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Belgrave Square and High School

By the late 1890’s Belgrave Square had fallen into disrepair. A report in the Rathmines News and City Lantern suggests that the square was in private hands and that the ratepayers wanted the Commissioners to ‘take steps to acquire the plot of ground and convert it into a public park.’ It refers to the fact that both Harold’s Cross Green and Palmerston Park have been taken over by the Commissioners and says that:

‘these are on the fringes of the township they are not so available for the general inhabitants as Belgrave Square would be if similarly dealt with. It lies in a closely populated district, and about the centre of the township and is passed by a popular line of the tramway system…… In its present state it is no credit to the township with its unkempt grass full of thistles and weeds, which have been distributing their seeds in a liberal manner during the past season…….The fences also appear to be getting into a bad condition, and as the township contributed to the cost of erecting the railings on the north side we think the Commissioners should see they are kept in a proper state of repair. The cost of converting the ground into a public park could not be very considerable, as it is at present enclosed by railings to the extent of about three-fourths of its boundaries, and furnished with some well-grown trees.’[i]


The Commissioners did not proceed with the taking over of the square because in 1897 John Holmes (the son and heir of John Holmes senior) the then owner of Belgrave Square, wrote to the Governors of the Erasmus Smith School (High School) and expressed a wish to sell the square to them since they had been lessees and paid rent to him. His price was £175 ‘which is considerably less than I have expended in building the lodge and erecting fences. I hold the premises under 2 leases, one for an unexpired term of 245 years from 25th March next at £36 pa and the other for over 900 years at  a nominal rent of 1/- p.a. if demanded, which has never been done.’[ii] So it seems that John Holmes, and not the Rathmines Commissioners, was responsible for the maintenance of the Square.

 The High School Dublin was founded by the Erasmus Smith trust in 1870 as a day school for boys. Originally located in Harcourt Street, it moved in 1971 to its present 23-acre setting in Rathgar. In the Harcourt Street premises there was very little ground available for sports. Belgrave Square was convenient to the school and from the above letter it seems that they had been renting the square for use as a sports ground for some time. John Holmes was an architect and he prepared a drawing of the square entitled Belgrave Square also Ground to be let for building in the neighbourhood. (map 6)

The drawing shows a plan of Belgrave Square with landscaping.[iii] It is doubtful if this plan was ever executed. It is more likely that it was a drawing intended to attract a possible purchaser. The drawing clearly shows the line of the tributary of the Swan marking it as ‘running stream covered’. There is only one site for two houses available around the square, in Belgrave Place, but there are other sites on neighouring roads, Cambridge Road and Castlewood Park. There was only one further premises built on Belgrave Square after this plan was drawn in 1897 which was the Parochial Hall between no 19 Belgrave Square and Belgrave Villas.  It is shown on the Ordnance Survey map of 1911 but was demolished in the 1980’s and replaced by a large apartment building with terraced housing to the rear.

The drawing names the various landlords: Hugh Morrison is the owner of nos 7 to 19 on the East side and on the south side had leased nos 23 to 27 (also known as Fife terrace[iv]) to Henry Peet and no 28 to Goodwillie. No 28 is one of only three detached house on the Square and is in fact built across two standard sites. Turning on to the West side Hugh Morrison has leased nos 30 and 31 to his son-in-law James Taylor and nos 32 and 33 to another son-in-law William Mathews.  There are no details on the map about the remaining houses on the West side, nos. 34 to 47 but the Holmes family were the owners of no 44 until the 1920’s. Nos 42 and 43 belonged to the representatives of John Jones, the builder of the earliest houses.

Although from the article in the Dublin News and City Lantern and from its use as a sports ground it appears unlikely that Belgrave Square was ever landscaped, there was a lodge on it since this is referred to both by John Holmes and in a letter from counsel advising on title and draft assignment.[v] Counsel’s advice dated March 22nd 1897 and signed by Garrett William Walker states that:

The governors of the Erasmus Smith Schools are the lessees of a plot of ground known as Belgrave Square which has been used as a recreation ground for the High School, Harcourt Street for which they paid rent to Mr. John Holmes.

It further states that

Counsel will observe the leases contain covenants against erecting any buildings on the premises except as mentioned in the leases. The only building at present on the premises is a building partly used as a residence for the caretaker and partly used as a pavilion for the use of the students when playing cricket and other games. The building it is believed does not exceed 14 feet in height and rent has been received by the lessor since its creation.

The Governors are most willing purchasers being in fact most anxious to secure the premises which are most essential for the use of the students and therefore desire that no difficulty shall be thrown in the way of the completion of the purchase……..

High School bought Belgrave Square and for over seventy years used it as a sports ground. Cricket and rugby matches were played each week and were reported in the newspapers.

Having purchased the Square, the Governors made some improvements in the property. Work was carried out on the pavilion/caretaker’s lodge in 1897 by John Good, a builder of 55 Great Brunswick St who sent a receipt for £230 ‘in settlement of account for pavilion Belgrave Square’.[vi]  The Governors also let the Square for grazing sheep at a yearly rent of £8 in order to keep the grass cropped. They had several proposals from would-be tenants all with addresses in the locality. One offered to pay £12 per annum ‘for the bulk sum of twelve pounds (£12) I to be allowed to put in my horses at night’.[vii] Another proposed ’to pay £3 for the exclusive use to the 1st of October next for the purpose of lawn tennis only of a piece of ground at the south-west angle of Belgrave Square about 100 feet by 90 feet...  I to be supplied with a key of the square which I undertake to give up on 1st October next.’ [viii] The governors however preferred to let the Square for ‘grazing of sheep only. This Square is used by the pupils of the High School as a playground, and the grazing letting will be made subject to such user.’[ix] The rent of £8 remained unchanged until this arrangement was finally brought to an end in 1938.

Further improvements to the pavilion were envisaged in the late 1940’s.  An appeal was launched

to estalish a memorial to the Old Boys of this School who gave their lives in the 1939-45 war. It is suggested the memorial should take the form of additional brass tablets to the existing memorial in the Clockroom, and the building of a new pavilion in Belgrave Square. It is felt that a memorial of this kind while being a tribute to the sacrifice of our Old Boys will be of lasting benefit to the school.[x]  More..

 The Sergeant’s Pavilion

[i] Dublin Lantern 19th Sept 1896

[ii] Archives of High School  Letter dated Feb 11th 1897 from John Holmes to the Governors of the Erasmus Smith Trust

[iii] see map 6 Belgrave Square also Ground to be let in the neighbourhood

[iv] Ordnance Survey map 1866

[v] Archive of the Erasmus Smith Schools: Case for Counsel to advise on Title dated 22nd March 1897

[vi] High School Archive letter dated 2nd Nov 1897

[vii] High School Archive Letter from P.J.Pendred dated 1st June 1897

[viii] High School Archive Letter from T.M.Steele dated 12th June 1897

[ix] High School Archive Printed handbill dated February 1899

[x] High School Archive undated