Beyond the façade – Uncovering the physical structure of No. 7 Eccles Street

“The danger lies in the neatness of identifications” (Dante...Bruno. Vico...Joyce – Samuel Beckett)

This article was initially going to be a correction of a correction of an update but, as that was going to get rather confusing, it was thought better to tell the story of the uncovering of the structure of No. 7 Eccles Street from the beginning – including all the missteps.

To discover the real No. 7 Eccles Street it was important to be wary of the seductive fiction of Ulysses, even though it was clear that Joyce favoured memory over imagination.

In the spring of 1933 Joyce very generously commissioned me to paint a picture at Chapelizod near Dublin so that I might get the sight and the sound and the feel and the smell of the town of the Ford of Hurdles and its people.

Frank Budgen, 'Preface to the 1960 Edition' in James Joyce and the Making of 'Ulysses', p. 3; 1934, 1972)

Frank Budgen was at that time writing, with the assistance of James Joyce, his book James Joyce and the Making of ‘Ulysses’, and he takes the opportunity during his Dublin trip to visit Eccles Street, as this passage indicates:

Distinguished or not, Mr. Bloom is a singular person. We are introduced to him as he potters about the kitchen of 7 Eccles Street, preparing breakfast for his wife and himself. The street is wide, its houses sizeable. The red brick façades form an architectural unit and have an air of being good early Victorian. No doubt it was originally a street of well-to-do bourgeois. Now it has an air of being inhabited by working class people. But it is well-kept and exhibits none of the dilapidation of the more magnificent Mountjoy Square. The kitchen where Mr. Bloom is busy is below the street level, but for a basement is light and airy. Breast-high railings protect the passer-by from the drop into the area and mark the property off from the pavement. The ground floor of No. 7 is now a tobacconist’s shop and small general store. At the back of the house is what house agents would call a good garden, which runs down to a lane or mews.

Budgen, James Joyce and the Making of 'Ulysses', p. 76-7

While ‘early Victorian’ may be a bit wide of the mark, outside the fiction of Ulysses, this is the first real description of No. 7 Eccles Street and it highlights that Joyce was happy to ground his writing in the reality of the building. From the 1940s onwards there was an increasing stream of James Joyce pilgrims visiting the Dublin locations of Joyce’s life and fiction. The locals viewed them with curiosity and sometimes suspicion. Some visitors managed to venture inside the house, but by then every room was occupied by a separate family and they have left no detailed internal descriptions. Those that had cameras took pictures of the street and house frontage but internal photographs, at the time, would have required expensive lighting capabilities and the disturbing and appeasing of the occupants.

In 1953 J. F. Byrne published his book Silent Years, which contains a description of his time at No. 7 Eccles Street and a visit by James Joyce in 1909:

I have two photographs of No. 7 Eccles Street taken in 1947, and, judging from them, the exterior of the house seems to be practically unchanged. The house is now subdivided into flats, but in my time it was a one-family residence. There was a yard in the rear as wide as the house and about twenty feet deep. In this yard there was a supplementary toilet to the left as you went out; and a garden, which in my time was fairly good, extended behind the yard about two hundred feet to a coachway called Stable Lane.

J. F. Byrne, Silent Years, Memoirs of Our Ireland and James Joyce (New York: Farrar, Strauss and Young, 1953), p. 155

Byrne also recounts emulating the keyless Bloom’s descent into the front area and kitchen in Ulysses in order to facilitate letting Joyce into the house, but he tells us little about the internal structure apart from stating that:

the back parlor on the ground floor was the dining-room, used as such mainly when there were visitors, and from its window there was a full view of the yard and garden.

Byrne, Silent Years p. 155

There is a Scottish phrase often used about the city of Edinburgh and its citizens that they are “aw fur coat, nae knickers”, basically suggesting that they are all show and are fairly common underneath.1 While one can debate how apt this phrase is to Edinburgh citizens, it certainly captures the nature of Edinburgh and Dublin Georgian architecture, with the uniform street façades and a smorgasbord of cluttered rear elevations. Builders worked with variations on known formulas, seldom using plans. So we are left with numerous pictures of the street and the house façade and this is where things stood when in 1975 Clive Hart and Leo Knuth illustrated No. 7 Eccles street in their A Topographical Guide to James Joyce’s ‘Ulysses’.2

Figure 1: Hart & Knuth diagram B

Figure 2: Hart & Knuth diagram C

The house itself had been demolished down to a single-storey façade in April 1967 so the 1975 diagrams were labelled ‘from memory’.3 That ‘memory’ belonged to Clive Hart, as he had managed to get internal access to the house back in the early 1960s. The results looked sound and convincing and conformed to all the pictorial evidence then available. Features to notice were the grand bay window, the party wall fireplaces front and rear and a folding screen between the front and back ground-floor rooms.

In 2003, when revising the original Topographical Guide for what would become James Joyce’s Dublin, it was decided to try to go one better and create a 3D cutaway diagram.4 This felt a bit like the early Victorian models of dinosaurs, in that we were extrapolating an awful lot from very little information. A visit to Dublin was therefore required to gather what additional information we could glean.

Figure 3: Lower Eccles Street, amended from OS 1:1056 Eccles Street plan, revised 1907-08

The plots for Nos. 1-8 and 76-81 Eccles Street were all demised to three separate individuals by Isaac Ambrose Eccles on the same day, 6 March 1769. These houses differ from the remaining houses in the street by being of a more modest build at 20 feet wide with three storeys over a basement. As can be seen from extant photographs they seem very similar, and No. 77 looks a good model for the now missing No. 7.

Figure 4: North side of lower Eccles Street. Photograph courtesy of Elizabeth Tindall Layton

Figure 5: South side of lower Eccles Street

In July 2003, through the good agency of Eamonn Finn, I and Stephen Paterson of Edinburgh Napier University were put in contact with Patrick Ryan in Dublin, who gave us partial access to the No. 77 Eccles Street building. The house had been divided into flatlets, but we were able to access the basement and ground front properties along with the internal stairwell, and to take measurements.

Figure 6: Stephen Paterson taking notes outside No. 77 in 2003

A visit to the Irish Architectural Archive in Merrion Square and the consulting of plans of No. 33 & No. 59 Eccles Street seemed to reinforce the pattern of fireplaces being on the party wall front and back. Confirming the rear bay window was more problematic, as we could find no documentary evidence to show that it existed. The style shown in Leo Knuth’s 1975 diagram certainly existed in Dublin, but looking at the 1:1056 OS map of Eccles Street seemed to tell a different story.

Figure 7: Bay window example from Henrietta Street

Looking at the above map in Figure 3 it seemed to show an example of the Leo Knuth style bay window existing at No. 1 Eccles Street, but no other example in the area and certainly not at No. 7. As the main premise of James Joyce’s Dublin was to look at the reality of Dublin in 1904 and see how it matched up to the fiction of Joyce’s Ulysses, we felt we had to go with the facts as we currently perceived them.

Figure 8: 3D cutaway by Stephen Paterson

The published 3D cutaway diagram in James Joyce’s Dublin worked quite well with the front half of the house being in agreement with the 1975 version. However fitting the fictional furniture into the back bedroom proved less than a neat fit to the fictional narrative of Ulysses and in particular the need to place the bed head on the internal wall, because the fireplace was occupying the party wall. As Joyce had made a point of being true to the reality, this discrepancy continued to niggle us after publication, and further visits and investigations continued. Looking at the OS map again and visiting the rear of the south side of Eccles Street, it became clear that having a central chimney stack on the back wall was a common feature in the area.

Figure 9: South Eccles street rear elevations

Comparing No. 7 with No. 77 Eccles Street on the OS Map showed that the feature that was a rear chimney stack at No. 77 appeared very similar to the feature on the back wall of No. 7.

Figure 10: Back bedroom plan with rear chimney stack

Placing the back ground-room fireplace on the rear wall frees up the fictional furniture arrangement to better suit the novel and having a single window better fits the text of Ulysses. Things were looking hopeful at clarifying the back elevation of No. 7. Then in January 2005 Eamonn Finn sent me an OS map detail c.1899 that seemed to suggest other possibilities and prompted a visit to Dublin in August to consult the OS manuscript maps held at the National Archives in Dublin. Manuscript maps often contain far more detail than the final engraved monochrome printed sheets. Cartographers record tree species and other features not transcribed onto the final plates.

Figure 11: OS manuscript map detail of Eccles Street, courtesy of National Archives, Ireland5

In the manuscript map it was clear that the surveyor had deliberately drawn a semi-circular feature on the rear of No. 7 Eccles Street. This semi-circular form confirmed the more crudely depicted feature on the published 1899 OS map. By the 1907-8 revision of the map, the engraver had obviously decided to simplify aspects of the map and had squared off the semi-circle, therefore making the feature look just like the square chimney stacks on the south side of the street. This new feature was too narrow to be the bay window as depicted by Leo Knuth in 1975, or to match the bay window of No. 1 Eccles Street. I was also now starting to doubt the rear chimney-stack option, so later that month I spent a lot of my time in Dublin walking the back lanes of the Georgian streets on the north side of the city. I then had what I took, at the time, to be my epiphany moment.

Figure 12: Gardiner Place rear chimney stacks

There on the back lane of Gardiner Place were two semi-circular chimney stacks on the rear elevation of the street. Gardiner Place was not far from Eccles Street and, comparing the OS map images, also looked like a good match. This seemed decisive and so, with a glow of finality, I redrew the back-bedroom furniture arrangement and we published an update in the James Joyce Quarterly.6 Job done, it seemed.

Figure 13: Eccles Street and Gardiner Place compared on OS maps

It was also in 2005 that I learned, from Harald Beck, that Anthony Burgess and a BBC crew had filmed in Eccles Street for part of the ‘Monitor’ series programme Silence, Exile and Cunning in February 1965.7 I was able to obtain a copy of this programme from what was then the BBC Research Central. There were only a few static shots with Burgess talking to camera in the house, but the BBC had the advantage of a generator and lights and an empty house. In the film we learned that the main staircase started from the ground floor on the left-hand side, but the most intriguing shot was Burgess standing in what appeared to be the top back room.

Figure 14: Still from Monitor 149 – Silence, Exile and Cunning TX 20 April 1965. Copyright of the BBC

Behind Anthony Burgess was a huge hole in the wall and to his right a fireplace in what had to be the back wall. It was all very perplexing and the wall angles did not seem to add up. The feeling was that the chase was not over yet.

It wasn’t. In August 2010, after one of my many visits to the Irish Architectural Archive, I received an email from Colum O’Riordan containing two photographs. They were aerial photographs of north Dublin taken by BKS Surveys in March 1966 and were part of a large collection of prints acquired by the Archive. Blowing up the area around Eccles Street also blew up all my earlier assumptions. The picture may have been blurry but the conclusions were not. There was a shared eight-pot chimney stack incorporated inside the building in the northwest corner of the back room. Instead of a back-wall chimney stack, and hidden under a tarpaulin, was a curved feature with large gaping holes.

Figure 15: Detail of aerial photograph of Eccles Street in 1966. Photograph: Courtesy of the Irish Architectural Archive

It was back to the drawing board. I was unable to think of or find any similar feature in Dublin that would help us understand exactly what we were looking at, and the conjectures with Stephen Paterson were endless.8 I spent a good part of the next year looking into the BBC visit to Eccles Street and this finally paid off when I got a hint from Andrew Biswell at the Anthony Burgess Foundation about an article in The Listener journal in 1965.9 In the journal there were a few published images of the Anthony Burgess visit showing views not shown in the actual film.

Figure 16: Anthony Burgess at the rear of No. 7 Eccles street in February 1965. The Listener, 6 May 1965, p. 661

Figure 17: Anthony Burgess inside the back ground room of No. 7 Eccles street in February 1965. The Listener, 22 April 1965, p. 610

These provided a lot more clarity about the bay form and the windows. Additionally back in 2004 the three authors of James Joyce’s Dublin were invited by Tim and Mary O’Brien to visit them at their home in Dorset Street, Dublin. While there, we were shown a boxed-in example of a corner fireplace, which was quite a common feature in Dublin. This northwest-corner fireplace feature can be seen on the internal picture in Figure 17 and helps explain the strange angles in the BBC film. Further evidence of corner fireplaces in the area can also be seen on the party wall of the demolished No. 6 Eccles Street.

Figure 18: Detail of No. 6 Eccles street 1972. Photograph: William P. Keen

The photographs in The Listener were taken by a Dublin photographic team called ‘The Lensmen’, who were contracted by the BBC to take pictures during the filming.10 These images finally solved the mystery of what was behind the façade at No. 7 Eccles Street. What we have is a bespoke single-window-per-room bay form which currently appears unique to No. 7. Almost like Joyce’s Leopold Bloom, what starts out as just a very ordinary Dublin Georgian house becomes, on further examination, extraordinary.

Figure 19: Rear elevation as it is understood now. Stephen Paterson

Figure 20: 3D rear elevation as it is understood now. Stephen Paterson

This finally settled the rear ground-room structure for the placing of the fictional furniture of Ulysses. With the bed placed on the northwest party wall Bloom now sleeps as Joyce had written in the Ulysses notesheets: “LB in bed Head E.”11 In addition, the implications in “Calypso” and “Ithaca” that there was only a single bedroom window now match the reality which J. F. Byrne also hinted at above.

Figure 21: New revised back bedroom configuration

It should be possible now to create some revised and more definitive 3D cutaway diagrams. We now understand the rear of the house structure. We have spotted that the staircase on the ground floor starts on the left and we now know how the basement is most likely configured. A visit to ‘Number Twenty Nine’, ESB’s Georgian House Museum in Fitzwilliam Street in Dublin, gave a very good idea of the basement layout, with scullery, kitchen, pantry and house keeper’s room. While ‘Number Twenty Nine’ is a far grander structure at eight feet wider than No. 7 Eccles Street, a lot of structural features, such as the screens between the front and back ground-floor rooms, can be witnessed. They have an excellent online virtual exploration, but it is important to note that this house is furnished and set out in an original Georgian setting while No. 7 is a Georgian house with a fictional Victorian/Edwardian setting.12

At the end of the day we have learned that Samuel Beckett’s quotation at the head of this article would make a very good watchword for researchers, and that James Joyce’s memory holds up very well indeed. This investigation started off with Clive Hart’s memory of No. 7 Eccles Street depicted by Leo Knuth in 1975, and by a piece of extraordinary serendipity, it is fitting that it should also end with Clive Hart.

Clive Hart sadly passed away in August 2016. While writing an obituary of Clive Hart for a James Joyce journal13 I visited Clive’s wife Kay Gilliland Stevenson at their labyrinthine home in Essex in 2017. On departing, Kay graciously presented me with a box file of an unbound copy of the 1904 Thom’s directory.14 On my return to Scotland I lifted the large batch of Thom’s directory pages out of the box file. At the bottom was a torn scrap of old newspaper which I would have ignored but for the fact that there was also a couple of photocopies of the self-same scrap of newsprint. It was from the masthead of the Daily Telegraph of Saturday, 1 July 1961.

Figure 22: Newspaper scrap

There was no printed text front or back that would merit the retention of this scrap of paper except that there was a strange doodle in the masthead margin. I stared at it and then it jumped right out at me – it was a plan of the ground floor of No. 7 Eccles Street. Clive must have visited No. 7 on the above date and afterwards quickly made an aide-mémoire on whatever scrap of paper was to hand. A back-corner fireplace and door were added later in pencil. This plan must have been squirrelled away in Clive’s files and was therefore lost as a reference when they came, in 1975, to draw Leo Knuth’s original diagrams from memory.

Figure 23: Clive Hart sketch compared with plan

As the comparison in the above figure shows – it was all there – the back-corner fireplace and the single-window bay and room-dividing screens. It was like Captain Scott arriving at the South Pole to see a Norwegian flag flapping in the wind – except that in this case the discovery made me smile.

Ian Gunn

[All illustrations Ian Gunn except where stated]


1 Word of the Week. [].

2 A Topographical Guide to James Joyce’s ‘Ulysses’, Colchester: A Wake Newslitter Press, 1975.

3 See Ian Gunn, ‘The Demise of Ithaca’ [] for details on the destruction of No. 7 Eccles Street.

4 Ian Gunn & Clive Hart, with Harald Beck, James Joyce’s Dublin, A Topographical Guide to the Dublin of ‘Ulysses’, London: Thames & Hudson, 2004.

5 Reference Code: NAI/OS/104/DublinCity/1838/Sheet5.

6 ‘Rearranging the Furniture at No. 7’, Ian Gunn & Clive Hart, James Joyce Quarterly (Summer 2007), Vol. 44, No. 4, pp. 785-92. The issue of the internal toilet has been updated see Ian Gunn, ‘Sanitary Matters at No. 7 Eccles Street. [].

7 Silence, Exile and Cunning, dir. Christopher Burstall (London: BBC Television, 1965).

8 The nearest similar feature I could find was on a gable wall at the corner of Fitzwilliam Square and Upper Pembroke Street.

9 For a detailed account of the BBC visit see Ian Gunn, ‘Mr Burgess goes to Eccles Street’, James Joyce Broadsheet (2014), No. 97, February p. 1.

10 The loss of the original photographs is detailed in the above James Joyce Broadsheet article. Surviving photographs can be found in the following: Radio Times (1965), 15 April 1965 p. 27; The Observer Weekend Review (1965), 18 April p. 23; The Listener (1965), 22 April p. 610; The Listener (1965), 6 May p. 661.

11 10. Phillip P. Herring, ed., James Joyce’s Notesheets in the British Museum (Charlottesville: University Press of Virginia, 1972), p. 421.

12 Number Twenty Nine. [].

13 ‘Clive Hart (1931-2016)’, James Joyce Literary Supplement, Fall 2017, p. 13.

14 I already possessed a digital conversion from the microfiche of Thoms’s 1904 for my personal use but receiving this gift and then ending up on crutches for six weeks after an operation gave me a context to make use of my limited mobility and scan the directory. The results can be found at the JoyceTools website.

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