‘At the exchange’: the eighteenth-century book trade in Cork.



From its construction in the first decade of the eighteenth century the new exchange in Castle Street became the focal point of the Cork book trade. The concentration of public buildings housing the legal and civil administration in the Main Street/Castle Street area created a demand for stationery, books and newspapers. Over thirty booksellers can be identified trading here during the eighteenth century, some succeeding others in the same premises. The exchange acted as a central point for dissemination of information in the legal and commercial world. Bills, proclamations and printed addresses were ‘put on the Post within the new exchange for public view’.[2] Throughout the eighteenth century all city council orders were ‘posted up on the exchange’.[3] Sales by public cant were held at the exchange, or in the taverns and coffee houses nearby. In February 1754 a pleasure boat was sold at the exchange for the benefit of the infirmary, and in October of the same year the ship Lucy of Cork was sold there.[4] The exchange accommodated the town clock, where previously the clock on the steeple of Christchurch acted in this capacity.[5] The exchange was the hub of commercial and civic life until the establishment of the commercial buildings on the South Mall in 1813. Having outlived its use, and being considered an obstruction to traffic jutting out into Main Street, it was demolished in 1837.

Situation and commercial importance:

The medieval core of Cork city was contained within the divided channels of the river Lee. Main Street followed the central ridge from north to south, ending with the towers of the city walls at North Gate and South Gate bridges. Castle Street was situated in the centre of the walled city, running east-west from Queen’s castle to Roche’s castle. In the medieval period it fronted onto a water channel, the medieval ‘key’ of Cork, the street occupying the northern quay. This waterway was able to accommodate ships, as shown on the Pecata Hibernia map of 1595. By the eighteenth century the channel was arched over and the water culverted beneath the street.[6] In 1760 the corporation ordered that the exchange slip, which had lately been covered in, be converted into a shop, allowing access to the water by a trap door, in case of accidental fire.[7] Castle Street joined Main Street to the west, splitting it into North Main and South Main Streets. At its eastern end it met Tuckey’s Quay (later Grand Parade) to the south, and Cornmarket/Coal Quay to the north, and from the early eighteenth century had its continuation eastwards into Paul Street. This situation gave Castle Street its commercial importance, forming as it did the cross-axis of the old city.

Castle Street retained its economic ascendancy throughout the eighteenth century. The fine new exchange, begun in 1708 and opened in May 1710, celebrated the dominance of trade in the capital of the south. Located at the south-western corner of Castle Street at Main Street, it was built on the foundation of the medieval Paradise tower, later Roche’s castle. In 1732 Edward Lloyd considered the exchange more beautiful than the Dublin one and ‘exceeding that in Bristol, or the changes in any city or port in England excepting the magnificent building of the Royal Exchange in London’.[8] In 1750 Smith described it as:

an handsome regular structure of hewn stone. The front consists of five arches, with three others next the passage to the street. The middle arch or principal entrance is adorned with columns of the Doric order, over which are fluted ones of the Ionic order; … On the top is an elegant cupola covered with lead; a gilt ball, cross and dragon.[9]


Engraving of The Exchange, Cork, from Charles Smith, The antient and present state of the county and city of Cork, 1750.

The city court house was located south of the exchange, and the county court house south of King’s castle at the eastern end of Castle Street. Court Lane, running parallel to Castle Street, linked the two court houses. The exchange itself accommodated the council chamber on its upper floor and also provided space for the grand jury at the assizes and sessions, the mayor’s office, and an office for keeping the council records.[10] The grouping of offices dealing with city and county administration created demand for the services of bookseller, bookbinder, stationer and printer. Legal and administrative stationery and printed forms were staples of the trade. Information in book, pamphlet and newspaper form, was increasingly necessary for officials at all levels. Proclamations and notices were issued regularly, and local printers carried out these tasks for the corporation and the courts.

The concentrated central area continued to hold its commercial superiority until the last quarter of the eighteenth century, when the city was beginning to expand as the marshes to the east and west were drained and reclaimed, and the suburbs began to be developed.[11] Work continued in arching over the water channels, in the early 1780s the waterway at the Long Quay was covered and the new thoroughfare became St Patrick Street. At the same period the navigable channel at Tuckey’s Quay was covered in and Grand Parade formed. Newspaper advertising shows that the luxury trades were mainly located in the central areas of the city, first in the old core, and later in the eastern areas at George’s Street and Patrick Street: booksellers, stationers, confectioners, florists, perfumers, peruke makers, silversmiths, drapers, seed merchants, cabinet makers, cutlers and coach builders. In 1739 the mayor suggested that the post office be ‘kept near the exchange, being the centre of this city.’[12] William Flyn, printer and bookseller at the Shakespeare, ‘near the exchange’, pointed to the commercial advantages of the area when advertising his shop and apartments ‘under the exchange coffee house’ in 1775: ‘the situation for any kind of business is superior to most in the city’.[13] In the last two decades of the century bookselling businesses spread out from Castle Street, Main Street and Paul Street, into the newly formed Patrick Street, Grand Parade and Grattan Street.

From the early years of the century booksellers set up business in the vicinity of the exchange. From about 1715 Thomas Cotton, Andrew Welsh and John Redwood had bookshops in Castle Street, Welsh’s and Redwood’s located ‘near the exchange’. Thomas Pilkington was in Castle Street from 1729, succeeded by his widow, Martha, at the same address early in the 1740s. Cornelius Sullivan was ‘at the exchange coffee house’ in Castle Street in 1736. From the 1750s Castle Street was the address of Phineas and George Bagnell, ‘opposite the exchange coffee house’; Timothy Cronin ‘under the English coffee house’;[14] George and James Knight, and later Henry and John Knight. Eugene Swiney was on Main Street ‘near the exchange’ from 1754, having moved from Paul Street. John Bardin was at the Bible, Castle Street, in 1763, advertising imported paper and merchants’ account books, moving to Paul Street, where he died in 1773. William Flyn was at the Shakespeare, ‘near the exchange’, from 1764 to 1775, when he moved to ‘south-side of the exchange’. George Busteed, printer of the Cork Chronicle, was in Castle Street in the 1760s, moving to Paul Street in 1766. John Busteed, printer of the Hibernian Morning Post, was in Castle Street ‘near the exchange’ in the early 1770s, having moved from Paul Street. Thomas Lord had his bookshop and circulating library in Castle Street ‘under the exchange coffee house’ in 1770.[15]

Mary Edwards opened her new bookshop at 3 Castle Street, ‘next door to the exchange coffee house’ in June 1770, where she proposed to stock the ‘greatest variety of modern books’ from London and Dublin, as well as paper and stationery. She particularly targeted country dealers, offering to supply them ‘on the lowest terms’.[16] Her son and successor, Anthony Edwards, was at the same address from 1781, ‘opposite the new merchant’s coffee house’, until he moved to 6 Castle Street, where he remained until 1815, trading as Edwards and Savage from about 1806. Thomas Saunders Knox spent two years in Castle Street from 1776 to 1778, publishing the Cork General Advertiser, before moving to Ennis. In 1773 Michael Matthews had his bookshop in Castle Street, ‘opposite the exchange coffee house’, where he stocked books, pictures, stationery, ‘rare and curious pieces out of print and very scarce’.[17] From his bookshop and circulating library ‘under the exchange’ he offered the best prices for libraries and parcels of books in 1777.[18] In 1781 the bookshop in the ‘small house under part of the exchange’ was to be set by public cant.[19] Matthews continued to occupy the premises, paying an annual rent of £4.19s. until 1791, when his ‘shop and bulk’ was assigned to the trustees of the new coffee house, and he moved to North Main Street.[20]

Jeremiah Sullivan was ‘opposite the exchange’ from 1777. Thomas White carried on business at 55 the exchange, ‘opposite the west gate of the exchange’ on Main Street from 1770, occupying Eugene’s Swiney’s former bookshop, and moving to 4 Castle Street in 1793. Robert Dobbyn, printer of the Cork Weekly Journal, was at 9 Castle Street from 1779, moving to Bachelor’s Quay about 1787. The 1790s saw John Connor’s bookshop and circulating library established at 17 Castle Street, at the corner of Cornmarket, James Haly, son-in-law of William Flyn, at the King’s Arms, exchange, and Michael Harris at 6 Castle Street. In 1794 Thomas Boate’s ‘Stationary, music, map and print ware-house’ removed to 3 new buildings, Castle Street, under the Tontine coffee house. He advertised maps, prints, music and merchants’ account books, as well as children’s and school books, magazines and plays, and undertook ‘all manner of book-binding and printing work executed with neatness and dispatch’.[21] In 1797 Hugh Massey, bookbinder and stationer, conducted his business on Main Street ‘under the old mercantile coffee-house.’[22] In the first decade of the new century Castle Street accommodated the bookshops of William West, compiler of West’s Cork directory 1810, John Harris, at the Southern Reporter office, Jeremiah Geary at the Stanhope Press printing office, occupying Haly’s old premises at the King’s Arms, exchange, John Stephenson, printer of The Patriot, at 10 Castle Street, White and Shelborne, paper manufacturers, and Joseph and Robert McMullen, ‘at the exchange’.

Cork West

Castle Street, the bookshop of William West, printer, bookseller and stationer, and the shop of White and Company, paper manufacturers, near the exchange, c.1810.

Coffee houses and taverns clustered here also, frequented by the better-off citizens in search of news and gossip. At mid-century Cork had two coffee houses, the Exchange and English coffee houses, situated opposite each other on Castle Street, and a number of prominent taverns: the Cork Arms and Turk Head taverns in Castle Street, and the Raven opposite Christchurch. In 1750 Smith noted: ‘Here are only two coffee-houses, both near the exchange; they are much frequented, and besides the English news-papers, have most of the Dublin ones: the better sort are fond of news and politics, and are well versed in public affairs.’[23] By 1777 Thomas Campbell reported: ‘One of the coffee-houses is conducted somewhat like those in London. The taverns are pretty good, and very cheap…’[24] The merchant’s coffee house, situated at the corner of Castle Street and North Main Street, subscribed to Finn’s Leinster Journal from at least 1778.[25] In 1795 it was reopened by D. Manly, supplying newspapers from London and Dublin, three Cork papers, two each from Waterford and Limerick, Finn’s Leinster Journal, the Northern Star and Londonderry Chronicle.[26] The Tontine coffee house was opened in Castle Street in 1793, the charter to raise the fund for its establishment had among its shareholders two booksellers, Thomas White and Jeremiah Sullivan.[27]

Coffee houses traditionally occupied the first floor or parlour apartments, with shops or other commercial concerns at street level. In Cork, as in Dublin, there was a close relationship between coffee house and book trade, as both concerned themselves with the dissemination of information. A proposal to publish The mercantile assistant or, exchange pocket companion by subscription was advertised in 1781. This periodical was aimed at merchants and traders, giving lists of the imports and exports of the port of Cork, financial information from abroad, up-to-date prices of commodities, and accounts of trade hazards, such as seizure of ships by ‘the belligerent powers’ during the American war. The subscription cost of one-and-a-half guineas per annum was taken at the bar of both coffee houses. Likewise for subscribers to a new twice-weekly newspaper, the Cork Mercury, in March 1781, subscription books were available at the coffee houses.[28] When the Cork Herald, a loyalist newspaper, was established in 1798, subscriptions were taken by Thomas White, Michael Harris, Anthony Edwards, James Haly and John Connor, all booksellers in Castle Street, and the bar of each coffee house.[29] A notice in the New Cork Evening Post from November 1793 informed its readers that the only copy of the Saturday issue of the London Gazette had been received at the Tontine coffee house, forcing the paper to give an abstract, instead of a full account, of the news.[30]

The book trade and the administration of the city:

In the early decades of the eighteenth century the legal and civil administration of the city accounted for the bulk of booksellers’ business. Printed forms, parchment for official records, printed proclamations and hand bills, advertising in newspapers, the supply of a range of newspaper titles for official information, stationery, copies of Statutes, Acts of parliament, law books and other relevant works, were the mainstay of the city’s book trade. Scriveners and copyists, as well as printers, were employed by official bodies. Loyal addresses from the corporation to the king, queen or lord lieutenant were engrossed on parchment.[31] Bookbinders found work binding and repairing official ledgers and manuscript record books for the courts and corporation, as well as binding for the retail book trade. For example, the corporation ordered payment in 1776 for veal skins to cover the Tholsel office books.[32] In 1732 Thomas Pilkington advertised books, merchants’ account books, shop books, paper and stationery by wholesale and retail. ‘He writes every month to London for the newest books to accommodate gentlemen with’.[33] William Flyn, at the Shakespeare, sold promissory notes, processes and parchment.[34] In the 1790s ‘processes, with printed copies’, ‘presentments for roads, bridges &c.’, hearth money certificates, magistrates’ warrants and summonses, and police certificates were advertised by Anthony Edwards.[35] Processes were also offered by Thomas White, with a range of paper, account books, message cards and stationery.[36]

In the late seventeenth and early eighteenth centuries official newspapers and parliamentary votes were ordered from London for the mayor and common council, while the coffee houses provided a more varied fare. Official papers included the London Gazette, a twice-weekly paper which was the most widely circulated official publication, the News Letter and Votes of parliament, which appeared daily during the parliamentary session and provided an outline of parliamentary proceedings. An extant ledger showing the distribution of newspapers by one London supplier, Charles Delafaye, covering the period 1710 to 1714, shows that he supplied newspapers to the mayor of Cork.[37] In 1704 the mayor paid £4.19s. to Mr De-laffa for the ‘public news’, and in January 1713/14 Delafay was paid £36 for six years newspapers, with the proviso that ‘he desist sending any more’.[38] In 1714 the corporation received the Postman, Flying Post, Evening Post and votes of parliament from London.[39] In 1715 the mayor sent for ‘the news from London at the cheapest rate he could agree for’ and by 1716/17 the corporation expended six guineas for ‘the English news, four papers and the votes of parliament’.[40] English and Irish newspapers and Votes of both English and Irish parliaments were supplied to the corporation by Walter Pallisser in the 1740s and 1750s and by Edmond Browning in the 1760s and 1770s.[41] In 1776 William Maturin, clerk of the Munster road at the General Post Office, Dublin, began to supply Irish and English newspapers.[42] Local booksellers supplied the Cork newspapers to the corporation.

The corporation’s own resolutions, proclamations, orders, public notices, advertisements and the ‘assize of bread’ were printed in the local newspapers, first in the Cork Intelligence and later in Bagnell’s Cork Evening Post, Flyn’s Hibernian Chronicle, Knight’s New Cork Evening Post and the Cork Gazette. Extra printed copies were used as hand bills, to be posted on the exchange and around the city. Corporation lands and buildings for sale or lease, the publication of the city accounts, proposals for lighting, cleansing, repairing and paving the city streets, contracts for public works, notices offering rewards for the conviction of criminals, and notices of public meetings were regularly inserted in the papers. An advertisement for setting leases of stalls in the meat market was inserted in ‘Bagnall’s paper’ in 1772, and in addition 100 copies were printed to be posted up in the city.[43] The weekly assize of bread was published in the local papers and also posted up around the city. By giving the current price of wheat and the official weight and price of loaves, consumers were assured of the quality of this staple commodity; bread which did not meet the requirements was seized and the bakers fined. In 1738 the mayor issued a proclamation that the acts of parliament for weighing corn, potatoes and salt be put in force, George Bennett, alderman and one-time mayor of the city, got the contract to ‘print five quires of paper, in order said proclamation be duly published’.[44]

During a period of crisis in the spring of 1762, when the army regiments were withdrawn from the city, due to the continuing conflict of the seven years war, the corporation ordered arms to be distributed to the protestant inhabitants of the city. One thousand copies of the orders were printed, to be posted on the exchange, the north and south gates, the custom house, and distributed among the citizens.[45] The oath taken by citizens when becoming freemen was printed: in 1748 the council ordered ‘six quires’ of the oath to be printed for distribution, and in 1758 one thousand copies were printed.[46] The corporation ordered the printing of lists of the freemen at large from time to time.[47] An act of parliament concerning the city of Cork, passed in 1772, was ordered to be printed and thirty copies sent to the mayor.[48] William Flyn printed The by-laws of the city of Cork in 1776 by order of the council. In this way the regular business of the mayor and corporation required the expertise of local printers. This jobbing work was not complicated, nor large enough to tie up type for extended periods, probably just the kind of work that a printer found profitable.

In addition to its paper, stationery and binding requirements in the day-to-day administration of the city, books, pamphlets and acts of parliament were purchased by the corporation on a regular basis. In the 1720s and 1730s George Bennett supplied acts of parliament, abridgements of the statutes and prayer books from his bookshop on Main Street, opposite Broad Lane.[49] In 1754 Timothy Cronin was paid £3.18s.7d. for law books.[50] The current statutes affecting the administration of the city were essential reference works for the mayor and council. Cornelius Sullivan, opposite the Main Guard, supplied Bolingbroke’s Abridgement of the statutes, and five appendices in 1766.[51] The nine volumes of Vesey’s Acts of parliament and the statutes passed from 1769 to 1771 were purchased in 1772, and two years later Bolingbroke’s Abridgement, Vesey’s Appendix and Blackstone’s Commentaries were bought for the mayor’s office. Bolingbroke’s Abridgement and Vesey’s Appendix were again required in 1784.[52] Mary Edwards supplied two sets of acts from the previous session, bound, in 1780/81, one for the mayor’s office and the other for the corporation.[53] Thomas White provided the statutes at large for the Mansion House in 1791, and Anthony Edwards Vesey’s Appendices for the town clerk’s office.[54]

In the first half of the century Bibles and prayer books were purchased in quantity by the corporation for institutions within its authority. In 1708/9 ‘four dozen Bibles, unbound’ were ordered for the use of St Stephen’s (or Blue Coat) Hospital.[55] In 1718 the corporation ordered 300 Bibles, published in Dublin, again for the Blue Coat Hospital.[56] It is not clear which printing of the Bible was purchased, most likely the folio edition of The Holy Bible printed in Dublin in 1714.[57] In 1723, 243 Bibles in sheets were received from Dublin, and the contract for binding was awarded to George Bennett.[58] The following year each member of the council was given discretion to distribute the Bibles ‘to such charitable uses as they think fit.’[59] In 1738 and again twenty years later, in 1758, the city gaol was supplied with a Common prayer book and a Bible ‘for the use of the poor prisoners’, at the corporation’s expense.[60] Prayer books were purchased for the use of council members at official church ceremonies. In 1727 George Bennett was contracted to supply ‘seven folio prayer-books for the use of the corporation in the churches, three whereof to be gilt for the mayor’s cushion and the others for the other seats’.[61] Again in 1741 Bennett was ordered to ‘furnish the mayor’s gallery with four large prayer books’.[62]

Not all relations between the book trade and the administration were amicable. In 1732 the ballad sheet ‘Cork association, or the clothiers garland’ was ordered to be suppressed and the printer bound over to appear at the quarter sessions.[63] Tensions came to the fore in the lead-up to the 1798 rebellion as printers in Cork, as elsewhere in Ireland, printed hand bills, ballads, newspapers and pamphlets not approved of by government. The Cork Gazette was suppressed in 1797 and its printer, Denis Driscol, charged with publishing seditious matter.[64] The Harp of Erin, a radical newspaper advocating reform, founded in March 1798 ‘on the principles of freedom’, was printed by John Daly in Patrick Street. Its opponents, considering that ‘for treason and rebellion [it] will far surpass the Press itself’, had it suppressed after a few issues.[65] The Hibernian Chronicle records the paper’s demise: ‘Last Saturday some magistrates, with a party of the army, searched several houses to discover where the Harp of Erin was printing; at last they found out the place to be Carey’s Lane, where they seized on all the papers, part of which were printed, threw out the forms, and carried the entire to the Mansion House.’[66] John Daly was sentenced to stand one hour on the pillory, to six months imprisonment and to give securities for his good behaviour for seven years.[67] In April 1798 Cork corporation offered 100 guineas reward for the conviction of the author of an inflammatory hand bill, addressed ‘To militia men’, and twenty guineas for the prosecution of the printer.[68]

The printing and stationery requirements of the military were substantial, several regiments being stationed in Cork at any one time. Anthony Edwards styled himself ‘military stationer’ from the 1790s, catering for the requirements of the army and militia. He carried a variety of army stationery, such as muster rolls, review returns, orderly and memorandum books.[69] In an advertisement of 1793 he offered to ‘gentlemen of the militia … all kinds of books and stationery, made use of by the army’.[70] He reprinted Instructions for the yeomanry of England ‘for the use of the county corps of Ireland’ in 1796. His military printing work included rules, regulations, standing orders, manuals of exercises, relevant acts of parliament, and printed forms.[71] In the early 1800s he printed certificates for families of militiamen to apply for financial allowances, with the blank date 180-.[72] In 1801 Edwards’ daughter, Elizabeth, married Osborne Savage, stationer.[73] From about 1806 Edwards and his son-in-law went into business as Edwards and Savage at 6 Castle Street. Trading as military stationers, printers and booksellers, they advertised their stock of ‘brigade, regimental, hospital, barrack and recruiting returns’.[74]

The governors of the several charitable institutions in the city needed the services of the book trade in the administration of their societies. Advertising, printing of hand bills, stationery, and the publication of reports and accounts provided regular work for printers. An account of the dispensary was printed by William Flyn in 1788. The Cork Society for the relief and discharge of persons confined for small debts produced proceedings of its annual meetings.[75] Accounts of the Society for bettering the condition and increasing the comforts of the poor were printed by Anthony Edwards in 1799 and John Connor in 1800. The annual report of the House of Recovery for 1802/3 was printed by James Haly, at the King’s Arms, exchange. Among the annual expenses of the institution were substantial amounts for printing, stationery, and advertising: £26.4s.5½d. in 1801/2 and £10.4s.0½d. in 1802/3.[76]

The general book trade:

The general book trade in Cork was wide-ranging and varied, catering for an extensive market made up of country gentry, city professionals and the rising urban middle classes.[77] In the first half of the century Cork’s patrician families, persons associated with the civil and legal administration, and those involved in the commercial life of the city, continued to live in the mansion houses on Main Street, in the lanes running east and west from it, and in the newly constructed houses on the quays. Smith notes the newly built brick houses, with balcony windows in Spanish fashion, to be seen along Main Street in 1750.[78] It was not until the late eighteenth and early nineteenth centuries that professionals and merchants moved to the fine terraced houses being built east and west of the old walled city, and out to the suburbs at Sunday’s Well to the north and towards Blackrock to the south. The concentration of well-educated families within the city centre created a demand for information, professional and leisure reading. The country gentry came to town for the assizes, to do estate business, shopping, and to partake of the city’s assemblies, theatres and other entertainments. In 1781 William Flyn appealed to country gentlemen indebted to him for the Hibernian Chronicle, books and stationery, to settle their accounts at the assizes.[79]

Readers in the surrounding towns and villages, whose access to reading matter was likely to be more limited than city dwellers, nevertheless had remote access to the city bookshops through newspaper advertising and bookseller’s catalogues. From the second half of the century newspapers were distributed to the main towns in the county: Youghal, Cloyne, Midleton, Castlemartyr, Cobh, Passage, Rathcormack, Kilworth, Kinsale, Mallow, Buttevant, Charleville, and westwards to Macroom, Bandon, Clonakilty, Rosscarbery, Skibereen, Bantry, Berehaven and Skull.[80] Readers in these towns could keep up-to-date with the latest publications from newspaper advertising and could place orders for books and periodicals through the newspaper agents. When William Flyn published The modern monitor in 1770 he informed readers of the Hibernian Chronicle that it would be on sale ‘at all the country places where this paper is left.’[81] Catalogues, lists of books published in newspapers, and advertising leaves in local publications, helped inform a dispersed readership, some of whom may have been unable to visit the city bookshops.

Anthony Edwards issued a priced catalogue of his stock in 1785, and a supplementary short catalogue at the back of Edwards’s Cork remembrancer in 1792.[82] As well as books and periodicals in English and French, he stocked religious works, school books, plays, almanacs, directories, pocket ledgers, memorandum books, and ‘all public acts of parliament, as soon as printed’. School books included grammars and dictionaries in Greek, Latin, French, English, Irish, Italian, Spanish and Portuguese, and for the young ‘Newbery and Burton books, for the amusement of children’. He carried a range of devotional works and prayer books, many intended for the wholesale market. He printed editions of The new week’s preparation from 1793.[83] His own publication, a new edition of Mann’s Catechism, sold at 4d. each, or £1.4s. per hundred. Prayer books in various sizes and bindings ranged in price from 1s.6d. to £2.5s.6d. His wide-ranging stock included musical instruments and ruled music books, maps, stationery, paper and patent medicines. His printing work, encompassing books, pamphlets, and a newspaper, The Cork Courier (1793-94), was probably largely taken up with jobbing work for businesses and the administration. He lists such items as ‘shop-bills, hand-bills, leases, brewers permits, landlords receipts, tithe notes, manor-court processes and decrees; Free-Masons summonses, magistrates informations, warrants, recognizances, commitals and supercedeses, promissory notes, freeman’s passes &c.’, almost certainly the bread-and-butter trade of a bookseller outside the metropolis.

Because of the diversity of the market specialisation within the trade was not economically viable, most booksellers carried on an extensive range of activities. In addition to the sale of new and secondhand books, periodicals and pamphlets, a bookseller could be printer, stationer, bookbinder, newspaper proprietor, papermaker or importer, circulating library proprietor, patent medicine dealer, lottery office keeper, musical instrument seller, purveyor of fancy goods, and agent for loans or the sale of lands. Subscription editions of Dublin-printed books had Cork booksellers as agents from the first decades of the century, and lasting partnerships were established between members of the Dublin and Cork trades. The book trade in Cork did not wholly depend on Dublin printers and wholesalers. Books, periodicals and newspapers were imported directly from London. An inter-regional trade was in operation between the towns and cities in Munster and South Leinster, especially with Waterford, Limerick and Kilkenny, and to a lesser extent Clonmel, Ennis and Tralee. From the last quarter of the century some continental trading also occurred. In 1773 William Flyn imported foreign language books from Holland, where he had established a correspondence with ‘a principal bookseller’. Bookbuyers were offered ‘elegant and cheap editions’ in any language, which could be chosen from a catalogue.[84]

A cultured and sophisticated audience supported the summer theatre at Dunscomb’s Marsh, later George’s Street. The earliest theatrical performances took place in Cork from 1713, when players from the Smock Alley theatre in Dublin, and later from the Theatre Royal in Aungier Street, came south for a period in the summer to perform the season’s hit plays from London and Dublin.[85] Advertisements for performances and benefits were inserted in the local newspapers, and hand bills were printed and placed strategically around the city. A mild storm blew up in the summer of 1761 when the theatrical company posted its printed hand bills without asking the consent of the mayor, who then refused them permission to perform. The matter was resolved, though not without a certain rancour and the threat of legal proceedings on the part of the players.[86] Newspaper advertising was required to carry the unequivocal formula ‘by permission of the Right Worshipful …, mayor of Cork’.[87]

Plays were often locally printed to coincide with popular productions. Reprints of Dublin and London editions could be rushed out cheaply to satisfy demand. In 1741 George Harrison, at the corner of Meetinghouse Lane, printed a ballad opera which was in performance at the Theatre Royal, Dunscomb’s Marsh: A wonder, or, an honest Yorkshireman.[88] In the 1760s Eugene Swiney, and Phineas and George Bagnell, were prominent in reprinting popular plays, issuing such staples of the Cork theatre as The beggar’s opera (Gay), King Lear, Macbeth, Romeo and Juliet, Venice preserv’d (Otway) and Conscious lovers (Steele) in 1761, Douglas (Home) and All in the wrong (Murphy) in 1762, and Othello in 1763. Jeremiah Sullivan was active in reprinting plays in the 1780s and 1790s, while Anthony Edwards, John Connor and Michael Harris printed them in the 1790s. William Preston’s controversial Democratic rage; or, Louis the unfortunate, was printed by Anthony Edwards in 1793, the same year it was performed in Cork.[89] A large selection of plays, printed in Dublin and London, formed part of any good bookshop’s regular stock. In July 1775 John Busteed advertised a list of forty-four plays and twelve farces to coincide with the summer season at the Theatre Royal in George’s Street.[90] These plays corresponded with performances during the 1775 season, but also included perennial favourites at the Cork theatre.[91]

The reading public had varying budgets for the purchase of books and other print media. Instead of the wealthy patrons of literature encountered in the metropolis, or more especially in London and other European capitals, Cork booksellers were supported by the professional and middle classes, country gentry, and persons of lesser means. Thus, stocks reflected the differing means of potential purchasers. Subscription editions of the works of local authors, or reprints of more celebrated authors, were regularly offered by Cork booksellers. Books published in parts, where the cost could be spread out, allowing buyers to invest in an expensive work, popular reprints of plays, political pamphlets and trials which could be produced and sold cheaply, monthly magazines, children’s and school books, formed an important segment of the market. Small format religious works, often sold in bulk, were intended for distribution to the poor. Ballad sheets, cheaply printed, and celebrating or satirising local persons and events, were within the price range of all but the very poor. The secondhand market was also buoyant, as booksellers offered ready money for libraries and parcels of books. The more renowned libraries, such as that of Dr Joseph Fenn Sleigh, were put up for sale and priced catalogues issued.[92] Expensive editions from Dublin, London and the continent, were offered for sale side by side with the cheaper material.

Monthly periodicals, such as Walker’s Hibernian Magazine, Exshaw’s Gentleman and London Magazine, Ladies’ Magazine, Town and Country Magazine, and Monthly Review, were advertised regularly and could be sent with their newspapers to subscribers in the nearby towns and in the countryside. At a cost of 6d. to one shilling per month the magazines provided a varied diet of literary, social and political content. Accompanied by engravings of prominent contemporary or historical figures, places of interest, military or naval actions, sentimental prints, needlework patterns, music, etc., and carrying advertising on their blue paper wrappers, these productions were good value for money for the less wealthy reader. In 1777 and 1778 a French-language periodical, the Magazin à la mode, was published in Dublin by William Whitestone. Compiled by Charles Praval, writer and teacher of French, it aimed to replicate the Anglophone periodicals, while promoting French language and literature. It circulated in Cork through the bookshops of Mary Edwards, Daniel Hood, Jeremiah Sullivan and Thomas White.[93] Throughout the century locally-produced literary and general periodicals were a feature of the market, with a flowering in the last decade. The Medley and the Serio-Jocular Medley were rival publications, printed in the 1730s. The Weekly Repository, begun in 1779, covered a broad range of topics: history, philosophy, mathematics, poetry, ‘with several curious and entertaining originals’. Lord’s Cork Weekly Magazine from 1790, the Quiz (1794), the Medler (1795), the Tickler (1795), the Rover (1795-96), the Museum (1796), the Monthly Miscellany (1796), and the Casket (1797-98) were all short-lived literary periodicals in the closing years of the eighteenth century.[94]

Books published in parts, and selling for the price of a monthly magazine, were frequently advertised. The Corke Journal carried advertisements for A new and complete dictionary of arts and sciences in 1754. Published in London by W. Owen in seventy-four weekly numbers, priced at a British 6d. each, and stitched in blue paper, the whole work was to contain 300 copper plates. A four-page prospectus was issued in 1754 and subscriptions were taken by Richard James in Dublin and Eugene Swiney in Paul Street, Cork. The finished work came to four volumes octavo, with over 3,500 pages and 302 plates, and the cost of £1.17s. was spread over a year and a half.[95] In 1770 A new description of England and Wales was sold in sixty numbers at 6½d. each, complete with 240 copper plates.[96] In 1775 The exemplary life of the pious Lady Guion, translated from the French by Henry Brooke, was printed by subscription in ten numbers at 6½d. each, with John Busteed as Cork agent. The work was to come to one volume octavo of about 500 pages, costing 5s.5d. The only surviving edition was printed in Dublin by William Kidd in 1775, and contains a list of subscribers, and therefore is likely to have been the edition advertised.[97] A ‘new and improved edition’ of the Complete dictionary of arts and sciences was proposed in 1778. This would be a folio edition published in seventy-five weekly parts, costing one British shilling each. Subscribers could purchase the weekly parts, receive four numbers monthly to be delivered with their monthly magazines, receive each volume as published, or wait for the completed work in three volumes, ‘elegantly bound and lettered’. Booksellers in the main cities and towns around Ireland were agents for the publication, in Cork subscriptions were taken by Thomas White, Mary Edwards and William Flyn.[98]

Local publications consisted of books, newspapers, periodicals, pamphlets, and ephemera such as song sheets. Book production was mainly made up of reprints, concentrating especially on social and political tracts, religious works including sermons and works of controversy, plays, novels, poetry, school books, history, travels and literary miscellanies. Original works by local authors were also published, consisting mainly of tracts relating to political issues of the day, school books, poetry and novels. James Solas Dodd, naval surgeon turned schoolmaster, contributed to the literary life of the city in the 1770s on a number of levels. He published his Essay on education in 1770, setting out in detail his plan for a new academy on Hammond’s Marsh. The venture was supported by some of Cork’s leading cultural figures: Henry Sheares, Dr Joseph Fenn Sleigh, Dr John Longfield and others. An advertisement was placed in the Hibernian Chronicle for the Essay, which could be purchased from booksellers in Cork, Waterford and Limerick.[99] Dodd’s Essays and poems were published by Eugene Swiney in the same year, the work attracting 255 subscribers. The last leaf carried proposals for printing by subscription Dodd’s Satyrical and moral lecture upon hearts.[100] When the theatre came to town in the summer of 1770 Dodd performed his Satirical and moral lecture in the Theatre Royal, George’s Street, on 7 August. It was accompanied by his Comical dissertation on noses, and his recitation of Garrick’s Ode in honour of Shakespeare, written for the Shakespeare jubilee in 1769. The night’s performance was ordered by the deputy grand master of masons of Munster. The Hibernian Chronicle carried the advertisement, which also announced that Essays and poems would be ready for subscribers by 4 August.[101]

The last decade of the century saw a much increased level of literary activity in the city, and the publication of several original works. The locally-produced literary magazines, although short-lived, testify to this upsurge in literary interest. John Connor, James Haly and Michael Harris were to the fore in publishing original works of fiction and poetry, usually by subscription. Conor’s literary output was especially significant, publishing at least twenty-seven literary titles in the twenty year period from 1794, more than half of which were original works.[102] Women authors were prominent from the 1770s, when literary contributors of both sexes were encouraged by William Flyn and the Hibernian Chronicle.[103] A selection of pieces from the newspaper were published in a volume entitled The modern monitor, or Flyn’s speculations in 1770.[104] The contributors included Henry Sheares, Dr John Longfield, Dr Joseph Fenn Sleigh, Mrs Sheares, Mrs Elizabeth Gray, Mrs Stack, Miss Waterhouse and Mrs Therry. Flyn’s daughter, Eliza, who married James Haly in 1788, was a frequent contributor to the Hibernian Chronicle.[105] Anna Millikin’s novels and other writings began to be published in Cork from the 1790s. She and her brother Richard, lawyer and poet, founded the Casket, or Hesperian magazine, a literary periodical, in 1797, which lasted until the rebellion in 1798. Her first novel, Corfe castle, was published by James Haly in 1793, and later novels, Eva (1795), Plantagenet (1802), and The rival chiefs (1804) were published by John Connor. Her works attracted a popular audience as can be seen from the subscription lists, and in particular the number of copies taken by booksellers for resale.[106] As a teacher in the English academy for females in Cork, she also wrote textbooks ‘for the use of her pupils’.[107]

Circulating libraries catered for those wishing to read, rather than purchase or collect. In 1770 Thomas Lord’s new circulating library, ‘under the exchange coffee house’, was open to the public from six in the morning until nine at night, where he offered to lend ‘the most extensive variety of books’, including newly published books.[108] Michael Matthews ran his circulating library in conjunction with a secondhand and rare book trade. It is most likely, however, that only new and popular books were lent from the library.[109] Anthony Edwards announced his new circulating library in 1787, comprising 6,000 volumes from London and Dublin, with a promise to lend every new publication.[110] Not much is known about the actual operation of circulating libraries, it seems likely that books were chosen from catalogues or written lists, but readers may have taken pot luck, hoping to borrow whatever popular titles were available. A certain insight is forthcoming from a proposal to establish a circulating library ‘on a new and elegant plan’, carried in the Cork Gazette in February 1794. At a subscription fee of 11s.4½d. per year, the female proprietors targeted women and young persons, with the objective of blending amusement with instruction.[111] They intended to fit up the library in a neat manner for the reception of ladies, thus giving them an opportunity of ‘looking over the books’ instead of sending servants. This implies that it was the norm for library books to be chosen from catalogues, with readers not actually visiting the premises. It is not clear if the same conventions applied to male readers. John Connor’s circulating library at 17 Castle Street contained ‘upwards of 4,000 volumes’ in 1794 and he offered to hire out every new publication.[112] He imported new novels from London, ensuring that he carried the most up-to-date stock.[113] His own printing output was strong on novels, plays and poetry, as well as political pamphlets and trials. Dominick Jacotin, a teacher of French and Italian, embarked on a new venture at the end of the century, establishing a bookshop and circulating library for English, French and Italian books, in Patrick Street. The only remaining fragment of his 1803 catalogue lists a portion of his English novels, and gives no indication of his foreign language stock.[114]


Because of its situation and topography Cork retained its medieval contours until the eighteenth century, resulting in the dominance of the intra-mural core until well into the century. The expense and difficulty of draining the marshes and arching over the water channels ensured that expansion was slow. Thus prime sites were reserved for public buildings, mansion houses for affluent citizens, and up-market businesses. The exchange, arguably Cork’s finest public building, exerted a major influence in the city. The custom house, situated by the river, east of the walled city, while the hub of the port, accommodating the collector of Cork and the customs and excise, did not dominate the administration of the city to the same extent. The book trade established itself where it was most needed: in the heart of the commercial and administrative centre, and close to the homes of the wealthy.

Bookselling enterprises in the city were long-lived, many staying in business for some decades, with succession by family members or other booksellers a feature of the trade. This stability resulted from a guaranteed market for the goods and services offered. The range of business activities engaged in by booksellers was impressive, covering every aspect of production, distribution and marketing, and extending to ancillary profit-making concerns: conducting circulating libraries, acting as agents for the sale of patent medicines and lottery tickets, leasing lands and hiring servants. Expansion is evident from about mid-century when towns in the county were brought within the distribution network of the city booksellers, thanks to the contacts set up for newspaper sales and the supply of stationery. Booksellers catered for the luxury trade, creating an audience for their works among the population through extensive advertising. Their products and services had become essential in the practice of local government, legal and commercial affairs. Throughout the century the newspaper had become indispensable to corporate bodies for information, advertising and the publication of notices. The reading public, too, came to depend on the newspaper for news, advertising, and contact with the outside world.

Images courtesy of Dublin City Library & Archive (www.dublincitypubliclibraries.ie )

[1] This article was published in Charles Benson and Siobhán Fitzpatrick eds, That woman! studies in Irish bibliography. A festschrift for Mary ‘Paul’ Pollard (Dublin, The Lilliput Press for the Library Association of Ireland, Rare Books Group, 2005), pp 139-61.

[2] Richard Caulfield, The council book of the corporation of the city of Cork (Guildford, Surrey, J. Billing and Sons, 1876), p. 343.

[3] Council book, pp 617, 644.

[4] Corke Journal, 14 January 1754; 21 October 1754.

[5] Council book, p. 296.

[6] Maurice Hurley, ‘Below sea-level in the city of Cork’, Howard B. Clarke ed., Irish cities (Cork, Mercier Press, 1995), p. 47.

[7] Council book, p. 734.

[8] Edward Lloyd, A description of the flourishing city of Corke (Cork, printed by Andrew Welsh, 1732), pp 5-6.

[9] Charles Smith, The antient and present state of the county and city of Cork (Dublin, printed by A. Reilly for the author, 1750), pp 401-2.

[10] Lloyd, Description of Corke, p. 6. Council book, pp 340, 497, 907.

[11] Maura Cronin, ‘From the “flat o’ the city” to the top of the hill: Cork since 1700’, Clarke, Irish Cities, pp 55-68. W. O’Sullivan, The economic history of Cork city, from the earliest times to the act of union (Cork, Cork University Press, 1937). For the county context in the 1790s see David Dickson, ‘The South Munster region in the 1790s’, John A. Murphy ed., The French are in the bay: the expedition to Bantry Bay 1796 (Cork, Mercier Press, 1997), pp 85-94.

[12] Council book, p. 588.

[13] Hibernian Chronicle, 31 August – 4 September 1775.

[14] Corke Journal, 22 August 1754.

[15] James de la Cour, A prospect of poetry (Cork, T. Lord, 1770), last leaf.

[16] Hibernian Chronicle, 28 June 1770, 30 August 1770.

[17] Hibernian Chronicle, 15 March 1773.

[18] Cork Evening Post, 24 April 1777.

[19] Council book, pp .968, 1066.

[20] Council book, pp 1066-7. The new Cork directory for the year 1795 (Cork, printed and sold by James Haly, 1795).

[21] Cork Gazette, 7 June 1794.

[22] Cork Gazette, 23 August 1797.

[23] Smith, Antient and present state of Cork, p. 407.

[24] Thomas Campbell, A philosophical survey of the south of Ireland (London, printed for W. Strahan and T. Cadell, 1777), p.184.

[25] Finn’s Leinster Journal, 31 December 1777-3 January 1778. Richard Lucas, The Cork directory for the year 1787 (Cork, printed for the author by J. Cronin, 1787).

[26] Cork Gazette, 31 October 1795.

[27] Copy of the deed or charter entered into by the associated society to raise a fund for erecting a coffee-house … in the city of Cork (Cork, printed by Anthony Edwards, 1794).

[28] Hibernian Chronicle, 1 March 1781, 5 March 1781.

[29] National Archives of Ireland: Rebellion Papers 620/35/85, no. 5, single sheet flyer.

[30] New Cork Evening Post, 28 November 1793.

[31] Council book, pp 287-8.

[32] Council book, p. 905.

[33] Lloyd, Description  of Corke, p. 12.

[34] Hibernian Chronicle, 8 March 1770; 2 August 1770.

[35] New Cork Evening Post, 28 February 1793. Hibernian Chronicle, 8 August 1793.

[36] New Cork Evening Post, 28 February 1793.

[37] Michael Harris, ‘Newspaper distribution during Queen Anne’s reign’ in Studies in the book trade in honour of Graham Pollard (Oxford, Oxford Bibliographical Society, 1975), pp 139-51.

[38] Council book, pp 306, 363.

[39] Council book, p  368.

[40] Council book, pp 379, 388.

[41] Council book, Walter Pallisser 1746-1760: pp 640, 648, 650, 666, 680, 684, 690, 697, 704, 719, 724, 740. Edmond Browning 1761-1774: pp 747, 764, 772, 791, 810, 819, 831, 839, 849, 860, 870, 885, 896.

[42] Council book, William Maturin 1776-1799: pp 911, 922, 933, 944, 949, 952, 956, 1000-1, 1091, 1132.

[43] Council book, p. 867.

[44] Council book, p. 579.

[45] Council book, p. 757.

[46] Council book, pp 649, 715.

[47] An exact list of the freemen, Cork, 1783, advertised in Volunteer Journal, 1 September 1783. List of the freemen at large, of the city of Cork (Cork, printed by James Haly, [1789]). A ‘correct list of the freemen at large’ was appended to The new Cork directory 1795.

[48] Council book, pp 869, 876.

[49] Council book, pp 477, 521, 581, 612, 616.

[50] Council book, p. 682.

[51] Council book, p. 812.

[52] Council book, pp 875, 893, 988.

[53] Council book, p. 962.

[54] Council book, pp 1071, 1080.

[55] Council book, p. 334.

[56] Council book, p. 404.

[57] The Holy Bible (Dublin, printed by A. Rhames for Eliphal Dobson and William Binauld, 1714).

[58] Council book, p. 433.

[59] Council book, p. 449.

[60] Council book, pp 575, 713.

[61] Council book, p. 474.

[62] Council book, p. 612.

[63] Council book, p. 520.

[64] National Archives of Ireland: Rebellion Papers 620/32/136, three letters. Michael Durie, ‘Irish deism and Jefferson’s republic: Denis Driscol in Ireland and America 1793-1810, Éire-Ireland, xv, 4 (Winter 1990), pp 58-61.

[65] The Harp of Erin, 10 March 1798. National Archives of Ireland: Rebellion Papers 620/35/85 (1) Letter from Nathaniel Massey to the Rt. Hon. Thomas Pelham, 30 January 1798.

[66] Hibernian Chronicle, 17 March 1798.

[67] National Library of Ireland: Seamus Ó Casaide, A history of the periodical literature of Cork from the beginning up to A.D. 1900, typescript, p.58, quoting from The Crown Book of Cork 1798 (Royal Irish Academy, Ms 12.I.4, pp 146-58.)

[68] Council book, p.1123.

[69] Edwards’s Cork remembrancer, by Anthony Edwards, printer, bookseller and stationer, Castle Street (Cork, 1792), final 5 leaves of bookseller’s advertising.

[70] New Cork Evening Post, 14 October 1793.

[71] Rules and regulations for the discipline of His Majesty’s forces (Cork, A. Edwards, 1797). Standing orders for His Majesty’s 30th regiment of foot (Cork, printed by A. Edwards, 1797). The manual and platoon exercises (Cork, printed and sold by A. Edwards, military stationer, 1805).

[72] Certificate to apply for financial allowances for families of militiamen (Cork, A. Edwards, n.d.)

[73] Representative Church Body Library: 331/1/1 Parish register of Douglas, p. 74.

[74] Booksellers’ label pasted inside front cover of General regulations and orders (Cork, printed and sold by Edwards and Savage, military stationers, 1811).

[75] Surviving examples printed by William Flyn in 1774, 1777, 1784, 1787, 1797.

[76] Annual report of the House of Recovery of the city of Cork from November 8th 1802, to November 8th 1803 (Cork, James Haly, 1803), second appendix.

[77] For a discussion of book collecting in the Cork region see J.P. McCarthy, ‘In search of Cork’s collecting traditions: from Kilcrea’s library to the Boole library of today’, Journal of Cork Historical and Archaeological Society, 100 (1995), pp 29-46.

[78] Smith, Antient and present state of Cork, pp 407-8.

[79] Hibernian Chronicle, 9 April 1781.

[80] Máire Kennedy, ‘Eighteenth-century newspaper publishing in Munster and South Leinster’, Journal of the Cork Historical and Archaeological Society, 103 (1998), pp 67-88. Corke Journal, 8 April 1754. Hibernian Chronicle, 30 April 1770, 14 May 1770, 26 June 1770, 2 January 1772.

[81] Hibernian Chronicle, 20 August 1770.

[82] A catalogue of books in most branches of literature and music, now selling by Anthony Edwards, 3 Castle Street (Cork, 1785). Edwards’s Cork remembrancer, 1792, final 5 leaves.

[83] New Cork Evening Post, 7 October 1793. The new week’s preparation, 17th ed. (Cork, printed and sold by A. Edwards, 1793); 18th ed. (Cork, printed by A. Edwards, 1801).

[84] Hibernian Chronicle, 25 October 1773.

[85] William Smith Clark, The Irish stage in the country towns 1720-1800 (Oxford, Clarendon Press, 1965), pp 69-145.

[86] Council book, pp 747, 752.

[87] Hibernian Chronicle, 2 August 1770.

[88] Clark, Irish stage, p. 73.

[89] Hibernian Chronicle, 12 August 1793.

[90] Hibernian Morning Post, 24-27 July 1775; 21-24 August 1775.

[91] Clark, Irish stage, pp 293-347.

[92] Hibernian Chronicle, 23 August 1770.

[93] Máire Kennedy, ‘The distribution of a locally produced French periodical in provincial Ireland: the Magazin à la mode, 1777-1778’, Eighteenth-Century Ireland, 9 (1994), pp 83-98.

[94] Ó Casaide, Periodical literature, pp 50-1.

[95] Corke Journal, 6 May 1754. English short title catalogue (ESTC) N32424; T138158. A British 6d. was equal to 6½d. Irish, and one British shilling to 1s.1d. Irish.

[96] Hibernian Chronicle, 12 July 1770.

[97] Hibernian Morning Post, 23-26 October 1775. ESTC T105810.

[98] Freeman’s Journal, 15-17 January 1778.

[99] J. S. Dodd, An essay on education. With a new plan of an academy (Cork, printed for the author by Eugene Swiney, [1770]). Hibernian Chronicle, 17 May 1770.

[100] J. S. Dodd, Essays and poems, satirical, moral, political and entertaining (Cork, printed by Eugene Swiney for the author, 1770).

[101] Hibernian Chronicle, 26 July 1770, 2 August 1770.

[102] Rolf Loeber and Magda Stouthamer-Loeber, ‘John Connor: a maverick Cork publisher of literature’, 18th and 19th century Irish fiction newsletter, no. 5 (May 1998), pp 1-4.

[103] Hibernian Chronicle, 2 January 1772.

[104] Hibernian Chronicle 30 July 1770.

[105] Ó Casaide, Periodical literature, p.33.

[106] Máire Kennedy, ‘Women and reading in eighteenth-century Ireland’, in Bernadette Cunningham and Máire Kennedy eds The experience of reading: Irish historical perspectives (Dublin, Economic and Social History Society / Rare Books Group (LAI), 1999, pp 78-98).

[107] Anna Millikin, An epitome of ancient history, designed for the use of her pupils (Cork, printed by Edwards and Savage, 1808).

[108] De la Cour, Prospect of poetry, last leaf.

[109] Hibernian Chronicle, 15 March 1773. Cork Evening Post, 24 April 1777.

[110] Hibernian Chronicle, 26 March 1787.

[111] Cork Gazette, 8 February 1794

[112] Edward Holland, Poetical miscellany (Cork, John Connor, 1794).

[113] Cork Gazette, 5 September 1795. Cork Advertiser, 3 May 1800.

[114] Catalogue of the English, French and Italian circulating library, St Patrick Street, Cork, where books are lent by D. Jacotin (Cork, 1803).


Dublin’s 18th-century Coffee Houses


Introduction: [1]

The habit of coffee drinking first became popular in Europe about the middle of the 17th century. Soon, special rooms were established for the consumption of the new beverage. Debate surrounds the date of the first coffee house in England, the Angel in Oxford is considered first by some historians, set up about 1650, while others favour London as the first, with Oxford following shortly afterwards. Between 1652 and 1654 London’s first coffee house was opened by Pasqua Rosee, the Turkish servant of an English merchant who traded with the Levant.[2] The earliest known coffee house in Dublin is known from a trade token issued by Lionell Newman for The Dublin coffee house in 1664, it has a Turk’s head stamped on reverse.[3]

Over the next two hundred years coffee houses flourished as centres of urban culture in cities such as London, Paris, Venice and Vienna, acting as informal meeting places where information was exchanged through conversation and print. In their heyday, the fashionable coffee houses of Europe served as well-springs of gossip, political intrigue and faction. Coffee houses were renowned for their stock of newspapers, and as meeting places for members of the book trade, where deals were made and contracts negotiated.


Johnson's-Dictionary-DublinSamuel Johnson, A Dictionary of the English language, 4th edition (Dublin, Thomas Ewing, 1775). First published in London in 1755.

The main concentration of Dublin coffee houses stretched from the Parliament House in College Green to the Tholsel and Four Courts at Christchurch and northwards to the river at the Custom House. Coffee-houses were public spaces, associated with trade and commerce, politics, journalism and the law, and located in the busiest part of town with a conspicuous public profile. The Parliament House, the Custom House, the Exchange, the Tholsel[4] and the Inns of Court were favoured locations for the establishment of coffee-houses. In addition to serving tea, coffee, cocoa and other beverages, tobacco was smoked and board games were played. Newspapers and pamphlets were provided for customers, conversation, information exchange and political debate were important social functions. They acted as rendezvous for visitors, message and contact centres for advertisers and employers, meeting places for clubs and societies, ticket offices and auction rooms. Certain coffee-houses appealed to specific social groups.

Lady-of-House-Xmas-1906Chichester House on College Green acted as the Parliament House until it was demolished in 1728, to make way for the new Parliament House. The foundation stone for the new building was laid early in 1729. It was designed by Edward Lovet Pearce, and completed in 1739. By the 1780s more space was needed and James Gandon was given the commission to make alterations. He added the east portico on Westmorland Street and extended the accommodation for the House of Lords. The Parliament Coffee House is noted from 1705, when it was run by Richard Pue of Dick’s Coffee House, and by mid century book auctions were held in the House of Lords Coffee-room.[5]

At the end of the 17th century and first decades of the 18th century the streets and alleys near the Custom House, centring on Essex Street and Essex Gate, Skinner Row and Cork Hill, formed the commercial hub of the city. Many of Dublin’s busiest coffee-houses were to be found in close proximity to the Custom House: Dempster’s (1706-1728), The Merchant’s (1730s–1762), The Globe (1730-1787), The Custom House (1730-1758), Bacon’s (1740s), Sam’s (1740s-1787), Norris’s (1740s-1772), The Dublin (1747-1750), and Walsh’s (1740s).

Custom-HouseThe Custom House was situated on the south bank of the Liffey at Essex Bridge. During the 18th century ships could come upriver as far as Essex Bridge and unload their cargoes at the Custom House. This building was designed by Thomas Burgh and completed in 1707. It was three storeys in height and 200 feet long. It was occupied by the Custom and Excise administration and was the centre of business for merchants and ships’ captains until the new Custom House, designed by James Gandon, was completed in 1791.


The Tholsel, or City Hall was situated at the corner of Skinner Row and Nicholas Street, across the street from the Four Courts and Christchurch Cathedral. It had a public clock set up in 1560. The Tholsel was the administrative headquarters of the city, with the mayor, aldermen and common council of the city holding their meetings there. It was also used for meetings of citizens. After 1730 the great bell of the Tholsel was tolled daily for seven minutes before noon to mark the opening of the Exchange, and business continued until five to two, when the porter rang a small bell to mark the close of business.[6] At this important crossroads the area was a hive of activity among businessmen, clerks and lawyers.


The Royal Exchange (now City Hall) was built by the merchants of Dublin to replace their old exchange in Crampton Court. When it opened in 1779 it included a coffee room on the first floor. It extended:

from one stair-case to the other, almost the whole length of the north front, and its breadth is from the front to the dome: In point of magnificance, it is perhaps equal to any coffee-room in Great Britain: It receives its lights by the windows in the north front, and by oval lanterns in the flat of the ceiling, which is highly ornamented, and from which is suspended a grand lustre.[7]

This description once again stresses the light, airy character of the room, ideal for reading and lively debate.

How they worked:

Coffee-houses were large elegant rooms situated on the first floor of a building, usually above a small shop or business. This location meant that they maximised the light needed for reading. Contemporary images of London coffee-houses suggest that coffee was served from a bar. Roaring fires heated the coffee and warmed the room. They were essentially a male preserve, although women were often proprietors and servers.[8] Mrs Joyce kept The Globe in Essex Street in the 1730s and Mrs Carterwright, wife of George Carterwright, ran The Custom House Coffee-House in 1730. One Dublin poet wrote of Mrs Carterwright:[9]


Dick's-coffee-houseOne of the most famous and long-lasting of Dublin’s coffee-houses, Dick’s, occupied the drawing room, or first floor of the four-storey house on the south side of Skinner Row. It was known as Carbery House, the former home of Gerald, Earl of Kildare, later granted to the Dukes of Ormond. Dick’s was established by Richard Pue, bookseller and newspaper proprietor, in the late 17th century.[10] John Dunton in his book The Dublin Scuffle, published in 1699, said of Richard Pue ‘Dick is a witty and ingenious man, makes the best coffee in Dublin, and is very civil and obliging to all his customers; of an open and generous nature; has a peculiar knack at bantering, and will make rhymes to any thing.’[11]

In 1703 Pue described his premises as:

a moiety of a timber house divided into two tenements. One hath two cellars, and on the first floor two shops and two kitchens. On the second floor three rooms (two of them wainscotted). On the third, two rooms, and on the fourth, two garrets. The other part has a cellar under the front. On the first floor one shop and two kitchens, and on the second, third, and fourth, three rooms each, with the moiety of a small timber house in the backside.[12]

Here we see a multi-functional building with shops and other commercial concerns at street level and over them rooms with wainscoting, or fine wooden panelling, which served as prestigious public spaces such as coffee houses. John Dunton, the London bookseller, held book auctions at the back of Dick’s in 1698. The small premises at the back served as a printing house for a number of different booksellers in the first half of the eighteenth century. Cornelius Carter, in his newspaper the Dublin Intelligence gave his address as ‘at the back of Dick’s Coffee House in Skinner Row, near the Tholsel’ from 1700 to 1702. Richard Pue also ran the coffee house at the Parliament House from 1705.[13] Dick’s closed its doors about 1780 when Carbery House was demolished.

Carbery House the location of Dick’s Coffee House and Daly’s Coffee House from The Masonic Female Orphan School of Ireland, edited by Thomas Stuart (Dublin, 1892).

Lawyers and clerks frequented the coffee houses near the inns of court: the Four Courts Coffee House situated in Winetavern Street in the first decade of the eighteenth century and at Christchurch Lane in the last quarter of the century. Jo’s Coffee House at the corner of Christchurch Lane and High Street was opened in 1737 by Jo Brogden.[14] It offered a commodious room fronting onto both streets. On Custom House Quay, The Cocoa Tree Coffee House was on the eastern side near the Custom House, above the bookshop of Thomas Whitehouse.


DDA-4-Feb-1736-7Coffee houses formed an important public space for the intellectual culture of the period. Large, well-appointed public areas were not readily available to formal or informal groups in the late seventeenth and early eighteenth centuries. The presence of so many coffee houses in the city allowed a choice of suitable venues for public events. When the Dublin Society was formed in 1731 it held its weekly meetings in different locations, including the Parliament House Coffee House. During the 1730s, the committee met at the Anne Coffee House, also called The Anne and Grecian, at Essex Bridge, to adjudicate the society’s premiums.[15]

The customers of coffee houses were chiefly male and they represented the professions, merchants and traders in the city and visitors from abroad. In 1740 the customers at Dick’s were described as follows:[16]


From a commercial point of view information was a valuable commodity, and those involved in international trade had an urgent need for accurate and timely news. Wars and weather, parliamentary decisions, foreign relations and economic conditions at home and abroad had to be monitored. The coffee house became a rendezvous for merchants and ships’ captains visiting the city. Visitors from London and the continent, and later in the eighteenth century from America, brought news with them in various forms, from printed accounts and newspapers, to manuscript business and private letters, to oral news and gossip. This news was harnessed and shared in the coffee house and it was from here in the early years of the eighteenth century that Dublin newspapers compiled their ‘foreign intelligences’. Newspapers were issued twice, and later three times, a week, but if a ‘packet’ arrived between issues a supplementary sheet was rushed from the press.


Likewise, visitors to the city had a base from which to do business and could catch up with local news as soon as they arrived. As commercial spaces they were suitable for auctions and other large gatherings as well as public performances. Land and other properties, such as ships and horses, were sold by cant and auction. Lands were sold at Lucas’s in the 1750s and 1760s, and at the Exchange Coffee House in Crampton Court, at the Four Courts Coffee House, and at the Globe up to the mid 1770s. Ships were sold at the Merchant’s Coffee House in Essex Street in the 1730s. Book auctions were held at Dick’s, Pat’s, The Anne and Grecian, The Union, and others up to the middle of the eighteenth century.

Merchants whose businesses revolved around the Custom House frequented The Little Dublin and The Exchange in Crampton Court. Politicians gathered at The Globe in Essex Street as well as ‘grave dons of merchants, physicians, and lawyers, with great wigs and long cravats’ before the Royal Exchange was opened in 1779.[17] Initial meetings of the Catholic Committee took place at The Globe in 1757, attended by Charles O’Conor of Belanagar and Dr John Curry. A poem from 1758 describes life at The Globe:[18]

coffee-house-verses-02Dub-Intelligence-4-May-1706Booksellers and newspaper printers were closely associated with Dublin’s coffee houses in the early eighteenth century. As centres for news and information, coffee houses and newspapers were mutually supporting. Coffee houses provided newspapers and pamphlets for their customers. They were gathering places for merchants and professionals who exchanged business and political information. Printing houses often shared the premises with a coffee house in the first half of the eighteenth century. Some printers and booksellers, such as Richard Pue, Edward Lloyd, Francis Dickson, Richard Norris, and Thomas Bacon, were also coffee house proprietors.[19]

Coffee house clients had access to a large range of newspapers, in London payment of one penny was required for use of the facilities, but it is not known if this also applied in Dublin.[20] Many establishments prided themselves on the number of papers and information slips which they held, a custom which continued into the nineteenth century.


The early nineteenth century marked the beginning of the end for coffee houses as informal news exchanges, although decline had set in after the mid-eighteenth century. Taverns and hotels took over as public meeting places, while dedicated buildings were used for formal groups, such as the Royal Exchange for meetings of the city’s merchants, guild halls for guild meetings, the Dublin Society got its own premises in 1767, and the Royal Irish Academy, established in 1785, had its first headquarters in Grafton Street and later in Dawson Street. Many booksellers had premises large enough to accommodate circulating libraries, auction rooms, reading rooms and meeting rooms by the late eighteenth century. Public rooms, such as the Grove Room at the Music Hall in Fishamble Street, could be hired for meetings. The coffee house tradition continued to flourish in Europe during the nineteenth century, but it was not until the late 20th century, nearly two centuries later that the fashion for coffee drinking in specialised cafes and coffee shops was re-established in Dublin. Provision of newspapers for customers is a custom which continues as part of the service offered. The closest equivalent to the coffee houses of early eighteenth-century Dublin are perhaps those found in bookshops and libraries where information gathering and coffee drinking still share a space.


All images courtesy of Dublin City Library & Archive (www.dublincitypubliclibraries.ie )

[1] An earlier version of this talk was given to the Old Dublin Society and published in the Dublin Historical Record , LXIII, no.1, Spring 2010, pp.29-38.

[2] Antony Clayton, ‘The character of the coffee house’ in Tea and coffee in the age of Dr Johnson London, Dr Johnson’s House Trust, 2008, p.15. Ellis Markham, The coffee house: a cultural history, London, Phoenix, 2004, pp 29-30.

[3] William Boyne, Trade tokens issued in the seventeenth century in England, Wales and Ireland, London, 1889, p.1382

[4] The Tholsel or City Hall, the mayor, aldermen and common council of the city met there. It was also used for meetings of citizens. It had a public clock set up in 1560.

[5] M. Pollard, A Dictionary of members of the Dublin Book Trade 1550-1800, London, Bibliographical Society, 2000; Gilbert, iii, p.39, 98.

[6] Gilbert, I, pp. 169-171.

[7] Robert Pool and John Cash, Views of the most remarkable public buildings, monuments and edifices in the city of Dublin, Dublin, 1780, p.48.

[8] Markham Ellis, The coffee-house: a cultural history, London, Phoenix, 2004, pp 63-68.

[9] John T. Gilbert, A History of the City of Dublin, 3 vols (Dublin, Gill and Macmillan reprint, 1978), II, p.161.

[10] Gilbert, I, pp 172-173.

[11] John Dunton, The Dublin Scuffle (London, printed for the author, 1699), pp.327-328.

[12] Gilbert, History of Dublin, I, p.174.

[13] M. Pollard, A Dictionary of members of the Dublin Book Trade 1550-1800, London, Bibliographical Society, 2000.

[14] Dublin Daily Advertiser 4 February 1736-7.

[15] Gilbert, History of Dublin, II, p.23. It was not until 1767 that it got its own premises in Grafton St.

[16] Gilbert, History of Dublin, I, p.174.

[17] Gilbert, History of Dublin, II, pp 161-2.

[18] Gilbert, History of Dublin, II, p. 162.

[19] Lloyd ran a number of successful coffee houses including the Oxmantown Coffee House in Church Street in the first decade of the eighteenth century. He was in partnership with Richard Pue from 1703 to 1706, he took over The Union Coffee House on Cork Hill from the bookseller Francis Dickson in 1709, and ran it as Lloyd’s until 1714. Dickson continued to use the Union Coffee House address in his imprints after he had let the coffee house to Edward Lloyd.

[20] Clayton, ‘The character of the coffee house’, p.18.