FORMER GUINNESS POWER HOUSE, JAMES’S STREET, DUBLIN 8
[now ROE & CO., WHISKEY DISTILLERY]
Architects F. P. M. Woodhouse with Sir Alexander Gibb & Partners
Situated on James’s Street opposite the original St. James’s Gate brewery, this large brick building in Art Deco-style is one of the finest industrial buildings constructed in this period in Ireland; it is the Battersea Power Station of Dublin. Built to the exacting standards of its clients, the building design chosen was contemporary but executed in red brick to compliment the older brick buildings of James’s Street. The power station was in use from its completion in 1948 for fifty years until 1998.
The decision to build a new central boiler house and power station for the Guinness Brewery was made in 1944 and the site selected was on part of the old Phoenix Brewery on the north side of James’s Street. The architect, F. P. M. Woodhouse, designed the power station as an elegant Art Deco brick building, with a central flat-roofed tower to the principal north elevation flanked by tall octagonal brick chimneys. The north block was the boiler room and the lower volume facing James’s Street housed the turbine. Both were brightly lit by tall windows on all sides. Sir Alexander Gibb and Partners were the engineers and McLaughlin & Harvey Limited, the contractors, who started work on site in December 1945. Site conditions required that the boiler house and chimneys were supported on piles, the turbine hall was built on conventional foundations. The two 160-foot-tall boiler house chimneys were each built on thirty-two piles. To build them as circular chimneys would have required the use of costly special curved bricks so an octagonal form was chosen which required fewer special bricks. Work on building the chimneys started in November 1946 and they were completed exactly a year later in November 1947. Bricklaying started on 25th October 1946. The main structural walls were completed on 14th January 1948. The boiler firing floor and turbine operating floor were cast in-situ with reinforced concrete. The roofing was carried out in hollow pre-cast concrete slabs. A one-inch concrete screed was poured over the roof slabs and water proofed with two coats of asphalt. The firing floor, turbine hall floor and main switch gear annex, and the offices were all tiled.
The quantities of materials used to complete the building were a source of wonder to an Irish Times correspondent in May 1950 who reported that ‘a million Kingscourt bricks, 700 tons of structural steel and 800,000 cubic feet of reinforced concrete went into the construction.’
The Kingscourt brick used in the building is machine-made with a rustic face and measures 8½ x 4 x 2½ inches. It is darkish red with some colour variation. The wall parapets are capped with elegant thin curved-edge stone copings. A granite plinth band decorates the James’s Street façade but otherwise the walls are fully built with brick in English Garden Wall bond with five courses of stretcher brick between the header rows. The brickwork includes specials around openings such as curved or bull nose bricks. Special splayed bricks were needed to build the two octagonal chimneys.
Construction of the power house also involved various auxiliary works. These included an 800-foot coal conveyor which went from the top of the building down to the northern boundary of the site on Victoria Quay, also an impressive tunnel under James’s Street for both pedestrians and services which accommodated steam pipes and power cables from the power station to the various production departments south of James’s Street. The amount of electrical current generated varied according to the brewing processes, increasing and diminishing daily. Because of this an agreement was made with the ESB to send surplus electricity back to the national grid. Alternatively, Guinness could import electricity from the ESB when the demand for steam was low.
In 1980, Guinness launched a major ten year re-development plan for the St. James’s Gate brewery. This included changes in the energy requirements for brewing and the first phase of the new development work included two new high-pressure oil/gas fired boilers. A new steam and electric generating plant was fully installed and operating by Christmas 1984. In 1997 a contract was awarded to Gatepower Ltd. for the design, supply, installation, operation and maintenance of a new energy centre. This was built at the rear of the 1948 Guinness power house on a very compact site on Cooke’s Lane. The Guinness and Gatepower energy systems continued to operate in parallel until 1st March 1998 after which Guinness no longer needed to produce its own steam and electricity requirements and the Power Station closed.
In 2017, plans were announced to convert the former Guinness Power Station into the new home of Roe & Co., Whiskey Distillery. George Roe & Co. had operated a distillery in the area until 1926. The conversion of this fine building to distillery use has been sensitively executed. It has secured the building as well as giving new life and an excellent boost to the area. As well as being a working distillery, a key part of operations is a well-presented visitor experience where the visitor can learn about the history of distilling in the Liberties area. To the east the only surviving part of the original distillery is the landmark windmill of St Patrick’s Tower. The windmill, and a 19th-century pear tree (the oldest known fruiting tree in Ireland) growing at its base, feature on Roe & Co. bottle labels.
Susan Roundtree is a conservation architect with a particular interest in architectural history and historic buildings. She obtained a Master of Letters in Trinity College Dublin for her research on the history of clay brick as a building material in Ireland and this continues to be her area of special interest. She has contributed to many publications on this topic and is currently completing her own book which is a gazetteer of brickmaking history in Ireland.
Acknowledgements & Further Information
Building details, background information and early images of the building for this article have been provided courtesy of the Guinness Archive, Diageo Ireland. Thanks to Colin Martin and Eibhlin Colgan for their assistance in this regard. A list of the images provided by the Guinness Archive, Diageo Ireland are provided below;