2004:0583 - REUBEN STREET/DOLPHIN, Dublin

NMI Burial Excavation Records

County: Dublin Site name: REUBEN STREET/DOLPHIN

Sites and Monuments Record No.: SMR 18:43(01) Licence number: 04E0512

Author: Emer Dennehy, Margaret Gowen & Co. Ltd, 27 Merrion Square, Dublin 2.

Site type: City watercourse; environs of tannery; post-medieval houses

ITM: E 713852m, N 732945m

Latitude, Longitude (decimal degrees): 53.334481, -6.290567

The proposed development site was situated on the junction of Reuben Street and Dolphin's Barn Street. The site was triangular in plan and measured 41m north-south by 21m (5m min.). It was divided in two by a 4m-wide concrete footpath (St James' Walk) leading from Dolphin's Barn to St James' Street. Test excavation was undertaken at the site due to its location within the zone of archaeological potential of the city watercourse. A portion of this proposed development site, consisting of medieval gullies and a tannery, had previously been excavated by Alan Hayden (Excavations 2002, No. 571, 01E0614).

Testing identified the remains of the city watercourse as running through the site parallel to and partially covered by St James' Walk. The remains of late 18th-century houses were identified in the north-eastern quarter of the site immediately adjacent to the portion of the site previously excavated by Hayden. The two archaeological areas were subsequently excavated under the above licence.

Area I: city watercourse
The remains of the city watercourse crossed the proposed development site in a north-east/southwest direction for a length of 55m. Though initially constructed in the 13th century through the excavation of a large embanked ditch, the watercourse was later formalised through the construction of retaining walls. The Calender of Ancient Records of Dublin illustrate that this construction of retaining stone walls commenced in 1605, but it was in the early 18th century (1736) that the complete restructuring of the watercourse was commissioned. These walls later collapsed and were rebuilt in the Dolphin's Barn area in 1754. St James' Walk is known to have run parallel to the city watercourse since at least 1756, when it is illustrated on Rocque's map of the city of Dublin as beaten trackway. On 19th-century cartographic courses, St James' Walk is a formalised route accessed in Dolphin's Barn via a series of steps. This confirms literary sources that speak of the watercourse as an 'elevated rampart'.

The remains of the watercourse, which measured 2m in width externally by 1m internally, consisted of two parallel walls sloping from the north. The walls are 0.5m thick and faced with mortared limestone blocks; they contain a core of bonded limestone and slate. The walls increase in height from 1m in the south to 1.4m in the north. The presence of mortar on the lower levels of the eastern wall indicates that upon completion of construction the external faces of the watercourse wall were mortared. The only evidence for the diversion of water from the watercourse occurs on the eastern side. A feeder line through which pipes, etc., could be inserted was identified by the presence of a linear alignment of slate and mud on the eastern wall. This feeder point occurred at an average height of 1.04m above the level of the subsoil. Only one such feeder drain was identified in situ and it was lined with cattle horn cores.

The watercourse was severely damaged through the insertion of a 600mm concrete sewer pipe by Dublin City Council. The sewer pipe predominantly rested centrally within the walls of the watercourse. The structural damage caused by the pipe at its time of insertion required the southern end of the watercourse walls to be clad in concrete to avoid further collapse. The pipe could not be removed and the interior of the watercourse could therefore not be investigated. A further limitation on the excavation was caused by the presence of a large 1m-wide concrete foundation associated with a former warehouse. This foundation adhered to the western wall of the watercourse and could not be removed.

Area II
This measured 10.8m north-south by 18m and was excavated to an average depth of 1.2m below current ground surface (19.85m OD); four phases of activity were identified. Phase I relates to a number of deposits incorporating animal bone and mid-17th-century clay-pipe fragments. They may be associated with late medieval activities (i.e. water channels and ponds) identified by Hayden. Phase II is confined to the remains of a wastewater outflow trench leading from the previously excavated tannery site; it measured 10.7m north-south by 1.26m. The drain was lined and capped with limestone flags; it was clogged with animal bone and hair. Phase III relates to the remains of two 18th-century houses fronting on to present-day Dolphin's Barn Street. Only the rear rooms were identified and these contained brick-lined cisterns which were filled with water diverted from the city watercourse. A rubbish pit associated with these houses was excavated in the rear garden area. Clay pipes retrieved from this pit give a relatively confined date range of 1700-1740. Phase IV saw a remodelling of the internal structure of the houses and the laying down of brick floor surfaces, sealing the cisterns. In Phase V, during the 20th century, the existing 18th-century houses were demolished and a row of terraced houses was constructed along the frontage of Dolphin's Barn Street.