Reads Cutlers at 4 Parliament Street is a protected structure under Dublin City Council’s current Development Plan. It is situated within a Conservation Area and lies within a Zone of Archaeological Interest.
The building comprises two structures back to back, facing onto Parliament Street and Crane Lane respectively and separated and joined by a light-well and stairwell insertion.
The portion facing onto Crane Lane appears to comprise the front rooms of an early 17th century house and is three stories high over ground level. This is the original location of Reads Cutlers from its establishment in the 1670s.
The building facing onto Parliament Street dates from 1760 and is a Wide Streets Commissioners building of four stories above ground level.
The ground floor shop retains significant fittings and fixtures including cabinets, display cases and shelving throughout dating from the late 18th century through the 19th century. Floor mounted counters in pine survive intact, and a plaster cornice of the 1760s (altered to reflect the new room configuration) survives.
A significant quantity of display material including 19th century surgical instruments, swords, sword guards, damaged spurs, account books and order books survive at this level cast about counter tops, in drawers and one shelves. Under previous ownership it should be noted that some display objects appear to have been removed however most of what survives is of great significance in representing the material culture relevant to this building and its historic use.
As well as containing the artefacts referred to above, the basement also houses Reads original workshop and tools, sharpening instruments and grind stones written records survive here in quite large quantities. Again these artefacts are of significance in relation To material culture.
Initial Assessment
Reads Shop and House represent the almost unique survival of 18th century architecture incorporating a house and shop in these islands and one cannot over emphasize the uniqueness of that survival, few drawn or written descriptions of 18th and even 19th century shop interiors survive in these islands and the semi industrial workshop use further enriches that significance.
Parliament Street and Crane Lane are sited at the confluence of a number of forces:
  1. Essex Bridge, the City’s major (and for much of the 18th century sole) crossing point between north and south adjacent to the Old Customs House (originally sited on the location of the present day  Clarence Hotel)
  1. Dublin Castle and Temple Bar, both the seat of government and a centre of commerce for much of the period.
  1. The Confluence of the River Poddle and the  River Liffey.
The Old Custom House and Crane Lane:
Crane Lane derives its name from the ancient practise of controlling mercantile imports by the use of standard weights and measures held by the ‘Craner’ at ‘The Crane’.
From 1621 and the establishment of the new Customs House Quay and related customs facilities these activities were carried out at this location.  The Old Custom House built in 1707 was a purpose built structure on this location (on the site of the current Clarence Hotel) designed by Thomas Burgh to form the south elevation of the Quay which was now approached from Essex Bridge by a series of steps.
Burghs building was arcaded as indicated on Roque by the delineation of squared piers.
The Wide Streets Commissioners and Parliament Street:
The Wide Streets Commissioners were established by an Act of Parliament and first met in 1758 at the Old Customs House beside Essex Bridge charged with a single specific reform – the opening up of Parliament Street (named after the Act itself) and eventually extending its modernisation works to all of the eastern quarters of the City.
The Original 1757 Act was passed with the purpose of ‘Making a wide and convenient way, street or passage from Essex Bridge to the Castle of Dublin’.
The plan which was drafted by George Semple extended the Bridge line and the first section of the Street (which had existed since 1678 as far as Essex Gate) to terminate in a Public Space before the Castle.
Running through the area of the Poddle outflow, the newly aligned plots were minimal, those to Crane Lane allowing only for the buildings themselves backing directly onto the newer Parliament Street plots.
The Street which was designed as a single architectural entity retains a common height of four stories over ground level and incorporated shops at ground level from inception.
The Commissioners acquired property by a means not unlike current compulsory purchase. Maps were prepared detailing prior ownership and tenancy and submissions were heard on behalf of the various parties.
Owners submitted their own valuations backed up where possible by witnesses and value was eventually determined by a Commissioners Jury made up of worthy merchants and gentlemen of the City (who included one Arthur Guinness subsequently fined £10 in 1779 for failing to attend a latter Jury meeting).
In total the Wide Streets Commissioners expended £32.000 in purchasing property fo the laying out of the new Parliament Street.
Following acquisition of the properties a map was drafted showing the new plots for sale.
Having been granted £5,000 by Parliament in 1777-8, and given greater powers by an Act passed in 1781-2, the Commissioners subsequently planned the widening of Dame Street in February 1782; shops on these newly-widened streets offered the Dublin consumer a shopping experience on a par with London, according to contemporary accounts.
This improved environment attracted traders who wanted to move eastwards towards the new residential districts, and thus increase their business. Other prestigious shops nearby included the d’Olier family of goldsmiths and two rival looking-glass merchants, Thomas Jackson and the Booker brothers.
The front elevation of no 4 Parliament Street and 2 Crane Lane:
The layout of 4 Parliament Street (1764) and 3 Crane Lane (1700s) is typical of the Wide Streets Commissioners intervention on this side of Parliament Street in that the two buildings are physically linked and separated by no more than the span of a narrow light-well and stairwell.