• Friday , 6 December 2019

Brick Branding – The Great Northern Railway (Ireland) at Dundalk

Dundalk Station, site visit April and July 2016. Image: author's own. Dundalk Station, site visit April and July 2016. Image: author’s own.

Polychromatic yellow, red and black brickwork created a visual identity for the railway architecture of the former Great Northern Railway (GNRI) network across Ireland. The use of accented colours to pick out frames, bonds, string courses and ocular pediments is repeated across a series of buildings including engineering sheds, offices, railway stations and private residences. These are most prominent in Dundalk, where the company had its central engineering works at the half-way point on the Enterprise train line between Dublin and Belfast.

The buildings were each intricately designed by the GNRI’s first chief engineer, William Hemingway Mills. Apprenticed under the creator of St Pancras’ awesomely functional train shed, William Barlow, Mills was a second-generation railway engineer who merged the roles of architect and engineer, almost dismissing the need for architects in railway building altogether: ‘Engineers have brought railways to their present state of perfection’ he said, ‘… the engineer has to stand alone.'[1] However, Mills used an amalgamation of architectural designs from his earlier career such as the rounded arches of the engineering sheds in Derby, lattice-girder bridges in Scotland, ocular pediments in Mexico, and arched, repeated bonded windows in Spain. Mills thus created his own Millsian style of functional eclecticism (as opposed to ‘picturesque eclecticism’[2]) in architectural engineering design. This was demonstrated manifestly at Dundalk.

Dundalk Station, ‘Proposed P. O. Buildings’, original drawing, dated 1925, Irish Railway Record Society, Dublin. Dundalk Station, ‘Proposed P. O. Buildings’, original drawing, dated 1925, Irish Railway Record Society, Dublin.

Coinciding with the establishment of the GNRI in 1876, a new ‘Workmen’s Village’[3] was created to the east of Dundalk town. Evolving the site of inherited railway companies, Mills designed boiler shops, carriage building sheds, smiths’ workshops and offices to be built concurrently with terraces of railway workers’ cottages, and two larger, semi-detached houses at the entrance of the works, Brooklyn and Brook Ville. Each building, although differing in function, showcased a main body of red brick with yellow bricks used to accentuate the key features of pediments, ocular windows, quoins, rounded arches and fanlights, and semi-curved window frames. A new GNRI brand of architecture had been established.

Brook Street Terrace, site visit 20 July 2016. Image: author's own. Brook Street Terrace, site visit 20 July 2016. Image: author’s own.

Continuing with the construction of the new Dundalk train station in 1892 (opened 1894), Mills developed his eye for brick-branding with the striking reversal of red and yellow architectural accents: yellow bricks formed the main structures, with red and black bricks now highlighting the structures’ features. The format of Dundalk Station almost matches entirely the architect John Lanyon’s earlier designs for Limavady Junction and Maghera stations (both 1873-1875), save for the yellow (not red) brickwork used for the main structure, and the black trims matched with red brick (for these Lanyon used black and yellow). Perhaps the role of the architect was not completely obsolete from Mills’ engineering architectural designs after all.

Dundalk Station does however, also demonstrate explicitly Mills’ engineering nous; the lattice-girder footbridge’s original sketch shows an intricacy in construction with instructions for precise angles, quarter-inch rivets, load-bearing joists and exact directions for the roof’s painted canvas being given. An ingenious piece of architectural engineering also lies within the load-bearing pillars for the platform’s glass-roof: rainwater gathers in the upper gutter which feeds into an internal pipe running from the roof, down through the pillars and platform and directly onto the tracks. This ensures the passenger remains as dry as possible when boarding and alighting trains in Ireland’s ‘inclement weather'[4].

Dundalk Station, station master’s office, site visit April 2016. Image: author's own. Dundalk Station, station master’s office, site visit April 2016. Image: author’s own.

Concurrent with the creation of the new train station, an additional row of railway employees’ housing was erected parallel to the tracks at Demesne Terrace in 1901[5]. Echoing but not copying the earlier residential style, they demonstrate the culmination of design being built of red-brick, using yellow bonded windows to echo those seen at the station and Ardee and Brook Street Terraces. The door hoods are not rounded like the earlier terraces, but rather arched to match the windows of the new station. This architectural correlation is enhanced further by similar linear string coursing.

Demesne Terrace, site visit April 2016. Image: author's own. Demesne Terrace, site visit April 2016. Image: author’s own.

Alongside the physical remains of the GNRI, the social impacts on the urbanisation of the town, its population and its industrial legacy, as well as the visual and material cultures associated with the GNRI, remain. Indeed, across the GNRI’s now mostly closed and abandoned route, examples of Millsian design can be discovered at Ballyhaise[6] and Navan[7], amongst many others in varying states of reappropriated use and derelict disrepair. These seemingly randomly sporadic remains of railway architecture provide clues to Mills’ legacy, Ireland’s railway revolution, its evolution and its ultimate decline. The author hopes to continue to research the architecture of the GNRI across Ireland, and in particular the legacy of William Hemingway Mills; a Yorkshireman who became one of the forefathers of Irish railway engineering and architectural design.

[1] Mills, William Hemingway, Railway Construction, first ed. Longmans, Green and Co.: London, 1898, this ed. CreateSpace Independent Publishing Platform: Luxembourg, 2016. pp. 371-372.
[2] Meeks, Carroll, The Railroad Station: An Architectural History, Dover Publications Inc.: New York, USA, first edition 1956, this edition 1995.
[3] McQuillan, Jack, The Railway Town, The Story of the Great Northern Railway Works and Dundalk, Dundalgan Press (W. Tempest) Ltd: Dundalk, 1993. p. 25.
[4] Mills, W. H., p. 281.
[5] NIAH gives a construction date of c.1870 . However, the original ‘Design for Four Room Two-Storey Dwelling House’ was signed by Mills on 5 November 1901. The drawing also gives instructions for these houses to be constructed at Drogheda. These can be found in two terraces of three houses to the western end of Railway Terrace. The original buildings are not protected structures; perhaps their significance and link to Mills and the GNRI were heretofore unknown.
[6] NIAH: Ballyhaise Station. http://www.buildingsofireland.ie/niah/search.jsp?type=record&county=CV&regno=40401512 Accessed 02/04/2017.
[7] NIAH: Navan Station. http://www.buildingsofireland.ie/niah/search.jsp?type=record&county=ME&regno=14012079 Accessed 02/04/2017. Incorrectly attributed to ‘N. A. Mills’.

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