Your Tenement Memories

Gemma Sexton
Community engagement, Diversity, Education, Youth oriented
Digital, Intangible, Tangible
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Your Tenement Memories is the collecting of personal stories, memories, histories and experiences of the people who lived in 14 Henrietta Street and the tenement buildings of Dublin in the 19th and 20th centuries. Built in the 1740s,14 Henrietta Street moved from grandeur to tenement over the 300 years of its existence. Opened to the public in September 2018, the conservation and restoration of the building by Dublin City Council peeled back the layers of those who had been there before. In the 1911 Census, over 100 people lived in the house and the last families left in the late 1970s. This oral history project will collect, preserve and share the living memories of tenement life in Dublin connecting people and communities through the stories and cultural heritage of their city. Stories that have not had a voice, from a generation soon to be long gone and indeed in time forgotten. 14 Henrietta Street and Your Tenement Memories will provide an important platform to those stories, now and into the future.

Numbers 13-15 Henrietta Street, Dublin were built in the late 1740s by Luke Gardiner as a speculative enterprise. Number 14’s first occupants were the Right Honorable Richard, Lord Viscount Molesworth and his second wife Mary Jenny Usher. Over the late 18th century, residents of the house included the Lord Chancellor of Ireland and the Bishop of Clogher. The 1800s saw the professional classes move into Henrietta Street including the Encumbered Estates’ Court which allowed the State to acquire and sell on insolvent estates after the Great Famine of Ireland 1845-49. In 1876, Thomas Vance purchased Number 14 and created 19 tenement flats of one room homes with internal partitions to delineate different living quarters. Described in an Irish Times advert from 1877: ‘To be let to respectable families in a large house, Northside, recently papered, painted and filled up with every modern sanitary improvement, gas and wc on landings, Varty Water, drying yard and a range with oven for each tenant; a large coachhouse, or workshop with apartments, to be let at the rere. Apply to the caretaker, 14 Henrietta St.’ By the 1911 Census, the house was filled with 100 people while nearly 1,000 people lived on the street. The Census showed that number 14 was a hive of industry - there were milliners, a dressmaker, French polishers and bookbinders living and possibly working in the house. However the reality of 100 people living in a house with one tap for cold-running water, one indoor and one external toilet depicts a more sober picture. The poverty and living conditions in Dublin’s tenements were described by 1913 at the time of the Great Lockout by James Connolly as the worst slums in Europe. Infant mortality rate was the highest in Europe with deaths from tuberculosis related illnesses 50% higher than that of England and Scotland. Families started to move out to the newly created suburban homes of Dublin from the 1930s with the last family finally leaving No 14 in the 1970s. The building was acquired in 2002 by Dublin City Council and the idea for unpicking the story of tenement life came into being. The conservation and restoration of the building not only revealed the fabric of the structure but also showed the layers and stories of what, and more importantly who, had been there before we arrived. The building opened to the public in September 2018 and is operated by Dublin City Council Culture Company. The Culture Company and 14 Henrietta Street seek to help visitors deepen their understanding of the history of urban life and housing in Ireland, through people and memory. Taking the stories, personal experiences and objects of former residents of the tenements, coupled with new ongoing social and architectural history, it gathers, interprets and preserves Dublin’s tenement history. 14 Henrietta Street aims to: Share By retelling the story of the lives of the people of 14 Henrietta Street and those that experienced tenement life in Dublin. Engage By listening and talking, we make connections with visitors, citizens, historians, local residents, former residents and their families. Discover By continuing to research the house and its occupants, collecting the living memories of former tenement residents, creating a record of the urban and social history of our city. Your Tenement Memories began in January 2019. It is the next phase in Dublin City Council Culture Company’s gathering of personal memories and histories with 14 Henrietta Street as the spine upon which to hang this intangible cultural heritage. By capturing the living memories of life in Dublin, we hope to connect people and communities with the stories and heritage of the city and it’s place within the broader context of European history. The timing of the project coincides with a public whose appetite is whetted and is curious for social history and cultural heritage. This started through extensive public engagement and community participation of the 1916 Commemorations with a focus on the hidden histories - the role of women within the Rising, stories of ordinary people, their role within the Rising and the impact it had on their day to day lives. History became a living thing, an insight into the ordinary, providing relevance to citizens. It was no longer solely a space for Emperors, battles and Commanders. Your Tenement Memories is devised and delivered by social and academic historians and a team of professionals experienced in citizen engagement in cultural projects. Participants are invited to tell their stories, share their memories and reflections on their past and present lives. These events/workshops take place in community centres, libraries and venues across the city and in the suburbs of Dublin to which the families moved from the 1930s up to the 1970s - Ballyfermot, Cabra, Coolock, Crumlin, Drimnagh and Finglas. This creates a sense of easy access and the familiar surroundings forge a connection to the project as many of the former residents are now advanced in years. Interviews are recorded by means of informed consent, with clear and simple explanations given by the engagement team and interviewers. During the sessions, we ethically and sensitively collect histories connected to Dublin, tenement living and suburbanisation.This ‘crowd-sourcing’ history will inform the ongoing core work of 14 Henrietta Street and is a valuable connection into communities. Your Tenement Memories is a vital part of 14 Henrietta Street. This ‘active’ collecting of personal stories is hugely important within the area of folklore and memory as the experience of many social historians is that many working class people from these areas do not consider their stories ‘part of history’. A set of 8 questions were developed and these form the core of each interview. Interviews commence with ‘what are your main memories?’ The process allows for interviewees to sit and chat in a relaxed and informal setting responding to the questions: Where were you born? Where were your parents from? What did your parents do for work? What did you eat? What did you play?Where did you play? What was your daily routine? Where did you move to? How did it compare to your tenement life? By April 2019, 15 workshops have been held in community centres and venues across the city. These have given rise to newly discovered stories and experiences of life in the tenements, some sad, some happy. Most importantly the workshops have facilitated conversations within communities on a time and place in Irish society that has been under-represented within the national conversation. Your Tenement Memories has given people a safe and friendly space to revisit their past. For some they feel a sense of obligation, a duty to share their experiences and speak of how they, as residents of the tenements, were made to feel different and separate from other sectors of society. They carry a sense that they don’t belong, a stigma around identity of place. In some cases they have not told their children. Alongside this, their stories also tell of a strong sense of support from neighbours and connection to place and the built environment. This huge contrast coexists within many of the personal stories. There are sharp reminders of the poverty, although some have charm they are also evocative of smell and living conditions with common memories of the biting cold and damp, the smell of gas lamps, the darkness on the staircase as you went to use the only internal toilet in the building. Many stories reference ‘Closed Door’ and ‘Open Door’ houses which meant the front door was never closed and the hallways and staircases open to all to pass through and use. There are references to not wanting to be the first out the tenement flat door in the morning because you didn’t know who would be on the landing. For many however, the use of the words ‘poverty’, ‘slum’ and ‘poor’ is not associated with their memories. One woman spoke of the inclusion in nightly bedtime prayers of ‘say a prayer for the poor people on the landing’ as they were the truly impoverished. Daily meals were mainly porridge and hunger is a regular experience. For some the ability to grow vegetables on meagre slices of land provided an additional source of income. Nearly all members of the family had some level of work with boys delivering and selling newspapers around the city. Cooking was on open fires. There is the joy of recalling the ‘hen’ for Christmas dinner and recollections of oranges and bananas in the post WWII years. The attributing of labels of ‘poor’ evokes strong reactions and brings forth memories of segregation from other children at school. Schools were run by the religious orders and many speak of being treated differently. Never being allowed to participate in school outings and activities cemented a sense of being less worthy and of no value. There are memories of childhood where toys were rare if non existant. An extensive range of streetgames, songs sung and communal play were the norm and in later years of the 50s and 60s, trips to the ‘pictures’ at the increasing number of city centre cinemas. There are many stories of Fathers and family members joining the British Army going away to World War I and the Battle of Ypres. Men who returned were afflicted with long-term injuries such as blindness, loss of limbs etc. and in many cases unspoken mental health issues. There is a predominant sense that information on the War was scarce with no reality of what it meant to be a soldier. The phrase ‘going away a hero, coming back a traitor’ is commonly stated, and is linked to the change in Irish society after the 1916 Rising, the rise in nationalism and the War of Independence 1919-21 and the Irish Civil War 1922-23. Early memories of the move to the suburbs speak of a sense of displacement and the unfamiliar. The space and comfort afforded by these new modern homes brought about isolation and loneliness. Memories of lost childhood friends and in some cases these memories have been erased. This initial gathering of stories will now be examined and participants selected for further deeper interviews. The process and methodology has been devised and conducted in partnership with social historians to ensure the quality of the project. The stories will continue to be gathered in line with best practices, to form an accreditation quality repository of information, supported through by a sound and reusable methodology. These interviews will be recorded and published through 14 Henrietta Street’s website online and social media channels. Your Tenement Memories is at its core about listening. Listening to people’s memories, by placing value on their individual stories and communicating them to others. The project acknowledges and respects the everyday culture that makes the city what it is today. The aim is to continue recording the everyday stories of the city, to codesign a toolkit with communities and experts on how to gather and record the stories of communities and build a depository of ‘stories’ for the city.

European Dimension

Your Tenement Memories supports an integrated and participatory approach to Cultural Heritage. It represents the common values that underpin European integration to increase understanding of our shared European heritage and history. Your Tenement Memories works within the 5 pillars and many of the 60 action points called for in the European Framework for Action on Cultural Heritage published in December 2018 at the end of European Year of Cultural Heritage. The project uses an holistic approach where the tangible - 14 Henrietta Street, intangible - engagement and ongoing connection with past residents to gather their stories and memories, and digital - online, podcasts, oral history ‘engagement’ toolkit are interconnected and inseparable. Local communities are core and central to Your Tenement Memories. Your Tenement Memories is inclusive. People-centred activities focussing on local communities and place to ensure access for all. Workshops took place in locations across the city, in neighbourhoods and communities that saw the greatest migration from Dublin’s tenement dwellings to suburban accommodation. Locations such as Cabra (1930s), Crumlin (1930s), Drimnagh (1930s), Ballyfermot (1950s), Coolock (1950s), Dominick and Dorset Street Flats, Darndale (1950s) and Finglas (1950s). Thus bringing people together, supporting new connections through the shared endeavour of gathering stories and collecting memories of life in Dublin’s Tenements. Your Tenement Memories is sustainable. A clear and simple methodology for the workshops and gathering the stories was devised by a team of cultural engagement professionals, social historians and academics. It is envisaged that an oral history toolkit will be created to support local communities gathering their own community stories on an ongoing basis. The sharing of good practice will be facilitated through active participation in Museum, Cultural Heritage networks, Oral History networks, Historian and Academic conferences. Your Tenement Memories is resilient and founded upon a framework of ethically and sensitively collecting histories. The use of social historians, professional cultural engagement personnel ensures quality workshop experiences for participants. All workshops are delivered in a friendly, informal environment, the focus is on the participant’s comfort and ease. Your Tenement Memories is innovative supporting participatory role of citizens in the management of their own stories, the gathering and dissemination of their history. Communities will codesign their own toolkit and activities on how they wish to tell their stories back to their own communities. Your Tenement Memories is about partnership. Partnership with citizens, communities, historians, public libraries, local authorities, academic institutions, museums and archives. 14 Henrietta Street was recently referenced by Mr Tibor Navarcsics, Commissioner for Education, Culture, Youth & Sport at the European Commission at the first meeting of the Platforms on the Future of Cultural Heritage: A Problem-solving Approach on Cultural Heritage & Social Innovation in Dublin, 1 April 2019. "I am very pleased that Dublin is hosting the first platform. Dublin is particularly active in the field of cultural heritage and social innovation, the topic you have been focusing on today. The city is at the forefront in this area, offering a rich programme of experimentation in this regard. Tomorrow, you will experience a local project first-hand, when you visit 14 Henrietta Street. There, you will observe a practical example of what we discussed today. This is a project that tells the story of 300 years of city life, all within the walls of one address where, as you will hear in one of the exhibition films, “Tea was made, babies were born, loves were lost, fires lit, letters written, bread was broken, walls were white-washed, and lives were lived”. In the house, everyday stories, personal experiences and objects of former residents have been gathered, presented and interpreted. It is an excellent example of how heritage can connect local communities to their ancestors. Of how children in particular can retain this cultural thread, engaging with their past. They can find a common sense of belonging linked to these places, much like we do."

Legal body/representative

Dublin Council Culture Company Limited

Iseult Byrne, CEO

Description of the project

The initial workshops and gathering of stories for Your Tenement Memories were supported by Creative Ireland. This application now seeks support for the next phase which will examine the interviews and select a number of participants (approximately 10-15) to participate in further in-depth interviews. This will culminate in a digital recording of their 'tenement memory' for inclusion in the collection of 14 Henrietta Street. Whilst available to visitors to 14 Henrietta Street, these recordings will also form an integral part for the development of ongoing engagement and participation activities with communities, with a particular focus on young people and new communities living in Dublin. This framework of telling personal family stories supports intergenerational participation and the transmission of narratives within communities and beyond. These engagement and participation activities will be co-created and co-designed in partnership with the local communities, social historians, academics and cultural engagement professionals to ensure quality experiences for all. 14 Henrietta Street and Dublin City Council Culture Company believes in this open-ended truly collaborative process and that the true intense moments of sharing and co-operative thinking supports real and sustainable innovation in cultural heritage. Our belief in ongoing dialogue means that citizen engagement and participatory consultation, sharing experiences and ideas is never done. The next phase will take place within the period up to March 2020

Legacy of the project

By embedding the actions and activities within local communities it ensures on-going and continuous fact-checking of the methodology, outputs and outcomes for relevance to the communities. Trusting in this open-ended process, allows for agile and responsive adjustments along the way. The project is not wedded to pre-determined outputs. Listening to the community supports the value of their input and participation is demonstrated throughout the process. Access to expert practitioners and academics in social history, oral history and participatory cultural projects ensures that communities benefit from the highest quality of expertise, experience and knowledge. The ability to develop local ‘oral history’ community toolkits will allow local history groups record their own contemporary cultural heritage stories using a recognised qualitative methodology. Thereby building capacity within communities, ensuring local cultural heritage advocats at grass-roots level. This ongoing developmental support of communities in local cultural heritage builds trust and long-term sustainable relationships to 14 Henrietta Street. Your Tenement Memories from the design and implementation of the workshops has been recorded through a range of qualitative and quantitative data collection such as questionnaires, surveys and a number of other mechanisms. Dublin City Council Culture Company ensures that all projects gather information and data in line with best practice of evaluation and impact for cultural projects. In 2018, Agenda 21 for Culture acknowledged with a special commendation its practice of citizen-lead cultural participation projects as an example of best practice within its Leading Cities award. Through its close connections to the Global Cities Forum, the United Cities Local Government network and Agenda 21 for Culture, the experiences and outcomes of Your Tenement Memories will be widely disseminated.

Budget breakdown

Amount sought: €10,000 €2,000 Fee - Social Historian input into selection of participants and structure for in-depth interviews €3,000 Interviews - engagement team for interview facilitation, local venue hire and associated costs such as local transport for interviewees etc. if required. €1,000 - documentation, recording of interviews, transcripts and review €3,000 - local community workshops to co-design participatory activities in cultural heritage €1,000 - digital podcasts and dissemination material for 14 Henrietta Street

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