box of treasures given to the university by Byrne’s wife, Eleanor. It includes the beautiful manuscript of Byrne’s last book, The Trinal Calculus. The elaborate pictorial frontispiece suggests that Eleanor Byrne prepared the document.

And again, we have fascinating mathematical connections to Berkeley whose infamous 1734 tract The Analyst criticised the foundations of calculus, and inflamed what became a near-century long search for more rigorous logical foundations. Byrne’s strange treatise is (1) dedicated to solving Berkeley’s problems:

And when we look to see what Byrne provided by way of an appendix, it’s just his copy of The Analyst.

The above shows the possibility of demonstrating significant links between two key thinkers with a few key resources. Distance from primary material during Covid-19 is challenging. Now that archive access is not a short-term option, I find myself reminded that the sources that first struck me as relevant—those that first caused me to photograph them for personal use—are very likely the ones that epitomise the project.

Dr Clare Moriarty

IRC Postdoctoral Fellow, Philosophy, TCD

Rough Magic: Tracing a creative female corporeality in the archive and the Irish theatre tradition

Photograph by Conor Horgan

As a feminist performance scholar, I am keenly aware of the challenges in uncovering women’s theatrical contributions and gathering a legacy of their traces. Without doubt this motivated me to find a way to assemble a tradition of women in modern Irish theatre in my book, Women and Embodied Mythmaking in Irish Theatre. My research is concerned with women’s disruption of the perpetuation of mythic narratives and myths of femininity through their own theatrical mythmaking. Rough Magic productions, including Paula Meehan’s Mrs Sweeney and Olwen Fouéré’s Sodome, my Love, shape the tradition proposed by my book. This is unsurprising given the statistics: The Gender Counts Report: An Analysis of Gender in Irish Theatre, 2006–2015, highlights Rough Magic’s strong track record in working with women theatre makers in contrast to the woeful underrepresentation of women artists in the theatre organisations in receipt of the most public subsidy. The company’s archive is a valuable resource for Irish theatre scholarship enabling us to further engage with the work and legacies of the independent theatre sector. Moreover, Rough Magic’s archive assists in the project of deconstructing the male-dominated literary canon of Irish theatre through analysis of the work of women theatre makers in a variety of roles.

The canon of Irish theatre has served to marginalise women’s contributions, a process of erasure that is perpetuated through its retelling. So how might we engage with performance archives in order to build an alternative framework to the canon? In Performing Remains: Art and War in Times of Theatrical Reenactment, Rebecca Schneider warns against the binary logic which opposes archive and performance, aligning the latter with ephemerality, and describes the archive as an embodied encounter: ‘a set of live practices of access, given to take place in a house (the literal archive) built for live encounter with privileged remains’ (108). Through the process of writing my book I am performing an archive; I am engaged in the act of retrieving and preserving performances in order to house their remains. I acknowledge, as Schneider describes, ‘the archive [as] a live performance space, and the performance space [as] an archive for the revenant’ (110), and thus the tradition of women’s theatre in Ireland which I interlace is one shaped by resurfacing and remains.

The role of the body in the transmission of memory is central to my argument and it is the female writing body which facilitates the reappearance and reassertion of the archive’s remains; fleshing out a rich and unmined vein of creativity and resistance in Irish theatre.

Shifting the emphasis from discursively documented history to focus on how history and memory are enacted on and remembered through the body, is an essential step in the process of addressing how women’s bodies bear the consequences of the imposition of myths of femininity. Moreover, the erasure of the realities and lived experiences of women’s bodies from public discourse in Ireland makes this all the more vital. Bodies expose the gaps and neglected spaces of official histories to form the connective tissue that assembles a body of women’s work in Irish theatre.

Photograph by Conor Horgan

The Rough Magic archive was a crucial resource in researching the final chapter of my book which focuses on the performer Olwen Fouéré. Through analysis of her work I propose a creative female corporeality, or writing body, and trace the connections back to the earliest performances discussed in my book: the tableaux vivants performed by the Inghinidhe na hÉireann in 1901. Fouéré’s Sodome, my Love (2010) was produced by Rough Magic and directed by the artistic director Lynne Parker.

Photograph by Conor Horgan

This poetic monologue written by Laurent Gaudé, translated and performed by Fouéré, details the experiences of the last surviving woman of Sodome who has been buried under salt. The salt marks the anxiety of this retelling: it both preserves and denies life, connoting the possibilities for, and limits placed on, female bodily expression. My initial encounter was as an audience member at the Project Arts Centre in 2010, and I later viewed a DVD recording held in Rough Magic’s archive.

Furthermore, the archive granted me access to a recording of a special performance of the play in Macedonia on 31 July 2010, staged on the ancient site of the Church of St Sophia. All of these embodied encounters shaped my close analysis of the performance, and persistently forced me to engage with the tangled relationship between performance, memory and history. This between space is where performance remains as we engage with embodied history and challenge conventional notions of the archive. It is through this challenge that women’s contributions to theatre history resist what Derrida describes as the ‘house arrest’ of the archive and, I would add, the canon of modern Irish theatre.

Shonagh Hill

Women and Embodied Mythmaking in Irish Theatre is now available from Cambridge University Press:


Rough Magic Memories

The third in our series of blog posts on the Rough Magic archive is by Nicholas Grene, Professor Emeritus of English Literature, Trinity College Dublin

In the summer of 1984, I ran into Lynne Parker and Declan Hughes in Front Square; they had just graduated.  ‘What are you up to?’ I asked.  ‘We’re setting up a theatre company’.   Hardly a surprise there: they had been mainstays of D.U. Players for the four years of their time as students of English.   ‘What are you calling it?’  ‘Rough Magic’.  I was immediately struck. It was simply the most brilliant name for a theatre company — at once ‘rough’ as in experimental, challenging, and at the same time magical, transformative, as all theatre should be.  But it also showed their time in English had not been wasted: they had picked out Prospero’s line from The Tempest, ‘this rough magic / I here abjure’.  The old magus might be abjuring rough magic, but the young Turks were about to create it.

For me the ‘living archive’ on display in the Long Room brings alive vivid memories of thirty-five years of Rough Magic.  There were the shows that Lynne and Declan had staged when still in Players, like a hugely ambitious production of Tom Stoppard’s Travesties which Lynne both directed and designed.  It was an amazingly talented group which included Stanley Townsend and Darragh Kelly, Pauline McLynn and Anne Enright.  Anne, now of course an acclaimed novelist, at the time looked like becoming an actor and playwright; she played for Rough Magic in Caryl Churchill’s Top Girls (1984) and Wallace Shawn’s Aunt Dan and Lemon (1986).  Pauline McLynn, whose wonderfully infectious laugh I remember from first year tutorials, was to star opposite Owen Roe in the magnificent 2006 Taming of the Shrew transposed to a 1970s Irish Midlands pub.  (When she was playing Mrs Doyle in Father Ted, I had to reassure people I had actually taught her – she wasn’t really that old.)

Rough Magic transformed Irish theatre in the 1980s by staging edgy contemporary British and American plays.  I still recall the unfortunate Anne Byrne and Martin Murphy, in different scenes of Howard Barker’s No End of Blame (1985), having to stand stock still and stark naked in the tiny, old Project Arts Theatre, perishingly cold as it was in those days — you could count each goose pimple.  The company gave new currency to classic English plays as in their sleazy production of the Restoration comedy The Country Wife (1986), or Wilde’s Lady Windermere’s Fan (1991) with most of the characters in drag.  But they also commissioned important new work from Irish playwrights: Gina Moxley’s Danti Dan (1995), Donal O’Kelly’s one-man show Bat the Father, Rabbit the Son (1988), and of course Declan Hughes’s own Digging for Fire (1991).  These productions fundamentally changed audiences’ expectations as to what an Irish play might be like.

Music was always a key part of Rough Magic’s work, and Helene Montague, one of the founding members of the group, was very important here, as was Arthur Riordan who wrote the astonishingly funny musical Improbable Frequency with Bell Helicopter (2004).   A part of the daring of their Phaedra (2011) was the collaboration of playwright Hilary Fanning and composer Ellen Cranitch in creating a drama that alternated between spoken dialogue and glorious singing.

When I look through this exhibit, with posters, programmes and scripts for so many shows of Rough Magic that I saw over the years, it serves to renew all the pleasure the company has given me, and as a living archive to enable me to live it through all over again.

Nicholas Grene

Professor Emeritus of English Literature, Trinity College Dublin