Friday 31 October 2014

Back to the Upstairs Downstairs lifestyle

Published 19/04/2014 | 02:30

The semi detached home of almost 3,000 sq ft at number 39 Brighton Road has just been placed on the market by Savills.
The semi detached home of almost 3,000 sq ft at number 39 Brighton Road has just been placed on the market by Savills.
A scene from the television series Upstairs Downstairs, shows how life would have been

The lofty red brick homes of Brighton Road in Dublin's Rathgar represent the last hurrah in residential architecture for the wealthy Anglo-Irish merchant and military classes who fled Dublin city centre in the late 19th Century, taking with them their servant- catered Upstairs Downstairs lifestyles.

A semi-detached home of almost 3,000 sq ft at number 39 has just been placed on the market by Savills which is seeking €1.35m in a top-end Dublin 6 market that has recently heated up with trophy home-buyers.

These streets originated in the mid-19th Century when, thanks to Emancipation, the Catholic nationalist population in the city had become more educated.

Its growing middle classes were taking over in business and in city politics. Middle-class nationalists were starting to dominate the city council.

At the other end of the social strata, Dublin city's slums had become the worst in Europe, causing increased crime and disease. Taxes increased heavily on the city's rich as more money was needed to fund poorhouses and relief measures.

So from the 1860s on, the Anglo-Irish began to abandon their big city squares in earnest and headed to the 'country' where they laid out fresh new streets under the reduced tax regimes of new unionist-dominated councils such as Rathmines/Rathgar and Pembroke.

In their new 'township' tax havens they attempted to recreate their lives, putting up dramatic town hall buildings from which to run local affairs as well as churches, civic buildings, sports clubs, libraries, banks and schools.

The Rathmines/Rathgar Township based under the grand four-faced clock tower of Rathmines Town Hall ran in Rathgar, Rathmines, Milltown and Terenure and was a unionist council right up to its abolition in 1930.

But the city-fleeing professionals and civil servants brought an army of Catholics with them to Dublin 6.

The census of 1911 shows that most big homes in Rathgar had both Catholics and Protestants, rural-born and city-born, living under one roof almost in equal numbers – the wealthy professional Protestants living "upstairs" on the first-floor level and above and their Catholic servants working downstairs.

The latter were mostly young women from the country who spent their days working in the basement and ground-level kitchens, sculleries and laundries and their nights sleeping in tiny rooms at the top of the house.

Believed to have been constructed in 1907, number 39 was among the last of Dublin's homes to be built in the great two-storey-over-garden-level format designed to facilitate the old Upstairs Downstairs household system.

We can only imagine the household dynamic that was at work in number 39, which the census shows housed five single adults from both sides of the social and religious divides in 1911.

The home was owned by the wealthy Tyrone-born Anglican McCullough family which included William Hill McCullough, a 30-year-old single solicitor, and his younger brother Robert Stewart McCullough, a 29-year-old bank official.

Also living in the house were two sisters – 22-year-old Kate Deegan, a cook and servant, and 16-year-old Elizabeth Deegan, a general servant – both from Co Wicklow.

The lady of the house was 31-year-old Isobel McCullough, older sister of William and Robert.

Given the norms of the day, we can assume that the older Deegan sister held the more responsible role of cook and senior servant while her younger sister would have performed the more menial roles like lighting the fires in the morning, laundry tasks and general cleaning, sweeping, carpet beating and polishing.

As the lady of the house, Miss McCullough would have supervised the household budget and scrutinised the ordering of groceries, supplies and coal deliveries as well as organising the sorts of society social evenings that most well-to-do families held in their inter-linked dining rooms and drawing rooms.

In the case of number 39, the downstairs accommodation today contains four big rooms, leading us to believe that the servant sisters also shared a bedroom below stairs.

Today the servants' former realm below stairs has been modernised and contains a bright playroom with cherrywood floors and French doors to the garden, a hall which has its own front entrance (the tradesman's entrance of old), a study and two bedrooms – a far cry from the great kitchen, scullery, larder and bedroom complex of old.

Upstairs at the main door there's an entrance hall with a maple floor and an ornately coved ceiling leading into the drawing room with an open marble fireplace.

Two folding doors lead to the dining room with a second ornate fireplace.

There's also a kitchen with granite work tops and a breakfast room with recessed lighting, a floating stairs and and a maple floor.

On the top floor the house has two bedrooms, one with a cherrywood floor, and a family bathroom which includes a Jacuzzi bath and a shower.

The front garden comes with an electronic gate and is 35ft long while the rear garden of 90ft in length has a Shomera shed located at the end of it.

Typical of a house of this age, the railings and structure are protected.

What is ironic today is that these extra-large red brick home styles are now sought out and many converted back from rented units as single trophy homes.

The wealthy families who buy them are once again utilising the additional space to house live-in au pairs and household helps.

  • For further information contact Savills (01-6181479).

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