Lessons from the past
Alexander Strain was one of a number of early 20th Century builders whose workmanship and dedication to quality is still something to aspire to today. Yvonne Hogan reports
There are a number of builders who worked in Dublin in the first half of the last century whose reputations live long after them and whose names are synonymous with good, solid, stylish houses.
On the southside of the city you had Kenny, Crampton and Stringer and on the north side there was Alexander Strain.
There are currently five examples of Strain's houses on the market -- 22 Iona Park (asking €1.75m), 13 Lindsay Road (€750,000), and new to the market is 88 Lindsay Road, a five bedroom, 172sqm in need of work asking €850,000, with Lisney's (01 8840700); 100 Lindsay Road (€795,000) is with Savills (01 8530630) and 38 Cliftonville Road (€695,000) is with Sherry FitzGerald (01 8373737).
Ruth McManus, who works as a lecturer in the Geography Department at St Patrick's College, Drumcondra has written about Strain in her book Dublin 1910-1940: shaping the city and suburbs.
When McManus was researching the book, she found that, even 70 years after his death, there was a lot of affection for Strain.
"One of the reasons that his name survived was because he had a good reputation.
"And that was not just about building houses. It was also about being a decent person. He was very committed to the community and he helped people.
"If a worker was ill and unable to work he would have compassion. If somebody was falling behind on their repayments, he would give them a bit of a dig out. He was also involved in the community through his work in the Presbyterian Church, and he served on the board of Drumcondra hospital.
"He was a speculative builder, he was in it to make money, but he built to a very high standard. The building materials are top quality."
Strain, who was known as Alec, was the eldest son of builder Robert Strain, Markethill, Co Armagh and moved to Rathmines in 1893 where he worked as a timber traveller. He moved to Drumcondra in 1902, where he spent the rest of his life, retiring on the Cremore estate.
During his working life, he moved with his family wherever he was building and according to census records between 1908 and 1912 Strain, who was then in his mid-30s, had at least three different addresses in the Iona area -- 2 Iona Park, 8 Iona Drive and 76 Iona Road.
22 Iona Park was built around 1910 and the five bedroom, house is unusual, according to McManus, as the builder did not build many detached houses.
It now extends to 252sqm (2,711sq ft), after the current owners added a modern architect-designed extension to the rear. Most of the original features are in place.
The entrance hallway features a decorative archway, original ceiling plasterwork and ornate staircase.
Number 22, as well as the two houses on Lindsay Road, was most likely built for an owner occupier, which McManus says was unusual.
"It would have been common at the time for people to buy houses as investments, but it seems in Lindsay Road residents were mainly owner occupiers rather than renters, even though 90pc of people before the First World War rented their houses. Strain was building just at the cusp of this change."
In examining the census records, McManus found that the Strain houses were built for the up and coming middle classes.
"There's an interesting range of occupants in Iona Park at the time of the 1911 Census -- of 15 households, five had a general domestic servant.
"The occupations listed vary considerably. Lindsay Road had a business manager, a landlord, a timber merchant's manager, a civil engineer, a customs officer, a railway inspector -- all fairly well to do."
Of the houses on the market now on Lindsay Road, No 13 is a four-bedroom, 138sqm house with period features intact and a full red brick façade.
Upstairs the large bedrooms all retain their original cast iron open fireplaces. The rear garden extends to over 100 feet in length. Number 100 is in need of updating but retains many original features
Although it is in need of upgrading, the four-bedroom property retains many of its original features, including double bay windows to the front, a stained glass front door, windows and sliding doors also with stained glass.
The internal doors and windows are also original. Extending to 133sqm (1,430sq ft) in size. Number 100 also has a south-facing rear garden, measuring some 88ft in length.
Cliftonville Road was built after the war, around 1925, and differs greatly from the houses on Lindsay and Iona.
"There was a big servant problem at the time, so you don't tend to get the extra room for the maid with these houses.
In Cliftonville buyers were offered the option of having the attic converted before they moved in so the landing was built tall and wide to accommodate a staircase."
38 Cliftonville Road, having been extended to the rear is a sizeable 162sqm. The attic has been converted for a large bedroom with en suite shower room.
Before his death in 1943, Strain went on to build in Cremore and Mobhi Road among other areas in Drumcondra.
Dublin 1910-1940: shaping the city and suburbs (2002), Four Courts Press, Dublin. ISBN 1-85182-615-7 (Hbk); ISBN 1-85182-712-9 (Pbk)