Last week, Mary Broe and I went to meet a community worker, Mairin, and speak to her about the Robert Emmet Community Development Project. By its own definition the CDP “is an active community based resource which embraces all members of this diverse community and adheres faithfully to the principles of community development.” In the short time that Mary and I had there, we could see that they’ve built on that diversity of the area and in particular the connections between the people who live in Oliver Bond house and the wider city community. This short post is about the geographies of those connections.
Oliver Bond House was Simms-designed and opened in the late 1930s. It is a massive complex of almost 400 flats which, it is estimated, has housed about 20,000 people since its opening. The shape of the blocks mirror the broad outline of the brewery and distillery that were present on the site until the early 20th century. When the Corporation decided to build this new housing, they built the blocks nearest the corner of Usher Street first and then the remaining blocks. It stands on one of the oldest sites in Dublin city but still houses a vibrant community of people with connections across the north and south side of the river as well as the near suburbs of Cabra and Crumlin. We tend to think of Dublin as divided simply between the northside and southside – but people’s realities are far more complex than this.
Not only do the people who live here have connections with local businesses and workplaces, they are an intimate part of the construction of Dublin of Dublin as a city. This is a city that has seen its fair share of problems over the last century or so but here is a location where people live in relative safety and security and little fear of the vagaries of private landlords that others around them have to endure. We met with some residents whose families have been here since its opening and some who squatted nearby flats when they became vacant because they wanted to remain. They were part of a broader struggle under the guise of the Dublin Housing Action Committee in the 1960s and early 1970s.
The topography of the complex might lead you to believe of course that this is a homogeneous and stable community of people, closed off from the surrounding city. The City Council, in attempts to limit joyriding and rat-runs through the area in the 1990s, made it a railing-laden and step-filled internal street with little or no permeability. Given its proximity to the Markets and Thomas Street areas however, nothing could be further from the truth. These two areas alone are connected with north Dublin and Fingal food producers and cattle markets that persisted until the 1950s.
Mary and I hope, through the work of Mairin and her team at the CDP, can help us bring some of these connections to the conference in October. They can build on the 80 year anniversary of the complex, celebrated only two years ago, and help all those present see that Simms-designed and other public housing areas are as real and as vital to the city as they were when the tenements were finally being torn down to give people decent housing.
Ellen Rowley, one of our main speakers at Simms120, is an architectural and cultural historian. Her new book Housing, Architecture and the Edge Condition Dublin is building, 1935 – 1975 has just gone into production. Ellen is an established authority on Dublin’s twentieth century housing stock and has written extensively on twentieth-century architecture in Ireland. As author and editor of More Than Concrete Blocks: Dublin City’s 20th Century buildings + their stories, she charted the individual buildings of some Dublin’s most well-known landmarks. It is part of an ongoing research and educational project into Dublin’s built environment 1900 – 2000 and commissioned by Dublin City Council and the Heritage Council of Ireland.
We are looking forward to hearing Ellen talk with us about Simms, the role of public housing and community building. We are hoping to speak with Ellen in advance of the October conference so check back later this month.
HG Simms died in 1948, this year marking the 70th anniversary of his death. In a recent lecture given in Dublin, Donal Fallon recalled how someone in the Irish Press took it upon themselves to publish the note that he left on his demise. For a society where death by suicide was looked upon as a source of shame and not tragedy, this seems like a strange move. In fact the note was also published in the Irish Times. What set of circumstances led to the text being published in full? What kind of message was the editor trying to send to the management of Dublin Corporation? Below is the death notice for for Simms as it appeared in the Irish Independent at the end of September 1948. For a private funeral, the publication of the note carried by him at the scene seems odd.
Below is a reproduction of some of that note which points to the tragic circumstances of the death of Herbert George Simms. A shorter article published the day after his death had some gruesome details of the incident and these are not appropriate to show here.
While the City Council has, more recently, marked the work of Simms on or nearby the public housing he designed, Simms’ work and life is rarely celebrated for the impact he had. This is partly the motivation for holding the events in October. We hope to assess the legacy of a man who clearly had a vision for public housing. The politics of the time are vastly different to today but the need for public housing to help foster a more vibrant and safer city has never been clearer.
Earlier this year, geographers, historians and others came together to organise a series of events. Named Simms 120, these events are in remembrance of and assessing the legacy of Herbert George Simms, who was born 120 years ago this year. It is also the 70th anniversary of his death in 1948.
Through his work with Dublin Corporation, Simms was responsible for some of the most elegant and highest quality housing that remains in Dublin city to the present day. From Cabra, Crumlin and in the heart of the city, Simms’ work and vision for Dublin are still present. These places not just about housing, but fostering community.
To recall his work, and in light of the significant challenges that face housing in the present, this set of events will draw together some of the main ideas about Simms’ work in and legacy for Dublin city. Through seminars, oral histories and visual representation, the conference will examine Simms’ legacy to the city of Dublin and assess his contribution to the development of communities across Dublin.
We are seeking contributions from all to help remember the work of Simms but particularly from:
Residents of Simms-designed housing
Architectural and social historians
Local history groups
Poets and other artists
Housing policy workers
Closing date for contributions is Friday August 31st 2018, with a decision for inclusion by September 7th.