By Tony Wingfield
Powerscourt Townhouse on William Street, Dublin, Ireland, was built during the period of 1771 to 1774 by Richard, 3rd Viscount Powerscourt (of the 3rd creation) to the design of Robert Mack at a cost of £8,000 which seems fantastically cheap even in those days. It was regarded as the third most elegant house in Dublin at the time and was used by the Wingfield family for a generation of high society in the capital city of Ireland.
There is an old story which says that when the house was being built, Lord Powerscourt had a dispute with the owner of the land opposite. Then when the house was finished, that man said, “Oh! My Lord you have built yourself a grand house there, but I’ll spoil it for ye! I’ll let the ground opposite your fine hall-door to fishmongers!”
Apparently the fishmongers’ shops were still opposite the house on William Street in my grandfathers’ day and were, perhaps, the fore-runner of its present super-market status! However they have disappeared now. Richard the 3rd Viscount, died in 1788 and his eldest son, another Richard became the 4th Viscount Powerscourt. This Richard sold the Dublin house to the Government to become the office of the Stamp Commissioners when the Union of Ireland and England took place in 1801.
Then in 1835 the Government sold it to the firm of Ferrier and Pollock who kept it in perfect order for nearly 150 years.
In 1981 it was sold to a wholesale merchant company called Power Securities who have converted it into a shopping centre.
I attended the opening ceremony of this conversion on the 19th November 1981 when Gareth Fitzgerald, the Taoiseach (Prime Minister) at the time, made a speech to a large congregation. My cousin Philip Wingfield of the Investment Bank of Ireland secured an invitation for me. The courtyard at the back of the house has become a mass of shops of high quality; while the upper rooms of the house, with their fine carvings, moulding and plaster work and magnificent mahogany staircase, are, in perfect condition.
This upper floor is now the picture gallery of a Mr Solomon and was opened by Eileen, Countess of Monnt Charles. It contained 35 paintings by the Polish artist Serge Mendjisky, born in Paris in 1929. Most of his family were killed in Poland during the second World War when he himself became involved with the French Resistance at the age of 15. Some of his pictures in the Solomon Gallery may have been sold, but there are still a good many there to be seen.
There is a picture of Powerscourt Dublin House in my grandfather’s “Muniments of the Ancient Saxon Family of Wingfield” and I have a colored print. These only show part of the house with its two archways either side of the front door. Those archways are now blocked up, but the front door can still be used.
There is now a good entrance to the shops from Clerenden Street at the back, only a few hundred yards from the Westbury Hotel off Grafton Street.