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‘This spacious Hospital, which cost near £16,000, consists of four fronts, the east and west are 233 feet long, the north and south, 204 feet, with an area in the middle of 114 feet by 94½, surrounded by Piazzas, which support the galleries of two stories over them; the entrance is by a large gate in the east front, over which, in a tablet, is the following inscription in gold letters –
Richardus Steevens, M. D., Dotavit.
Grizzel Steevens, soror ejus, Ædificavit.*
Samuel Croker King, A Short History of the Hospital founded by Doctor Richard Steevens, p. 6.
The above receipt of 1743 by Francis Godfrey contains references to a number of elements: the Worth Library, and the apartments for Grizelda Steevens, the Chaplain and the Surgeon. While important, these elements were not the deciding factor in the plan (now lost), submitted by Thomas Burgh on 17 March 1718 to his fellow Trustees of Dr Steevens’ Hospital, for at the heart of the new building were the wards, which were on the ground and first floors of the building. Croker-King, writing in 1785, gives us the following brief glimpse of the arrangement of these wards:
‘The north, south, and west sides are divided into Wards of different dimensions for Patients, the ground floor being allotted to the men, and the second floor mostly to the women, the attic story not yet being occupied, save two Wards, each containing eleven beds, where Patients under mercurial courses are lodged. The underground vaults serve for kitchens, laundries, bathing-rooms, and such other conveniences as are necessary appendages to so great a building; the whole is inclosed by a court to the front, by yards and gardens on the other sides for the conveniency of the officers and servants.’
Burgh’s plan for Dr Steevens’ was clearly inspired by Sir William Robinson’s plan for the nearby Royal Hospital of Kilmainham, which in turn had been influenced by the Hotel des Invalides in Paris (1670). This was not a case of slavishly copying something that had gone before for the Trustees were eager to build a modern hospital, the best of its kind (within their rather limited financial resources). With this in mind they asked another Trustee, Dr Edward Worth, to research the building of St Thomas’s Hospital in London as a possible model. As Casey (1984) notes, while there are similarities between St Thomas’s and Dr Steevens’ in so far as each has a range of buildings around a central loggia, it is clear that Burgh’s plans won out. Crucially, Burgh went one step further than St Thomas’s by designing a circulating corridor on the upper floor, which allowed for easy access without entering individual wards (as had been the case in St Thomas’s).
The reference to ‘1720’ in the inscription on the East Gate (originally the front gate) of the building relates to the year building commenced on the site. It proved to be a long drawn out process but Kirkpatrick (1924) estimates that by 1728 most of the building of the east and north fronts of the hospital had been finished. As this receipt demonstrates, the cupola on the east range was a later addition of the 1730s and is therefore not visible on Brooking’s map of Dublin of 1728. We know that the carpenter, Hugh Wilson, was responsible for the work done on the cupola (and for a good deal else in the hospital). Here he lists the names of the workers who helped construct the cupola over the period 23 July 1735 to 17 July 1736, and includes the timber (from Sweden and Norway) which was utilised in its construction. To this cupola was added the clock (one of the oldest of its kind in Dublin), which bore the inscription ‘This clock was purchased by a charitable subscription for Dr Stephens Hospitall. Wm. Marshall. Dub. Fecit. Aug 1, 1735.’
Just as the cupola was renewed in 1865, so to, was the roof remodelled in the 1870s. Gibney (1997) emphasises that the original roof structure of Dr Steevens’ Hospital was not innovatory, and closely resembled those of the late seventeenth century in Dublin, rather than looking forward to the Palladian structures of the 1730s onwards. Unsurprisingly, the type of roof constructed at Dr Steevens’ closely resembled that which had been used in the Royal Hospital Kilmainham. It is likely that the roof structure of the north side of Dr Steevens’ resembled that of the east range before it and the south and west sides were changed in the nineteenth century to form a mansard roof. This change (which, had there been sufficient finance would also have included the east range), was undertaken in the late 1870s by the governors because extra ward space was desperately needed. Kirkpatrick (1924) notes that the result was that the ‘old wards were replaced by new, which were lofty, well ventilated, and quite as good as any of those in the lower stories of the house.’ Following the remodelling of the north side of the hospital in the 1980s the north entrance (opposite Heuston Station) became the principal entrance.
* ‘Dr Richard Steevens richly endowed it,
Grizelda Steevens, his sister, built it.’
Casey, Christine (2005), The Buildings of Ireland. Dublin (Yale University Press).
Casey, Noreen (1984), ‘Hospital Architecture in Dublin’ in Eoin O’Brien, Anne Crookshank and Sir Gordon Wolstenholme, A Portrait of Irish Medicine. An Illustrated History of Medicine in Ireland (Dublin: Ward River Press, 1984), pp. 215- 260.
Croker-King, Samuel (1854), A Short History of the Hospital founded by Doctor Richard Steevens, near the City of Dublin, from its establishment in the year 1717 to the present time 1785 (Dublin).
Gibney, Arthur (1997), ‘Studies in Eighteenth-Century Building History’, Ph. D. Thesis, University of Dublin, 1997.
Kirkpatrick, T. P. C. (1924; reprinted 2008) The History of Doctor Steevens’ Hospital Dublin, 1720-1920 (Dublin).