Family of New Ross builder Andrew Cullen donate historical documents relating to St Mary & Michael’s Parish Church, Convent of the Good Shepherd, parish presbytery, town hall, workhouse and technical institute
Historical documents about a New Ross man who oversaw the building of St Mary & Michael’s parish church have been donated to a national archive.
Andrew Cullen, a builder operating in New Ross, is best known for constructing the Roman Catholic church designed by Walter G. Doolin, which was opened to parishioners 120 years ago this month.
Numerous records in the Cullen collection relate to the extensive building project of the church during the period c.1885-1910. These include site plans, drawings, sketches, interior decorative schemes, financial records (including workmen’s wage books and account ledgers), correspondence, photographs and ongoing maintenance work.
The collection also contains records relating to other New Ross institutional building projects: the Convent of the Good Shepherd, the town’s national schools, parish presbytery, town hall, workhouse and technical institute.
The original church collection of drawings/papers had been retained by three generations of the Cullen family at Abbeyview House on Church Street in the town, which was the family homestead of the builder Andrew Cullen.
Following Andrew Cullen’s death in 1931, the collection was in the care of his only daughter Cissie, who took great pride in their safe keeping and often spoke about various stories relating to the construction of the church as handed down to her by her father.
On Cissie’s death in 1989, the safe keeping of the collection was undertaken by Cissie’s nephew Andy.
Upon Andy’s death in 2012, the collection was cared for by Andy’s wife Margaret until 2018, when Margaret and the Cullen family decided to donate the entire collection to the Irish Architectural Archives in Merrion Square, Dublin 2.
A combination of scarce research resources in the archives and the onset of the Covid pandemic contributed to delays of the final cataloguing of the collection until early in 2022.
“The Andrew Cullen Collection is a rarity,” said Colum O’Riordan, CEO of the Irish Architectural Archive.
“While the records of architects, especially their drawings, are often minded and preserved, those of builders and contractors are far less likely to survive. To have so comprehensive a set of records of a late 19th/early 20th century building contractor is very fortuitous, and the Cullen Collection constitutes an important addition to the holdings of the Irish Architectural Archive.”
Mr O’Riordan said the collection sheds particular light on Andrew Cullen’s most ambitious building project, the Church of SS Michael and Mary in New Ross. Site plans and other drawings issued to the Cullen by the architect Walter Glynn Doolin are supplemented workmen’s wage books, invoices, and correspondence to give a vivid picture of some of the efforts involved in bringing this project to fruition.
The collection also reveals Cullen’s involvement in numerous other projects in and around New Ross including the Convent of the Good Shepherd, national schools, parish presbytery, town hall, workhouse and technical institute, as well as smaller domestic and commercial jobs.
“But the collection goes well beyond just detailing building projects. The documents in this archive provide a fascinating glimpse into the busy world of a local business man, the nature of his trade, his network of associations and suppliers, and his place in the commercial life of New Ross as the 19th century ended and the 20th began.
The Andrew Cullen collection spans the period 1883-1946. Architectural drawings, bills of quantities and financial records survived for several of these projects.
Smaller domestic and commercial repair, renovation and construction works are evident from the many draft estimates, invoices, correspondence and supplier bills contained in the financial records.
Altogether, these records present an important provincial builder who occupied a central role in New Ross in this period. The Cullen collection provides unique insight into the operations of local businesses in late-19th century/early-20th century Ireland. Bill heads, merchant and store account books, printed ephemera (posters, advertisements, trade catalogues) and correspondence are illuminating on the commerce surrounding the building industry and established trade connections within Ireland and between Irish and British suppliers.
Convenience and necessity prompted Andrew Cullen on many occasions to draft letters and invoices on the reverse of wallpaper cuttings; and a representative selection of these are contained in the collection.
The financial records indicate that towards the end of the 1920s Peter Cullen, Andrew Cullen’s son, took over the running of the business. There are few projects evident from this period; St John of God National School in The Faythe, Wexford town and a proposed church in Poulpeasty are the main building works contained in the later records of the Cullen collection.
Also featuring in the collection are a collection of one large account ledger, small bound ledgers, a file of unbound ledger sheets and workmen’s wage books for the period 1883-1930. Some of these records and ledgers relate to specific building projects but others contain multiple projects or specify work carried out by labourers according to dates.
A collection of account books detail a variety of accounts held by Cullen with builders’ providers, hardware suppliers, grocers and merchants. Most of these were local, New Ross businesses but one is an order book for Cullen’s account with the Dublin builders’ providers Brooks, Thomas & Co. Ltd. These account books span the period 1889-1931.