Headfort House

Doors & fanlight installed in the archway

No 39 was built in 1790, by Henry Darley, stone cutter and master builder. The Darley family had been involved in building projects in Dublin from the early 18th. century, owning quarries and carrying out construction work on major buildings, ranging from Trinity College to the Custom House. In 1785 Henry Darley took leases on the sites of numbers 39,41 and 42 from the Archdall family, then owners of the Mount Eccles estate, which had been laid out as North Great Georges Strteet in the late 1760's. It would appear that he then constructed No. 43, the largest house on the street for Theophilus Clements, followed by his own sites, first No.42 which he then sold to Henry Bruen of Oak Park, Co. Carlow and then No. 41 which he also sold. No. 39 was not built until 1790 and was then leased to Lord Headfort, eldest son of the Earl of Bective, of Headfort House, Co. Meath. As part of that agreement Darley had the carpenter James Bowden install doors in the archway between the front hall and the stair hall, as well as sundry works in the basement and stables, while Lord Headfort had the same carpenter carry out considerable works in the kitchen, including a dresser, tables and shelving, clothes racks and turned hanging pins in the attic rooms and a glazed sash and frame and a seat in the privy. All these works were measured by the quantity surveyor Bryan Bolger on 21st. December 1790.


Lord Headfort succeeded his father as Earl of Bective in 1795 and presumably moved to the family townhouse in then Rutland, now Parnell Square. Stephen Moore MP, of Barne Park, Clonmel, Co. Tipperary, then occupied the house. He was a first cousin of Lord Headfort. Mrs. Mary Moore of Barne Park is listed as living in the house in 1840 and was probably his widow.

By 1850, the house, now held in trust, was let to a barrister, Patrick Owen Cogan and in 1909, was being run as a boarding house by a Mrs. Hill, who lived there with her husband and daughters. It was afterwards occupied by a rector of St. Georges Church, and later by a doctor from the Childrens Hospital in Temple Street. In the 18th.c. when this house was built, there was no plumbing or sanitary facilities and it was probably towards the end of the 19th.c. that it became fashionable to install a bathroom, usually by thrusting out an extension from the 2nd. half landing on the stairs, hence the name "thrust out." Such a bathroom was installed in No.39. This would have been the height of sophistication in the Edwardian era.


The staircase in 1973 & 1976 right

In 1939 the trust let the house to a builder, giving him permission to let it out in rooms. This was the final stage in a downward spiral that almost ended in its demolition. It had probably not been well maintained throughout the 19th.c. but the intensive use it was now subjected to led to a rapid deterioration and it soon became an "open door tenement," with no lock on the front door and the interior common areas open to all. In 1948, there were 11 families living in the house, mostly one family per room. Many of these were large families. There were no services in any of the rooms, and with only the single bathroom off the half landing and a second wc at the door to the back yard conditions were grim. A sink had been installed outside the bathroom and leakage from this caused extensive rot on the staircase. Leaking rainwater downpipes caused further rot, and the roof slating had failed and been replaced with a temporary covering of chipboard and green mineral felt. In 1966 the trust sold the house for £200. It again changed hands in 1973, to an owner interested in its preservation. He had the remaining tenants rehoused and upgraded the house as offices and flats.

The roof before and during restoration

The present owners bought the house in 1976. There was absolutely no budget for repairs, but nevertheless urgent works were carried out in the first few years. The temporary roof was stripped, roof timbers repaired, gutters relaid, and the whole reslated. The bowed wall at the rear was taken down to 3rd. floor window sill level and rebuilt. Extensive dry rot in the floor and wall timbers and around the window of the back drawing room was dealt with, the floor relaid and the window surrounds repaired. Extensive restoration was carried out on the upper floors and the large return annex, where a new kitchen was installed and the latter flat roof replaced with a slated pitched roof. The mews building which had been sold off was bought back and developed as 14 apartments, helping to maintain a residential element in the area. 


Work in progress in the early days. The factory built over the neighbouring garden, with windows looking directly into no. 39 can be seen. Extensive rot in the drawing room and the return annex was repaired.

Internally, many decorative features were repaired or replaced where missing. Skirtings, architraves and other woodwork had been badly damaged and required careful repair, decorative plasterwork likewise. Both had been heavily overpainted and had to be cleaned down to bare wood or plaster, before being repainted. Much of this work is still in progress.

Architrave and overdoor in back drawing room after removal of built up paint layers and repainting, although replaced righthand corner of cornice is awaiting recarving.