Mrs Arnott at No 83

Margaret (“Meg”, “Maggie”) Arnott is not mentioned by name in Ulysses, but there are at least three reasons for including her here:

1) She ran one of the “disorderly houses” or brothels along Lower Mecklenburgh Street between Mrs Mack’s at No 82 and Bella Cohen’s at No 85;

2) She is frequently alluded to as one of Dublin’s foremost Madams;

3) Her maiden name was ‘Higgins’, and this may have influenced Joyce’s choice of Zoe Higgins’s name in Ulysses.

Furthermore, the story of her life – as far as it is known – throws considerable light on what it was like to be a brothel-keeper at the end of the nineteenth century.

Unlike Mrs Mack the hard-nosed businesswoman, Meg Arnott was frequently in trouble with the civil authorities – more often than not in cases involving physical assault and the rough-and-tumble of north Dublin streets. To some extent she seems to have thrived on notoriety. She did not own a large property portfolio, but she was reputed to have made a financial success of the business she did run.

Gogarty includes her in a list of prostitutes, Madams, and other street characters in As I was going down Sackville Street:

Nora Seymour, Piano Mary, Dick Lynam, Becky Cunniam, Teasey [= Teresa] Ward, May Oblong, Mrs. Mack, Jem Plant, Maggie Arnott and Liverpool Kate. (1937, p. 301)

Ulick O’Connor picks this up in his Oliver St. John Gogarty: a poet and his times (1964):

The madams were often women of intelligence. Meg Arnott, one of the most successful, lived in a mansion in Mount Merrion, and had a daughter at an expensive English convent school. On Saturdays, to increase custom, she drove her girls up Grafton Street in a landau. (p. 55)

Meg Arnott’s life and times

Not unexpectedly, some details of Meg Arnott’s life are currently missing. We meet her on 22 May 1879 at 1 Lower Gardiner Street (near Lower Mecklenburgh Street), when at the age of about 18 she registers the birth of her daughter (unnamed: parents Margaret Higgins Arnot and John Arnot, Clerk). In 1881 Thom’s Directory lists her (‘Mrs. M. Arnott’) at No 25 Lower Temple Street (now Hill Street) on the fringes of the red-light district around Montgomery Street and Mecklenburgh Street. She occupies the house next-door to Maria Lynam (No 26: see Popping into Lynam’s). Mrs Arnott’s house was formerly listed by Thom’s as occupied by Bella Goad/Good (neé Carrington), whose parties and “house of ill-fame” attracted the notice of the Freeman’s Journal in April and May 1878:

Selling Drink without Licence. A young woman, named Bella Carrington, 25 Lower Temple-street, was brought up on remand […] charged with having sold intoxicating liquor without a licence on the 2nd April last. […] The defendant stated that she had kept porter on her premises for the accommodation of her lodgers.

Mr. Walsh [defending] said that the defendant kept a house of ill-fame, and the porter, of which only a small quantity was found on the premises, was kept for visitors and inmates of the house.

Mr. O’Donnell [the magistrate] said that a lodging-house keeper had no right to carry on the business of a licensed publican, which he held she did by keeping drink even for lodgers. He would caution her for the first offence and inflict a fine of £5 for the second.

Freeman’s Journal (1878) 15 May

Soon after this, Bella Goad moved with her husband to England. The chart below plots Maggie Arnott’s own moves between 1881 and 1905, using Thom’s Directory as well as other records. From the house in Lower Temple Street she moves by 1881 into No 4 Lower North Cumberland Street, one of a set of four houses (No 1-4 Lower North Cumberland Street) subsequently acquired by Annie McEachern (Annie Mack) in 1886. Maggie Arnott retains the surname Arnott, though John Arnott seems to fade from the picture. The interaction of the various major characters in this small but powerful demi-world is a key aspect of these articles.

While at No 4 Maggie Arnott maintained her business in elegant surroundings, as noted by the Freeman’s Journal, which reported on her prosecution for ‘shebeening’:

Disorderly Houses in the City [...] In the Northern Divisional Court yesterday, before Mr. Keys, QC, a summons issued at the instance of Sergeant Dowd, 24C, against Maggie Arnott, of 4 North Cumberland street, for selling liquor without a licence, was taken up for trial. From the evidence of the officer it appeared that the defendant keeps a house of ill-fame at address given above.

On Thursday, 20th August, the officer was passing down Cumberland street, and heard a great noise of music, dancing, and singing proceeding from the house of the defendant. Although it was between one and two o’clock in the morning, the place was brilliantly lighted up, and several showily attired girls were lolling about the door smoking cigarettes. The sergeant entered the house and found in an elegantly furnished drawingroom five or six young men and six or seven young girls, all more or less under the influence of liquor. On opening a cabinet in the room he discovered six full bottles of porter, and on going downstairs he found, on making a further search, a quantity of empty porter bottles and several glasses containing traces of fresh porter. There was also a bottle of whiskey concealed in a trunk. The defendant was absent, he was informed, and he believed she had since gone away to London […]

A young girl, aged apparently about twenty, who was quietly dressed and of rather prepossessing appearance, took her place in the dock and said she had come to answer the summons. The defendant, Mrs Arnott, was her sister, but she was absent on the night upon which the officer entered the house [...]

Mr. Keys said that the case was a very suspicious one, and he would grant a warrant for the arrest of Maggie Arnott.

Freeman’s Journal (1885) 11 September, p. 2

No 83 and No 84 Lower Mecklenburgh Street (adjoining Mrs Mack at No 85) were advertised for sale in 1887 and Maggie Arnott soon took up residence at No 83. She remains at this address until at least 1905.

(yellow = Thom’s Directory; brown = legal document; green = newspapers)

Life in Lower Mecklenburgh Street

But her arrival around 1887 in the heart of the red-light district only brought her more trouble:

Police Intelligence – Yesterday. Northern Division. (Before Mr. Keys, Q.C.) A young woman of respectable appearance, named Maggie Arnott, residing in Mecklenburgh street, was charged by a well-dressed man of the ‘masher’ class, who gave his name as Ninian Wildridge Woods, MRCS, England [...] with having stolen a watch and chain value £7 10s, his property [...]

[Transcript of letter] I [..] have caused to be arrested and charged with felony one Maggie Arnott alias Maggie Noble, for stealing or causing to be taken from my person [...] a watch and chain.

[...] At Finglas defendant had a basket, and he told him that there were eggs in it, which he was bringing to Mrs Mack in Mecklenburgh-street.

Freeman’s Journal (1887) 26 July

By way of biographical information Maggie Arnott here offers the fact that she has been in Dublin for twelve years (she comes from Cork), and has never been inside a police station. We have, however, already seen that she has had several previous brushes with the law.

The sworn statement by her accuser in this case, Ninian Wildridge Woods, MRCS, is witnessed by one of his colleagues, Henry Noble. Two years later, in 1889, Maggie Arnott marries Henry Noble (son of James Noble, Gentleman) at St Thomas’s (Church of Ireland) parish church, though they seem to have had a common-law relationship for several years before this. Both give their address as 16 Lower Gardiner Street, one house up from her home address with John Arnott. Maggie Arnott provides her name as “Margaret Higgins (now Noble)” and her father as “Daniel Higgins, Civil Engineer”.

Her names now extend from Margaret Higgins, to Maggie Arnott, to Margaret Noble. The names Noble and Arnott are used interchangeably over the years in her Thom’s listing for No 83 Lower Mecklenburgh Street.

The newspapers pick up on this variation when she is called upon as a witness in a court case involving “improper houses” in October 1889:

Inspector Talbot then tendered as a witness Mrs Margaret Noble, nee Margaret Arnott, 83 Tyrone-street.

Freeman’s Journal (1889) 19 October, p. 7

By this date Mecklenburgh Street had been renamed Tyrone Street. Mrs Arnott/Noble is not circumspect about her calling:

Mr. Woodcock (to witness) – Who are you?

Mrs Noble – I keep an improper house.

In 1891 she was again in court, this time as the plaintiff:

Emily Ainsworth and Nelly Keys, both of 82 Lower Tyrone Street, were summoned at the suit of Mrs Noble LaTouche, of 83 Lower Tyrone Street, for having on Monday last between eleven and twelve o’clock pm, assaulted her, and used abusive and threatening language to her.

1891 Freeman’s Journal (1891) 18 July, p. 6

The magistrate is confused over Mrs Arnott’s real name:

Mr. O’Donel – I am going to ask you your name, madam. You know you are sworn to tell the truth.

Mrs. La Touche – Here is my marriage certificate – (certificate handed up.]

Mr. Walsh – Which of them?

Witness – Your worship, you will see my name Noble near the stamp. My maiden name was Higgins.

Mr. O’Donnell [sic] – But what about LaTouche?

Witness – That is my husband’s mother’s name, and I have adopted it.

By now Mrs Arnott has four available names: Higgins, Arnott, Noble, and LaTouche. We assume that Henry Noble is now part of her past. The banter continues, to the merriment of the court:

Mr. Coffey [to Mrs Noble] – Were you sober that evening?

Yes indeed, perfectly sober.

Was Miss Ainsworth?

Oh, indeed, no; nor Miss Keys. They have a spleen against me because I gave information 12 months ago to the police, and they call me an informer.

Mr. Walsh (to witness) – Well, Miss Higgins.

Witness – That’s not my name, sir (laughter).

Well, Miss Arnott?

That’s not my name either sir.

Well, Mrs Noble?

Mrs Noble LaTouche please.

See Maggie Arnott’s marriage certificate, which includes her names “Noble” and “Higgins”.

Miss Ainsworth then issued a counter-summons against Mrs Arnott/LaTouche. The magistrate was inclined to be severe:

As regards the charges against Miss Ainsworth and Mrs Noble LaTouche he would sentence them to one month’s imprisonment each, with hard labour.

Mrs LaTouche – Oh, your worship, don’t send me to jail. I was never there in my life.

Mr. O’Donel – No doubt Tyrone street will be a much more respectable locality for a time. […]

Mrs La Touche – Oh, Mr. O’Donel, for goodness sake don’t send me to jail. I will die if you do so. I will pay any amount.

After appeals from both solicitors the women were allowed out on their own bail, bound to keep the peace for the future. But it seems that this good behaviour did not last. A year later, on 2 September 1892, Maggie Arnott was up before the authorities on the much more serious charge of manslaughter. Her constant appearances before the authorities are in marked contrast to Mrs Mack’s relative invisibility in this regard:

Yesterday in the Northern Divisional Police Court, before Mr. C J O’Donel, Margaret Noble, alias Maggie Arnott, 32 [= 39] Lower Tyrone street, was put forward, charged [..] with having caused the death of a girl named Polly Parker, an inmate of the prisoner’s house, by assaulting her on the 23rd August.

Mrs Noble clearly also has an interest in No 39 Lower Mecklenburgh/Tyrone Street, another house in the area with a shady reputation. The court report continues with a gruesome account of the assault by Mrs Noble on Polly Parker:

Mrs Noble, her landlady, came up to the room where she was asleep, pulled her out of bed and knocked her down two flights of stairs, and then kicked her in the side.

Freeman’s Journal (1892) 2 September, p. 6

But there was medical evidence that Polly Parker might have died from natural causes, and after her discharge and subsequent retrial Mrs Noble resumed her normal business.

In 1893 she is back at No 83 Lower Mecklenburgh Street, but this time as the victim of an assault (allegedly because she demanded money from a ‘client’):

Police Intelligence. Northern Division – (Before Mr O’Donel). An aggravated assault. A young man named Patrick O’Brien, a stable boy, residing at 17 Upper Mercer street [lived in/owned by Patrick Lynam], was charged by Constable 12B with assaulting Margaret Noble, alias Arnott, 83 Lower Tyrone st. on the night of the 4th inst. It appeared that between 2 and 3 o’clock on the night in question a man was leaving 83 Lower Tyrone street, when the prisoner came up and demanded money […]

Freeman’s Journal (1893) 13 March, p. 2

In between her court appearances business must, however, have been satisfactory. At the same time the Dublin Corporation was starting to make serious efforts to clean up the area and legislation by the Westminster Government was generally making life more difficult for the Madams. At the turn of the century the Corporation introduced the Montgomery Street/Purdon Street Improvement Scheme. With each new restrictive measure the Madams found they had less room for manoeuvre. They had seen their heyday back in the 1880s.

On the night of the 1901 Ireland census Maggie/Margaret Noble is ‘Head of Family’ at No 83 Lower Tyrone Street . Ellen (“Nelly”) Keyes is now a ‘boarder’ with her – in the previous court case she was said to be living next-door. The full listing for the household reads as follows:

Margaret Noble, Head of Family/owner, Roman Catholic, [age not disclosed], Widow, [birth] Cork City

Ellen Keyes, Boarder, RC, 40, Servant domestic, not married, Wicklow Co.

Bridie Kilty, Boarder, RC, 26, Domestic Servant, not married, Wicklow Co.

Florence Flood, Boarder, RC, 23, Laundress, married, England

Lily Byrne, Boarder, RC, 28, Domestic servant, not married, Dublin city

Mary Jones, Boarder, RC, 29, Servant domestic, not married, Wicklow Co.

Annie Cunningham, Boarder, RC, 28, Dressmaker, not married, Roscommon

Thomas Finegan, Visitor, RC, 22, billiard maker, not married, Dublin City

John Sullivan, Visitor, RC, 29, Clerk – unemployed, not married, Dublin City

Although Margaret Noble/Arnott does not state her age, we know from other sources that she was by now in her early forties.

Throughout this period Thom’s Directory lists her under the name “Mrs. Arnott”. Pressure from the Corporation must have been making itself felt, though. 1905 is the final year in which Mrs Arnott is listed by name at No 83 by Thom’s. After that, the property (like the others from No 82 to 85) are simply listed as “Tenements” as their use and condition changes. By 1918 they are listed as “Ruins”.

After the census

It seems that life had to change for Mrs Arnott. But things were not going to get any better for her before she slipped into oblivion.

1905 was an annus horibilis for Maggie Arnott. By now she seems to have left Dublin – or at least to be residing in Cork and in Bansha (County Tipperary). These are the latest residences she stated as she boarded the SS Majestic at Queenstown (now Cobh), southern Cork, bound for New York on 1 June. She says that she had previously visited the United States in 1902, and this time was en route to visit her step-son George Bartlett at 807 3rd Avenue, New York City. She describes herself as a ‘H[ouse]keeper’ and carries the princely sum of $2,500 (considerably more than most of her fellow passengers).

By early November Maggie Arnott was back in Dublin, but no longer – as it appears – in Mecklenburgh Street. We find her living, aged 42 or 43, with her young sister Kate (Higgins) at 53 Bishop Street, south of the river in central Dublin. A series of dreadful newspaper accounts detail her plight, as she was remanded in the Southern Police Court on 7 November 1905 on a charge of attempting to murder her sister:

Inspector Grant, who prosecuted, said the accused entered College street Station shortly after nine o’clock that morning, and stated that she had cut her sister’s throat with a razor at the tenement house 53 Bishop street, where the Inspector subsequently found a married woman named Higgins, aged 20 years, sister of the accused, suffering from a recently inflicted wound on the right side of her throat.

Mrs. Higgins told the Inspector that between eight and nine o’clock her sister called her downstairs, and when nearing the door she alleges the accused struck her with an open razor on the right side of the neck. The accused then ran into the street. Mrs. Higgins can assign no reason for the attack.

A man named Moore, owner of the house in which the women reside, brought Mrs. Higgins at once to the Adelaide Hospital, where six stitches were put in the wound, which was two and a half inches in length.

Irish Independent (1905) 8 November, p. 5

Freeman’s Journal (on the same day) reports that after the attack “a desperate struggle for life ensued”, and The Irish Times notes that Mrs Arnott had recently returned from America. The Mountjoy Prison General Register for 7 November, the day of the arrest, offers a glimpse of Maggie Arnott: she is registered under the name “Margaret Noble”, born in Queenstown, Cork, aged 42, of small stature at 5 feet one inch, weighing 106 lbs (7 stone 8 lbs). She has brown hair, hazel eyes, and a “fresh” complexion. Her next of kin is her sister Kate Higgins, whom she is accused of attempting to murder. Her occupation is listed as “Pros[titute]” and her religion “Roman Catholic”.

Matters proceeded swiftly in such a serious case. On 9 November 1905 she was brought to the High Court (Chancery Division), “of unsound mind”, to face the Lunacy Commission. When we last hear of her she is committed to the Richmond Lunatic Asylum:

Mad Woman’s Desperate Deed.

On the doctor’s report, the woman Margaret Noble, alias Maggie Arnott, of 53 Bishop street, Dublin, who cut her sister’s, Catherine Higgins’, throat with a razor on Tuesday morning, was yesterday committed [..] to Richmond Asylum as a dangerous lunatic.

Irish Independent (1905) 10 November, p. 3


Ultimately life was not kind to Maggie Arnott, but then she had not been kind to life. She was an Irish girl who had the sound sense to establish herself in a profitable business, and she did not seek to extend that business into an extensive portfolio of lodging houses or brothels. She was apparently of striking appearance, but quick-tempered, and perhaps her temper was her downfall. For medical or psychological reasons she was adjudged “lunatic” at the time that her business faded. Her generation of lodging-house keepers or Madams was being rooted out by the authorities, and a new generation (including such ladies as May Oblong and Becky Cooper) was starting to take over.

John Simpson

Becky Cooper

(Cleary's: Amiens St, Dublin)

This is the third of six related articles: Continued at:

4) Mrs Arnold at No 40 Lower Cumberland Street and elsewhere

5) Bella Cohen at No 82 (not 81)

6) Summing up the Madams

Previous articles in the series:

1) The Madams of Nighttown

2) Mrs Mack at No 85

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