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