Tom Rochford's smart idea at Crampton Court

U 10.491-6: He followed M‘Coy out across the tiny square of Crampton court. [...] They passed Dan Lowry's musichall where Marie Kendall, charming soubrette, smiled on them from a poster a dauby smile.

Eamonn Finn's fascinating discovery of the patent of Thomas Rochford's invention,1 as demonstrated in the Wandering Rocks episode, was one more solid piece of evidence to prove Joyce's real-life inspiration and documentary intentions in Ulysses. Rochford’s invention was a type of ‘programme indicator’, which showed the audience of a variety show which of the many short ‘turns’ was currently on stage.

What remains puzzling is why Rochford of 19 Wellington Quay demonstrates his invention at Crampton Court. Again fact may have inspired fiction.

A few months before Rochford applied for a patent (December 1908) the Freeman's Journal of 3 August carried the following announcement:

The Theatre Royal Directorate are to be highly congratulated on bringing before the public the latest and most up-to-date invention from music halls and variety shows. The new programme indicator which is fitted up on each side of the stage shows all the turns that are over and also the turn that is on at the time. It is a marvellously simple invention and possesses all the essential points that go to make such matters a success, i.e., novelty, simplicity, and also a great necessity for the convenience of the public and patrons of such entertainments.

The present system is a most confusing one - no one knows what has been done, or who was on. You ask some person in the audience was So-and-so out, and they don't know either. All that is now removed by this patent apparatus, which is the invention of a popular citizen. Patents have already been applied for, and we understand that a strong syndicate is under consideration to furnish the apparatus all over the world.

The Theatre Royal is the first place in the world to exhibit this invention, which caught on at once with the patrons. The apparatus was made entirely in Dublin. We congratulate the lucky inventor, as his invention, without doubt, has come to stay and flourish.

Unfortunately the management of the Theatre Royal quickly became disenchanted with Rochford's invention because the numbers could not be seen properly by those members of the audience sitting further away from the apparatus, and at the end of the season the inventor was forced to remove it from the theatre for good. It seems most likely that the bulky construction was then stored at 16 Crampton court at Michael Byrne's Empire billiard hall.2 Gerard O'Flaherty, who has firsthand knowledge of the area, suggests that this was the only building there that could have housed the invention. The building was a paper merchant's and a printer's store in the 1820s and was curiously used to exhibit a Patent Billiard Table in 1823, long before it was turned into a billiard hall in the late 1880s.

A large-scale insurance map of the area indicates that the description of M‘Coy and Lenehan exiting the building “across the tiny square of Crampton court" uses the preposition in a slightly peculiar way. A picture by Flora H. Mitchell shows the scene.

Harald Beck

Text revised as a result of a suggestion by Gerard O'Flaherty: November 2013

Insurance Map (Dublin 1906) - Excerpt reproduced by kind permission Niall McCullough, author of Dublin: an Urban History: the Plan of the City (Anne Street Press, 2007)

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James Joyce Online Notes


1 Eamonn Finn, “'My turn now on' (U 15.1263). Rochford's Invention Turns Up”, in James Joyce Broadsheet (2008) No. 80, June, p.1.

2 There is no indication in the papers that it was used again in any other theatre in Dublin or elsewhere.

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