Origins of term "Dutch Billy"

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This topic contains 10 replies, has 8 voices, and was last updated by  Paul Clerkin 10 years, 6 months ago.

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  • #710329

    stephenpower
    Participant

    I am currently writing and photographing a travel book on Ireland that includes some of the “Dutch Billy” style buildings in both Dublin and Limerick.

    My editor would like me to include a paragraph explaining the origins of the term “Dutch Billy”. He asks: “Does it refer to William of Orange? If so, why are they so-called? Because they were deemed to reflect the architecture of the Protestant ascendancy?”

    If anyone can help fill in these gaps for me – or point me to a source (preferably on the web) I’d be very grateful.

    Thanks for any help.

    Stephen Power

  • #805608

    Anonymous

    My assumption (and I may be wrong in this) is that the term ‘Dutch Billy’ is derived from William of Orange. The first reference to the term I encountered was from Maurice Craig’s book on Dublin. It may well be of older origin, but I cannot say. Perhaps if you check the Dublin Penny Journal where there are some drawings of ‘Dutch Billys’ you may discover if the term was in use in the 19th Century.

  • #805609

    Anonymous

    Thanks for your help Mr Neligan – much appreciated.

    Stephen

  • #805610

    Anonymous

    Maurice Craig. Dublin 1660-1860 (Figgis, 1980 reprint of 1952 original, pp86-7, includes illustrations):
    “The linen and silk weavers who now became so prominent a section of the population were mostly immigrants. Since before the Revocation of the Edict of Nantes in 1685 there had been a considerable influx of French Huguenot craftsmen into Dublin, and after 1690 they were augmented by Dutch and Flemish Protestants. These workers are credited – how justly I do not know – with the introduction of the type of house known in Dublin as a ‘Dutch-Billy’. The distinctive feature is that the roof-ridge runs at right angles to the street, though sometimes a cross-ridge is introduced giving four gables and extra space in the lofts. The front gables, in the most characteristic examples, are masked by quadrants sweeping up to very flat curved or triangular pediments. These houses were built of brick, and designed to stand in continuous terraces. Very often economy was achieved by the use of corner fireplaces so that two houses might share a single huge chimney-stack. The returns generally contained a small closet on each floor, and the roof-pitch was steeper than became usual later in the century.” (Craig goes on to list streets where they were built.)

    Maurice Craig. The Architecture of Ireland from the earliest times to 1880 (Lambay, 1987 reprint of 1982 original, pp157-61, with photo of Longford Street on p158):
    “Among the larger houses there survived long enough to be recorded [on Rocque’s map of 1756] three examples of a type which we may conveniently call ‘double-dutch-billies’. In Stephen’s Green West, at 30 Jervis Street and in Mill Street there were houses presenting to the street a pair of curvilinear pedimented gables of the type known to architectural historians as ‘Holborn’ gables, and traditionally called in Dublin ‘dutch billies’, but with the front door central or nearly so. Of the humbler, single-fronted houses, some had simple gables and others the dutch billy proper. The last pair of the latter kind to survive were in Longford Street and were destroyed in about 1960. The type was common in the Liberties until very recently, but not restricted to Dublin, since examples are known from Cork and Waterford, from Limerick where there was a whole street of them in 1845, and from Newry where some survived until very recently indeed. The roofs were cruciform with purlins running at right-angles to the street and halved over the purlins of the intersecting roofs. The houses were cheaply built and tended to prop each other up, and generally shared one massive stack to each pair. Corner fireplaces were the rule… These are the houses which Curran had in mind when he wrote of ‘the depressing cloud of Anglo-Dutch and Hanoverian taste … the debased mould into which the town was setting … irregluar gables stepped or topped with graceless triangles or the feeblest of baroque curves fall[ing] short of the picturesque even in fallacious retrospect.’ He goes on to inveigh against what he calls ‘the impoverished zone of nordic building stretching from … Potsdam to Dublin’. These are harsh words, loaded with animus uncharacteristic of their author, who would, I cannot help feeling, wish to soften them now that nothing but a few pitiful fragments remain of something once so characteristic and so common.”

    Niall McCullough. Dublin an urban history (Anne Street Press, 2007, pp186-7. The book also includes many photos of Dutch Billies, mostly from the collection of the Royal Society of Antiquaries of Ireland):
    “Corner chimney stacks were certainly in use by 1700 and probably before. Francis Place’s drawings of Islandbridge and Arran Quay in 1698 present the likelihood of the ‘Dutch Billy’ plan with corner stacks in use at that time; the Chambre Street houses, traditionally built by French immigrants before 1700, must have had shared stacks and mean narrow halls as the doors were right up against the party wall. This plan was absolutely common by 1720; it had vanished by the last third of the 18th century… Decorative gables are worth specific comment. In purely stylistic terms, the image of riotously gabled streets forms a part of folk-memory in Dublin; brick gables were clearly in use by the third quarter of the 17th century and their influence lasted well into the 18th before petering out in rere elevations and returns. They were certainly one of the city’s most distinctive aspects, remarkable for their number, scale and the curious provinciality they represented, the outcome of a building boom during their fashionable heyday. All types are represnted, stepped gables in the Hollinshed engravings and in Golden Lane, ‘Holborn’ gables in Thomas Dinely’s drawings of the 1670s; Francis Place’s sketched straight and curvilinear ones in 1698, more obviously redolent of the Dutch phase of influence and perhaps by then imbued with a political cachet in loyal Dublin… “

  • #805611

    Anonymous

    Trace

    Thank you for taking the time (especially on New Years Eve) to make such an informative and comprehensive reply. Your information is all I need to write a short piece for the book (“The Backroads of Ireland” – to be published by DK “Eyewitness” Guides in 2010).

    Happy New Year.

    Stephen

  • #805612

    Anonymous

    An excellent summary trace, thanks for the effort. Perhaps this could be made a sticky on the Billy thread?

  • #805613

    Anonymous

    @grahamh wrote:

    An excellent summary trace, thanks for the effort. Perhaps this could be made a sticky on the Billy thread?

    + 1

    &

    A Happy New Year’s to all 🙂

  • #805614

    Anonymous

    @trace wrote:

    Maurice Craig. Dublin 1660-1860 (Figgis, 1980 reprint of 1952 original, pp86-7, includes illustrations):
    “The linen and silk weavers who now became so prominent a section of the population were mostly immigrants. Since before the Revocation of the Edict of Nantes in 1685 there had been a considerable influx of French Huguenot craftsmen into Dublin, and after 1690 they were augmented by Dutch and Flemish Protestants. These workers are credited – how justly I do not know – with the introduction of the type of house known in Dublin as a ‘Dutch-Billy’.

    Maurice Craig. The Architecture of Ireland from the earliest times to 1880 (Lambay, 1987 reprint of 1982 original, pp157-61,:
    These are the houses which Curran had in mind when he wrote of ‘the depressing cloud of Anglo-Dutch and Hanoverian taste … the debased mould into which the town was setting … irregluar gables stepped or topped with graceless triangles or the feeblest of baroque curves fall[ing] short of the picturesque even in fallacious retrospect.’ He goes on to inveigh against what he calls ‘the impoverished zone of nordic building stretching from … Potsdam to Dublin’.

    Niall McCullough. Dublin an urban history (Anne Street Press, 2007, pp186-7:
    . . . . Francis Place’s sketched straight and curvilinear (gables) in 1698, more obviously redolent of the Dutch phase of influence and perhaps by then imbued with a political cachet in loyal Dublin… “

    I’ve just picked out a couple of key passages from this great post by trace, and I also want to quote a passage from ‘Gabled Houses in the Liberties, in the 17th & 18th Centuries’, by Peter Walsh, published in the Liberties Festival pamphlet of 1992, called ‘The Liberties of Dublin’. This article was a follow up to his fantastic earlier article ‘Dutch Billys in the Liberties’ in another publication of the same name ‘The Liberties of Dublin’ edited by Elgy Gillispie in 1973.

    Peter walsh:

    ”In the last decade of the 17th century two European gable-types made their appearance in Dublin. They were (a) the stepped or Corbie gable and (b) the curvilinear gable with pediment.

    Houses in the Liberties with such gables were basically no different from the ‘Chamber Street Type’. The principal architectural features remained unchanged and any difference was one of decoration. Curved and stepped gables were applied to what was an indigenous form. Heavily moulded string-courses were introduced along with a more sophisticated treatment of interiors. The blend of old and new was perfect, as both streams shared a common source, and a very ”Dutch looking” style emerged. In Dublin the purity found in those English counties which housed Dutch settlements is absent.

    The curvilinear gable with pediment is found chiefly in the South East of England and this is the variety which in Dublin was called by a pet name of William III – ”Dutch Billy”.

    What I’m wondering out loud is whether, in seeing the emergence of the ‘Dutch Billy’ as an elaboration of an indigenous form, we may be under-played the political significance of the ‘Dutch Billy’ phenomenon.

    It seems pretty clear, from the number and spread of examples that we have evidence for, that a movement involving the construction of ‘Dutch’ gabled houses swept through the urban centres of Ireland like a wild fire, more or less, beginning around 1690. I suspect that this movement which was sustained for more than half a century, was much more than simply ”a Dutch phase of influence . . perhaps . . imbued with a political cachet in loyal Dublin” as McCullough eloquently puts it, I suspect that the ‘political cachet’ was the point.

    I suspect that, what we’re looking at, in the sudden adoption and subsequent development of this ‘Dutch’ style of house design is very probably a deliberate and conscious act of celebration by the much relieved protestant citizens of Dublin (soon followed by their counterparts around the country), of the triumph of William of Orange.

    We don’t have to look far to see what the enduring impact that King Billy’s victory at the Boyne has been on this island and I doubt if it would be possible to over-state the impact of these pivotal events, at the time.

    Even from a quick re-reading of my school history book, it seems clear from the legislation being passed by James’ Irish Parliament in the months leading up to the showdown on the Boyne, that what was about to happen (largely outside of the control of James) was in effect the complete reversal of the entire Protestant settlement in Ireland and what was in jeopardy for Irish Protestants was not just their property and position of ascendancy, but, in many cases, their lives as well.

    We know that symbolism surrounding King Billy has been at the centre of Irish loyalism, from day one, in the proliferation of ‘Boyne Societies’ in pre-Orange Order days, to the tradition of placing a model of a white horse in the fanlight of Irish Protestant households. In this context, a political/religious impulse to litterally nail your ‘Dutch Billy’ colours to the mast in the bricks and mortar of your new house, especially since the war had now been emphatically decided, doesn’t seem all that odd. An understandable desire to ‘take ownership’ of King Billy given that the decisive events were played out on Irish soil may may also have been at work.

    I like this scenario, it seems fit the facts. It also fits the fact that the ‘Dutch’ gabled building tradition, that we can see was central to the post 1690 development of Dublin and Limerick, and which was strongly represented in the other urban centres of Ireland, is utterly peripheral, at best, in England and almost absent completely from London. This divergence in building traditions can best be explained by the particularly precarious position in which Irish protestants had found themselves, pre-Boyne, compared to their English counterparts, and consequently the particular significance for them of King Billy’s susequent triumph, combined with perhaps a blissfull ignorance of the full depth of the intense political and economic rivalry that always prevented the English from ever going too Dutch.

    Whatever about the initial motivation, the adoption of the ‘Dutch’ gable as the signiture theme in the re-invigorated building scene that the peace following the Williamite victory brought to Ireland, quickly took on a life of it’s own and, as we’ve said before, quickly developed the complex vocabulary of a fully fledged building tradition. one which was to roll on for at least another sixty years and one which reached levels of sophisticated urbanism that would have stood comparison with contemporary traditions anywhere in Europe, though one which, ironically, was never to the taste of British commentators.

  • #805615

    Anonymous

    I see from the Research Council for the Humanities and Social Sciences (IRCHSS), which “was established in 2000 by the Minister for Education and Science in response to the need to develop Ireland’s research capacity and skills base in a rapidly-changing global environment where knowledge is key to economic and social growth”, that Evelien Schillern is currently writing a PhD at UCD on The Dutch financial and landed interests in Ireland, 1689-1702. Would be interesting to know what nuggets are turning up in the research… Funded by the Irish Government under the National Development Plan 2007-2013
    http://www.irchss.ie/awards/scheme01.html

  • #805616

    Anonymous

    @trace wrote:

    . . . would be interesting to know what nuggets are turning up in the research…

    . . . and will she be a good chicken and share her nuggets?

    I meant to pick up on this earlier:

    @trace wrote:

    Maurice Craig quoting Curran’s rant against Dutch Billys: ”. . . the impoverished zone of nordic building stretching from … Potsdam to Dublin”.

    Curran’s passing reference to Potsdam is interesting.

    From what I can tell, German gabled houses of the 17th and 18th centuries fall into two main categories, a North Sea/Baltic brick tradition, best seen in the old Hanseatic cities from Hamburg to Gdansk, and a central European Baroque tradition. Both ultimately derived from the late medieval merchant house which, almost universally, had a stepped gable, a very tall ground floor and a near central arched doorway.


    Three examples from Lubeck, two late 16th century merchant houses and a later curvininear gabled house, all from the Baltic brick tradition.

    In general, the Northern tradition was more sober, protestant, and obviously related to the tradition emerging in Holland. In general, the Southern tradition was more ornate and flamboyant with stuccoed facades related to counter-reformation church architecture. The two related German traditions, cross-pollenated in the process of renewal and repair to the extent that many Baltic brick houses now look almost as Central European as their cousins in Bavaria and Bohemia. Even where the gables are curvilinear, German houses always had a solidity that rarely looks particularly Dutch.


    examples of German gabled houses from Augsburg, Stralsund and Rostock.

    The thing about Potsdam is that it doesn’t actually belong to either of these traditions, because Potsdam didn’t really exist until the second half of the 17th century. What Potsdam does have is a purpose built ‘Dutch Quarter’ created between 1732 and 1742, by Elector Frederick, specifically to entice a community of Dutch craftsmen to Brandenburg.


    Houses in the ‘Dutch Quarter’ of Potsdam.

    Something like 130, red brick, gabled houses were built by Frederick in Potsdam, all of which have a beautifully simplified form, almost as if the desired Dutch urban house type was reduced to just it’s essential elements for transportation, brick, a single predominant window size, and a curvilinear gable.

    What I think is interesting about what these Potsdam houses reveal is that these are the essential elements that also show up in the characteristic Irish ‘Dutch Billy’ of the same period. As it happens surprisingly few Dutch houses fronting the canals of Amsterdam, Harlem or Delft actually follow this formula. The ‘Neck’ and ‘Bell’ gables of 17th & 18th century Dutch architecture are far more complex than this simple formula, but it’s still the sweeping profile of the gable that sticks in the imagination and becomes the characteristic image, not the intricately devised ‘claw-pieces’, ‘frontons’ and ‘festoons’ that are the means of categorising Dutch houses of the period.


    Sketch of a typical terrace in Amsterdam showing ‘Neck-gables’ and ‘Bell-gables’.

    What I think this tells us is that the origins of our ‘Dutch Billys’ are not so much that we suddenly had a nucleus of Dutch residents (which coincidently we probably did) building houses in their native style, but that we decided, like Frederick in Potsdam forty years later, to build houses that ‘looked’ Dutch for specific reasons, in his case: to entice Dutch craftsmen, in our case: to celebrate Dutch Billy. An early case of it does exactly what it says on the tin!

  • #805617

    Paul Clerkin
    Keymaster

    It could also be Dutch in the way that the Amish are Pennslyania Dutch, – a bastardisation of Deutsch – german

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