A wretched caricature…

The English architect and champion of the Gothic revival A.W.N. Pugin was so averse to certain types of wallpaper that he gave vent to his feelings in a typically polemic outburst, writing in 1841 of ‘…what are termed Gothic pattern papers..where a wretched caricature of a pointed building is repeated from the skirting to the cornice in glorious confusion – door over pinnacle and pinnacle over door…’ An example of just such a pattern came to light recently during the refurbishment of a house on Dublin’s Ormond Quay. Block-printed in shades of umber-grey, the pattern consists of elaborate pointed arches opening onto views of a cathedral interior. The only surviving piece of the paper was found attached – rather incongruously – to the mullion separating two windows which look out onto the quay from the ground floor front room.

ormond quay

At first glance, the design is reminiscent of the ‘pillar and arch’ paper found recently in Trinity College (see ‘Paper Pillars of the Establishment’), but it dates from almost a century later. The repeating gothic arches and the illusionistic representation of space behind them (resulting in an illogical multiplicity of vanishing points) are exactly the kind of elements which caused Pugin’s spleen to rise. Not content with condemning such patterns on aesthetic grounds, Pugin went on to complain that they were ‘a great favourite with hotel and tavern keepers’. He seems to have been correct here, as the occupants of the Ormond Quay house in the early nineteenth century were consistently employed in the vending of alcohol: from 1822-31 it was a Spirit-Stores; from 1832-42 the owner was listed as a Tavern Keeper, and in 1847 it was the premises of a Wine Merchant.

It may strike us as odd that depictions of ecclesiastical architecture were considered a suitable backdrop for quaffing strong liquors, but in today’s Dublin, where disused churches find new life as bars, nightclubs and even distilleries, the symbiosis of the spiritual and the spirituous seems just as unproblematic. Not far from Ormonde Quay, the former St. Mary’s Church at the corner of Mary and Jervis Streets has been converted to a pub-nightclub-restaurant, where revellers can pause to read the memorial slabs of eighteenth-century parishioners, while across the river the former church of St. James in the Liberties is soon to re-open as the Pearse-Lyons Distillery, the tower of the 1861 structure now enhanced with a dramatic steel and glass steeple.