James Gandon

From A Compendium of Irish Biography, 1878

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Gandon, James, a distinguished architect, was born in London, 29th February 1742, at the house of his grandfather, a Huguenot refugee. He early developed a taste for mathematics and drawing, and studied architecture. In 1769 he sent in a design for the Royal Exchange (now the City Hall), Dublin, which was, however, rejected. He made many friends in Ireland — Lord Charlemont amongst the number — and was induced in 1781 to come over and take up his abode in Dublin, to superintend the construction of the Custom House, his design for which had been accepted.

His Life by Mulvany gives a deplorable account of the state of art in the Irish metropolis at the time. There was but one print shop. "The few houses to which I had access, scarcely possessed a picture or print, and those which they had were but indifferent, mostly suspended from the wall, without either frame or glass." The first stone of the Custom House was laid on 8th August 1781. The works were carried on with great difficulty, at first in the face of the armed opposition of the residents near the old Custom House, on what is now Wellington-quay, and then from the nature of the ground. The foundation of the dome had ultimately to be laid on a huge timber gridiron. The land to the north and east of the site was then an uninhabited waste. During the progress of the work his wife died, and he removed his family from London to Dublin. At first Gandon had the sculpture for the building executed by English artists, but he was soon able to confide most of it to Mr. E. Smith, a Dublin sculptor of much ability.

During the progress of the Custom House, additions to the Houses of Parliament were entrusted to him. The main portion of the building, facing College-green, had been erected from the designs of Captain Edward L. Pearce in 1728. Gandon added the screen wall, and the Corinthian portico facing College-street, the works being commenced in 1785. Shortly afterwards the western screen, and the Foster-place portico were added from his designs, but under the superintendence of a Mr. Parke. The three-quarter columns in the screen walls, and the gateway next Westmoreland-street, were added after the building became a bank. On the 3rd March 1786 were laid the foundations of the Four Courts, also from his designs. He was much hampered in the work by the factious opposition of some persons of influence, and was mortified at having to set back the front several feet, thereby spoiling his plan, by which it was intended that the portico should cover the footway, as did that of the Houses of Parliament. He also undertook the erection of the King's Inns — the first stone being laid 1st August 1795. During 1798 he retired to London with his family, glad of the opportunity to renew acquaintance with his old circle of friends. About 1808, being much afflicted with gout, and having amassed a fortune of about £20,000, he retired to Lucan.

The following were his chief Irish works: the Custom House, with stores and docks; the Four Courts; Carlisle-bridge; Military Hospital, Phoenix Park; additions to the Houses of Parliament; King's Inns — all in Dublin; and the Court-house at Waterford. Much of Gandon's retirement was devoted to improving his estate at Lucan, and the preparation of plans for private residences and further improvements in Dublin architecture. None of the latter were carried out. Nelson's Pillar was substituted for his plan of triumphal arches over Carlisle-bridge, and the Wellington Monument for a proposed arch over the entrance to the Phoenix Park. The tedium of illness was much lightened by his cheerful and amiable disposition, by correspondence with a circle of friends of congenial tastes, and by intercourse with others who thronged the then fashionable watering-place of Lucan. He died at his residence, Canonbrook, Lucan, and was buried at Drumcondra, with his friend Francis Grose, 27th December 1823, aged 81.

Note from Addenda:

Gandon, James — The Irish Houses of Parliament were not completed until 1739. [See PEARCE, SIR EDWARD LOVET, p.432.] [233]

Sources

111. Dublin, Irwin's Descriptive Guide to. Dublin, 1853.

145. Gandon, James, Life: Thomas J. Mulvany. Dublin, 1846.

233. Manuscript and Special Information, and Current Periodicals.

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