The Bathe House

In the 16th century while settlers in rural Ireland were living in fortified tower houses in stone construction, citizens residing within the safety of walled towns were able to build entirely unfortified houses. Sixteenth century Dublin consisted mainly of timbered cage-work houses of a type introduced into Ireland by English settlers during the reign of Henry VIII and Elizabeth I. In Drogheda there were many picturesque wooden houses of equal, if not greater comparison, some of which survived into the 19th century.

A modern timber frame house to illustrate the construction
These houses were usually of box-frame construction, with horizontal and vertical timber members, joined together to form the frame of a wall whose panels were then infilled or covered with some cladding material and then plastered. Horizontal and vertical members were connected with specially designed joints to form a self sustaining box. The houses were generally roofed with slates, tiles or thatch. The timber used in them was usually cut in nearby woods and often the framework was made and assembled there. Each beam was then marked, after which the whole frame was dismantled and the pieces taken by wagon to be re-erected on the chosen site. In other words, the houses were prefabricated.

Bathe House as seen from Shop St.
By 1776 apparently most of Dublin's cage-work houses had disappeared, but in Drogheda by all accounts they had lasted much longer. One of the most remarked upon was known as The Bathe House, also commonly called The Wooden House, which was situated on the corner of Shop St. and Laurence St. It was constructed in 1570 by Nicholas Bathe, a member of the Norman family of De Bathe who then resided in Athcarne Castle in Co. Meath. The principal front of the building was in Shop St., and was comprised chiefly of oak said to have been obtained from Mellifont Park (Old Mellifont Abbey).

The building consisted of three stories, each story projecting beyond that immediately below. In Hughes History of Drogheda it is described: " the attic was composed of a strong square oak frame with oak quadrants and semi-circles within it, the interstices being filled with plaster; the drawing-room floor was of a more finished character, consisting of paneling or wainscot, each panel being a foot square and fancifully carved with quatrefoils and foliage, executed in good style. On this floor, at the Laurence St. side was a handsome semi-circular oriel window, consisting of four divisions; a panel in the pedestal of which contained the arms of the ancient family of De Bathe". It is difficult to say how the bottom story was arranged, according to The Dublin Penny Journal it had "undergone many alterations; it was, however, extremely low and divided into several small shops".

An example of the interior carving with the arms of the De Bathe family

On the bressimer (a load-bearing beam that extends the length of the building) facing Laurence St. was an inscription, stating the building to have been "MADE *BI *NICHOLAS *BATHE *IN *THE *IEARE
*OF *OUR *LORD *GOD *1570 *BI *HIV *MOR *CARPENTER". Hugh Moore is also thought to have constructed Athcarne Castle, the castle being completed some twenty years after the Bathe House. The bressimer bearing the inscription is now on display in the National Museum in Dublin.

The Dublin Penny Journal states that the house was considered a masterpiece when first constructed and "even in later times it was considered a curiosity, and commanded the admiration of many. Taaffe, among others, remarks, "I have seen wooden houses in Pilnitz, Reichenau, and other towns of Bohemia and Germany, but none of such curious and elegant, as well as durable workmanship."

"The Wooden House" lasted until 1824 when by order of the Corporation it was pulled down, having become "extremely rickety through "old age and infirmity"" and seemingly neglected for many years "being suspected of harbouring rats, reprobates and typhus fever" which was then raging in the town. Like the many other wooden houses in Drogheda, The Bathe House was consigned to history and modern brick buildings built in its place.

Extracts from : Corcoran, Moira, "Drogheda's Timbered Houses" from the Journal of the Old Drogheda Society 1990 No. 7

                        D'Alton, John, "History of Drogheda", 1844

                        Dublin Penny Journal, Vol. 1, No. 12, Sept 15th 1832

                        Hughes History of Drogheda, 1893

                        Kelly, Matthew J., "Some Wooden Houses of Drogheda" from the County Louth Archaeological Journal, 1941

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