How a landmark Dublin 8 church has become four city homes

Kingsland is the last of the ‘rebooted D8’ churches to be repurposed

The kitchen design at No1 Kingsland Park Church Portobello, Dublin 8

The newly revamped mews

The exterior of No1 Kingsland Park Church Portobello, Dublin 8

The feature oculus lets in light at the front gable end

The original architect John McCurdy

Architect Tim Darmody of Darmody Architecture who was selected to come up with a blueprint for the new scheme

Mark Keenan

No1 Kingsland Park Church, Portobello, Dublin 8 Asking price: €825,000 Agent: DNG (01) 4794088

You haven’t heard of Kingsland Park, Liverpool Road and Bloomfield Place in Dublin City? That’s because the names of these streets were changed in the 1860s as part of an extraordinary rebranding campaign led by one man; to reboot the Dublin 8 ‘brand’, boost property values and flush away the lingering red light district reputation which had reduced them.

Builder politician Frederick Stokes was so successful that not only did uppercrust buyers bite on the homes he was building, but suddenly all creeds wanted to build a church here. Among them the Primitive Wesleyan Methodists who funded Kingsland Park Church, constructed by between 1865 and 1871 along with an adjoining small primary school. And Stokes got to build that too.

The exterior of No1 Kingsland Park Church Portobello, Dublin 8

The former church (the congregation retired it in the 1950s) was more recently bought by Harcourt Developments and after 18 months of restoration and repurposing, has been transformed into three A-rated apartments and a new mews house. This week one of those apartments have been placed for sale. One more and the mews house are expected to be offered going forward.

Since being retired it has been used since the 1950s as a base for the Women’s Only Employment Exchange, assisting women to progress in an area which had, a century previous, denigrated them.

From the 1830s Kingsland Park was known for the beautiful Royal Portobello Gardens that developed from the Kingsland Estate. The area’s homes were fashionable. But with ever larger numbers of British soldiers stationed at Portobello Barracks (today Cathal Brugha) and at Wellington Barracks off the South Circular Road (now Newman College), increasing numbers of prostitutes began to work in the area and crime soon followed.

Dublin City already had Europe’s biggest red light district with the notorious ‘Monto’ located around Summerhill and Foley Street containing an estimated 1,600 sex workers.

The feature oculus lets in light at the front gable end

And with prostitution establishing itself near Portobello Barracks, many of the good burghers living around Liverpool Street and Kingsland Park began to move out and property values soon fell. This sparked businesses in the area to urge that redevelopment become a tool to recreate the area.

So in stepped builder Frederick Stokes, an Englishman who also happened to be the chairman of the Rathmines Township Commissioners. With significant holdings in the area, Stokes understood that if he could manage to engineer a complete rebrand for these streets, he would also profit enormously.

By the 1860s Stokes began constructing new homes. Next he changed the names of the streets to give them a new identity. Kingsland Park became Victoria Street, Liverpool Road became Portobello Road and Bloomfield Place was renamed Windsor Terrace. Many of his new houses were festooned with elaborate busts of Queen Victoria to drive home the point that this area had returned to clean Victorian values. It worked like a dream.

The original architect John McCurdy

And as soon as respectable buyers began moving back in, the various churches began to express an interest in establishing themselves here. Among them was the Wesleyan Methodist Church. In the 1860s Dublin 8 had a big mix of faiths — being equally popular with congregations of Jews, Catholics, Church of Ireland, Presbyterians and Methodists. The Presbyterians built their church off the South Circular in the 1860s and the Church of Ireland followed with St Kevin’s in 1882. Then came a synagogue officially opened at Lennox Street in 1887 (although recorded as functioning since the 1870s).

Architect Tim Darmody of Darmody Architecture who was selected to come up with a blueprint for the new scheme

To build Kingsland Park Church (they kept the original address), the Methodists called upon the services of well-known architect John McCurdy, who had just designed the magnificent Royal Marine Hotel in Dun Laoghaire. For the corner site he sketched out a gable fronted design with a three-bay nave containing a single-storey transept to the south.

The school section, which later became offices, was designed to run perpendicular to the main building in a simple neo-Gothic style. A big feature of the church its oculus, the big ornate rounded window at the front gable end.

And the builder called upon to construct it in ashlar granite and brick was none other than the great rebrander himself, Frederick Stokes, who personally lay the foundation stone in 1871.

As time went on many of the area’s different faiths moved on. The Jewish congregation moved out to Rathgar and Terenure while the Methodist population diminished. In the intervening years the synagogue on Lennox Street became a museum, Donore Presbyterian Church became a mosque and St Kevin’s was converted to apartments in the 1990s, leaving only Kingsland Park church to find a new lease of life. It was offered for sale by the Methodists in 2009 and at one point €1.3m was sought. By 2012 the price had fallen to €850,000. Recently it was acquired by Pat Doherty’s Harcourt Developments and architect Tim Darmody was hired to come up with a new blueprint to revive the buildings as a smart pocket city residential scheme.

The newly revamped mews

“Although it’s not a protected building, the big challenge was to arrest the decline of the structural fabric. In was in pretty poor condition and had not really been occupied for a few years. It had a 40-year-old heating system and lots of fireplaces had been put in and taken out over the years.” All four homes are built to an A3 standard with underfloor heating.

No1, the first to come to market measures 1,012 sq ft laid out ‘upside down’ over two floors with the living quarters upstairs. There’s an entrance hall downstairs and two bedrooms, both with bathroom ensuites. There’s also a wc. Upstairs has a big open plan kitchen and living room area with vaulted ceilings that run up to 25 ft, ornate church architrave detail and a big stained glass window. The price is €825,000 from DNG.

A slightly larger second apartment and the two bed open plan mews are set to be made available soon.

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