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College Buildings 1903-1963

By Rev. T. Davitt, CM.

May 1, 1967
College Buildings 1903-1963 - KnockUnion.ie

IN my article in last year's Chronicle I brought the history of the development of the buildings and grounds up to 1902, the end of Fr. Joseph Geoghegan's term as President; for the sake of completeness I treated the Chapel separately and showed its development from 1849 to 1924. 1902 marks the end of a definite era in the history of the College; up to that year there was almost continual building, development and expansion. After that date it was many years before anything on a similar scale was undertaken.

During the Easter holidays of 1904 a new Chemical Laboratory was built. It was a wooden building, 40' x 30' x 12' and was erected just behind the Chapel with its longer axis at right angles to that of the Chapel. It was separated from the Chapel by what was referred to as the " car road " and some grass. (The line of its foundation could still be discerned until this year's disturbance of the area) A photograph of its interior appears on page 46 of the 1904 Chronicle; unfortunately no photograph of its complete exterior seems to have survived, though part of it may be seen in some photographs of the grounds.

As far back as 1888 the need for some sort of gymnasium was felt. Fr. P. J. McKenna at that time tried to meet the need to some extent by having an arrangement of vertical and horizontal poles erected in the recreation grounds; this contraption was known as the " gymnasium " and Fr. McKenna nearly killed himself on it once. Around the same time some sort of indoor gymnastics were done in the Walking Hall (now St. Vincent's Corridor). In 1896 a new " gymnasium ", similar to the 1888 one, was erected on the gravel below the plots. During 1904-'05 it was decided to provide an indoor gymnasium by putting a temporary floor over the top of the swimming bath. The following year this building was provided with electric light and the temporary floor was utilised as a roller-skating rink. A further addition to the recreational facilities was also provided that year by extending the floor of the old eastern pair of alleys, from which the walls had been earlier removed, to the dimensions required for a hard tennis court.

Over the next few years there was little in the line of development except the provision of a Crossley gas engine for the generation of electricity to replace the steam engine which had been in use since the 1880's. On the recreational side two dates deserve special mention : 24 November, 1909, on which day the first set of rugby goalposts was erected, and 1 February, 1914, on which day the first film show was given on a projector owned by the College; this was a Gaumont " Chrono " machine, and was the first purchased by the College. Film shows had been given more or less regularly, on portable equipment, since 1904.

In 1914 the extension of the Chapel necessitated the removal of the 1904 Chemical Laboratory, by now known as the " Shack ", as it stood directly in line of the proposed extension. It was accordingly dismantled and re-erected where the present toilet wing now stands.

In September 1918 there was a big increase in the number of boys and additional accommodation was required. The large top-floor ward of the Infirmary was turned into a dormitory and named after Blessed Francis Clet, and the room to the left of the top of the main stairs, on the third floor, which seems to have been used as a wash-room, became St. Laurence's dormitory. Sometime about this period the porch at the halldoor was built; it appears in a 1921 photograph and does not appear in a 191 1 one; so far I have been unable to narrow this gap.

The voice of Sean was first heard in 1924; this is the name of the big bell which that year was erected over the roof of St. Mary's. It bears the following inscription :—

O'Byrne, Founder, Dublin 1924, Sean, St. Vincent's College, Castleknock, Rev. Vincent McCarthy, CM, President, 1924

The same year a new Crossley crude-oil engine was installed to replace the gas engine for electricity generation, the gas engine being kept as a stand-by.

A new hard tennis court was built in 1926, in the extreme left corner of the grounds as one faces the Pavilion. (It would have been in the area between the present swimming pool and the hedge.) It was inaugurated by an exhibition match by Allman-Smith, Maguire, Meldon and Scroope, " leading Irish exponents of the game ".

In September of the same year a new era of development started when Fr. Henry O'Connor was appointed President. In his second year of office a long architectural association began between the College and Joseph V. Downes (1905—'09). His first work was the designing, in 1927—'28, of a new proscenium for the stage. The old one, which had been in use since the hall was built, may be seen on page 62 of the 1905 Chronicle. At the same time Mr. Downes was drawing up plans for a complete new sanitation system for the College. In 1928-29 work started on the new toilet wing in the space between the Chapel and the Refectory. This meant the removal of the Chemical Laboratory which had been re-erected there when the Chapel was extended in 1914. This time it was not re-erected and all Chemistry was done in the Science Hall in the main building until the new Chemistry Laboratory was available in 1956. The former toilets had been roughly north of the St. Mary's Refectory block and were demolished at this time. Another piece of demolition carried out was the felling of the old redundant chimney stack in the farmyard which long survived the steam engine for which it had been erected.

During this same year, 1928—'29, there were other small improvements in the interior of the College; the Refectory lobby was panelled in Austrian oak and matching oak doors were provided for the Refectory; the old stone slab floor of the ground floor corridor of the priests' wing was replaced by a tiled one to match the rest of the ground floor tiling. Finally a new projection room for the cinema equipment was built over the little entrance lobby to the Priests' Refectory (now the Junior Refectory).

In the following year a whole new waterworks system was inaugurated, designed by Professor Pierce Purcell (1897—'99), including a pumping station and filtration plant. The pumping station was electrically powered and was the first part of the College to employ E.S.B. power. There were two reasons for this; it was situated quite a distance from the College generating plant and right beside an E.S.B. main line, and secondly it would have been too big an additional load to put on the College plant. At the same time a new shower-room was built in a room directly behind the Refectory; this room had previously housed a heating plant for the baths behind St. Mary's. Joseph Downes was again the architect.

More designs of Joseph Downes were being brought to reality in 1931—'32. A new entrance, to replace the 1857 one, was felt to be desirable, and the present lodge in granite, with granite pillars and wrought iron gates, was erected. The second of his designs to be carried out this year was the new handball alleys, which he had designed in 1930. They were sited about 120 feet further north from the house than the 1865 ones, and about 40 feet further west, right beside the road to the farmyard The 1865 alleys, together with the adjacent shed, built in 1891 for bicycles, were knocked down. The final item to be recorded for this year is the planting of 400 trees in the grounds, mostly around the perimeter.

Shortly after this Joseph Downes presented the College with a new cinematograph of the newly-invented sound-on-film type. The first film show on this " talkie machine ", as it was described, was on April 30, 1934. This machine was destroyed by fire in the Christmas term of 1938—'39 and was replaced by a more modern one.

Sometime in the mid-1930's the row of statues which surmounted the parapet above the centre of the eastern range of the main front was removed, for structural reasons. Towards the end of the next decade the granite Celtic cross and the parapet itself had to be removed; at the moment the front therefore looks considerably different than it does in older photographs.

By the late 1930's it was felt that the accommodation and facilities should be expanded and brought more up to date. Accordingly the then President, Fr. William Meagher, asked Joseph Downes to draw up plans. In January 1939 he had four different schemes ready, each of which incorporated four main features : a changingroom to accommodate all the boys in the College, new classhalls with a capacity varying between 240 and 192 boys, library accommodation for around 170—180, and dormitory accommodation for 80—100. The four schemes represented different attempts to solve the problem of where the new structures should be sited. One element was common to all four : the changing-room was to be joined to the front of the Swimming Bath and only in one of them was it to be joined by a corridor to the main building. Apart from this common feature the four schemes were considerably different.

Scheme A proposed a separate classhall block of three floors situated about forty yards north of the Swimming Bath, near "Rocky Valley ". The block containing the sacristies, Sandy Row and St. Patrick's was to be demolished and was to be replaced by a new block standing out a short distance from the east wall of the Chapel. This was to contain sacristies on the ground floor with two floors of dormitories above. It was to be longer than the Chapel and was to have an extension at right angles in the direction of the Refectory block; this projection was to contain a ground floor library and two floors of dormitories.

Scheme B also had a block parallel to the Chapel, but longer than that in "A", containing libraries and dormitories. It had an extension at right angles, also longer than that in "A", which was to have three floors of classhalls; this was to have a corridor connection to the main building along the west side of the Chapel.

Scheme C also had a block comprising sacristies and dormitories similar to the other two schemes but differing in size. A library dormitory wing was to be built east of the parlours, projecting out on to the gravel in front of the house; this was to match in length the projection on the opposite side containing the Drawing Hall (now the Junior Oratory). Finally, there was to be a classhall block between the Swimming Bath and the hill, its back wall flush with the wall of the Bath.

Scheme D was the most elaborate as it proposed a complete new front to the eastern range of the main building, i.e. from the Senior Playhall to the parlours. Beside the Chapel there was to be a one story sacristy building to replace the existing three story block. The new library, classhall and dormitory accommodation was to be in a complete new frontal block which was to have its back wall about 50 feet in front of the Senior Library windows. To the west it was to join with the Drawing Hall corner, to the east it would be connected with the parlours by a new corridor.

Since war broke out in the Autumn of that year the plans for expansion were shelved; also any developments of a major order were precluded. However, one activity which later developed enormously did have its small beginnings around 1943. A group of boys known as the Hobbies Club operated in the Grub Sale classhall, mainly engaged in the building of radio sets. An anonymous Pastman was so impressed by this enthusiasm that he gave a donation of £100 to expand the idea. This money was utilised for the purchase of woodworking tools, and the out-of-use bathroom behind St. Man's was fitted out as a workshop. These new facilities were ready for September 1944 and an instructor attended on Saturday nights.

During the war years a backlog of maintenance work piled up and this had to be cleared before there could be any question of re-considering the postponed plans for expansion. Some very large, though unspectacular, renewal works had to be undertaken, such as a complete switch-over to E.S.B. power throughout the house, extensive renovation of the main roofs, and re-flooring of dormitories. In 1947—'48 the Crease was extended towards the house, taking in almost all the gravel and leaving between the Crease and the Plots only the width of a roadway to cater for traffic from the quarry gate to the kitchen yard. In 1952-*53 a track was laid down around the Crease.

After the immediate post-war needs had been met the then President, Fr. Donal Cregan, turned his attention to the postponed expansion plans. It was decided to re-think the whole matter rather than implement one of the 1939 schemes. Once again the name of Joseph Downes crops up as it was to his firm, Downes and Meehan, that the project was confided. A separate building was felt to be more suitable than an extension to the existing buildings. The choosing of a site was one of the main problems, the desirability of a southern aspect for the classhalls being a limiting factor. Eventually the choice fell on the area occupied by the 1886 Swimming Bath; a new up to date outdoor pool would replace the old indoor bath.

In the Autumn of 1954 construction work commenced, together with demolition of the Bath building (including the " Nook "). There is an article in the 1954 Chronicle describing the proposed building; it is a three story block, top floor containing dormitories and priests' rooms, with two floors of classhalls and ancillary facilities. In the course of construction some slight differences from the plans published in 1954 were introduced; an extra classhall was gained by a re-arrangement of the priests' rooms, the toilets and the shower rooms. The two dormitories were named St. Vincent's and St. Joseph's; the dormitories in the old building which formerly had these names were re-named St. Francis de Sales and St. Pius X's respectively.

A new feature of the college skyline also appeared at this time; this was a large chimney stack rising from between the Chapel and the toilet wing. This was rendered necessary by the new boiler equipment installed for heating the new building. The hot water is pumped through lagged pipes from this boiler to a series of distribution pumps in the basement of the new building; from there it is circulated through the different heating circuits.

There was no swimming in the Summer of 1955; the old bath had been demolished and the new pool had not been completed. The new pool, situated just west of the Pavilion, was ready for the Summer of 1956. A filtration plant was added some years later; as yet the pool remains uncovered.

The Christmas holidays of 1954 saw the first major interior alteration in the main building for many years; the Priests' Refectory was altered to become a Junior Refectory accommodating 74 boys, all First Year and almost all Second Year. This change had become imperative to relieve the overcrowding in the main Refectory. The new Priests' Refectory was the large ground floor room at the western extremity of the building, under the Infirmary. This had originally been the Community Room but about 1925 it had been partitioned to give three bedrooms. The partitions were now removed to restore the room to its former proportions. A small kitchenette was constructed off it, one of the windows becoming a door.

Following the provision of a separate refectory for the Juniors the next step was to provide them with a separate Oratory. The Drawing Hall became available for this purpose when the new building was opened in September 1956. It was fitted with a new wood-block floor and re-decorated.

In conjunction with the erection of the new building extensive work was done in re-designing the grounds; two sides of the old track were done away with and the other two were pushed farther back. The area below the Senior pitch was levelled to provide a second terrace with two pitches between the level of the Senior pitch and the level of the Crease. The old Plots, sloping down from the back of the Chapel to the Crease, were done away with; two new ones were created which continued the level on which the Chapel stands and then dropped abruptly to the level of the Crease, with access to the Crease by flights of steps. Finally all the pathways were given tarred surfaces.

In September 1957 Fr. Michael Walsh started his period as President and to him fell the task of re-organisation of much of the main building consequent upon the opening of the new one, and also the long-awaited renovation of the old dormitories. We are very often asked what became of all the old classhalls when all classes were transferred to the new building. They were all converted to other uses. The two small ones on the way up to the Prep dormitories, together with the Prefect of Studies' bookshop, became a corridor with six music practice cubicles. This corridor, as well as those leading to the Study Hall and to Holy Angels' dormitory, was newly panelled in oak. The large classhall to the right of the stairs, beside the Dean's office, was also similarly panelled and furnished with a dais and the blackboard from the former Drawing Hall; it became known as the Debating Room. (For the year 1955-56 it had reverted to the purpose for which it had originally been built, a dormitory.) The matching classhall on the opposite side of the stairs, known as the Grub Sale classhall, was not re-decorated and was put to varying uses, mainly as a meeting place for different societies. The Dean's office became the Prefects' Room, the old Prefects' Room became a Fifth and Sixth Year Smoke Room, and the Dean transferred his activities to the former Prefect of Studies' office; the latter functionary had, of course, acquired new premises in the new building.

The group of classhalls known as the Catacombs has also suffered many changes. The first room, No. 4, was re-decorated and re-floored and was to be a meeting place for societies with smaller attendances. This, however, proved impossible in practice because of the hammering and sawing going on next door so it became the headquarters of those Juniors who indulged in the building of model aeroplanes and other such activities. Next door, No. 5, had been enlarged by taking in the width of the corridor and the woodworking fraternity transferred their operations from the room behind St. Mary's. Nos. 6, 7 and 8, at the bottom of the little staircase, were handed over to the kitchen department. Later Nos. 7 and 8 were returned to the boys' use, the inclusion of the little lobby and the re-positioning of doors giving more space. These two rooms provided increased accommodation for woodwork.

Now a word about the Study Hall before leaving the first floor. When the new building came into use in 1956 this hall ceased to be used for study because all study was now done in the classhalls. The hall was repanelled (oak) and re-floored (maple) and a dais was installed under the big window; it was re-named the Assembly Hall. After some years it was judged more suitable to have the ground floor Junior Playhall as an Assembly Hall and the upper hall as a playhall so the billiard tables were brought upstairs and the lower hall was re-decorated, new lights were installed and upholstered seating was provided; this was in the Summer of 1963. Some time earlier a wide screen had been installed and the projection equipment altered to enable CinemaScope films to be shown.

The only classhall on the ground floor, No. 11 in the Chapel Corridor, became the room for music lessons. The old Science Hall was re-panelled and became a new Junior Library; the old doorway giving on to the Chapel Corridor, blocked up for years, was re-opened and the door opening on to the little corridor leading to the Trunk Door was closed up.

The renovation of the old dormitories began in the Summer of 1961. The renovation provided new floors, running water and built-in wardrobes, and new lighting and decoration. This year's work was very extensive and all the parts were interconnected. " Sandy Row " once again became a dormitory and its former name was resurrected, St. Raphael's. (This area had been built as rooms, then became a dormitory, then became rooms again, and then once more a dormitory.) The priests evicted from this corridor were re-housed in five new rooms made out of the large first floor Infirmary ward (known as the Big Infir) and its two isolation rooms. To give access to this area from the priests' corridor a breach was made through the end wall of the corridor, beside the little room which was known as the Chronicle room; access from the Infirmary stairs at first floor level was blocked off. This gave one long corridor from the western extremity of the house right over to the access point at Sister's Shop. The Infirmary moved upstairs and Blessed Clet's dormitory, part of the Infirmary till 1919, became the main ward; two isolation rooms were partitioned off the northern end of it. The top double room was divided to give the Sister a bedroom and sitting room; her former sitting room became a two-bed ward, and what had been No. 11 in the old numbering system of the priests' rooms (between St. Columba's and the Infirmary corridor) and which served for a few years as a dormitory, became a four-bed ward. The Sister's bedroom and the double room, on the first floor, became priests' rooms. One advantage of all this was the provision of a self-contained Infirmary area on one floor. The boys displaced from Blessed Clet's dormitory were transferred to a new dormitory which was made from the three priests' and brothers' rooms at the top of the stairs to the Prep dormitories. Once again this was a case of re-establishing the original appearance of an area, as this had been the Infirmary up till 1892; the name of Blessed Clet was retained on the new dormitory. The final part of the 1961 renovations was St. Patrick's; this was done to match the new St. Raphael's below it. The architect for all this was Brendan Jeffers (1942-^5) who has done all our architectural work since.

During the Summer holidays, 1962, the renovation work continued. This year it was the turn of the top dormitories, St. Francis de Sales', Sacred Heart's and St. Aloysius'. In the course of the work a new dormitory, St. Kevin's, was made out of part of Sacred Heart's. For technical reasons St. Laurence's was not renovated but was merely re-decorated; it was also enlarged by having incorporated in it the little corridor leading to the " North Pole "; once again the restoration of an area to its former proportions. The next Summer, 1963, St. Anthony's, St. Columba's and St. Mary's were renovated. In the process the door leading from St. Anthony's to St. Columba's was changed over to the other side of the dormitory. St. Mary's was provided with hot water, the only dormitory with this amenity apart from those in the new building; the reason for this was its proximity to the source of supply. The existing walnut and pine partitions in St. Mary's were retained; the room behind it was made into showers and toilets, its door being altered to the centre of the wall. This brought to an end the scheme of dormitory renewal; St. Laurence's, Holy Angel's, St.Pius' and Bl. Perboyre's (the " Horse Box ") were not done because it is hoped that they will not remain long as dormitories.

In the sphere of outdoor recreational facilities a noteworthy addition was the construction, in 1963, of two hard tennis courts and two basketball courts; they were laid down in the field to the left of the roadway leading from the kitchen yard to the farmyard.

In 1963 Fr. Walsh concluded his term as President.