Steel away to Howth – inside the 2.6 million euro coastal villa that once housed an industrial tycoon who helped build modern Ireland
Craigview, Claremont Road, Howth, Co Dublin Asking price: €2.6m Agent: Gallagher Quigley (01) 818 3000
You’re a stupid young man who doesn’t know when to let go,’ Dublin railing manufacturer Joseph Smith shot back at his young employee John Biggar Pearson. The latter had come into his office with an idea to move the case forward.
Pearson, a Quaker, who had traveled to Dublin from the north of England, had worked with the railing and gate manufacturer. He had noticed that Ireland imported at great expense all its steel products from abroad.
Maybe these products could be made here and therefore create jobs, help the local economy and create a successful business?
While initially criticizing his brass-necked employee for seeming a little too Biggar for his boots, Smith gave it some thought and eventually came to terms with the idea.
He acquired a storage shed, which had been used to store track sleepers, from the Great Northern Railway in Ossory Street. The business took off. And he named the greedy Pearson to the board. From these beginnings, Smith & Pearson, one of the great Dublin Quaker companies, was born in 1901.
The contribution of the Quakers to the Irish economy at the birth of the state was nothing short of enormous. Along with Cadburys, Bewleys, Schweppes, Roantrees and Jacobs, we had Smith & Pearson, Dublin’s men of iron and steel.
In a time of poverty, workers were proud to work for companies run on Quaker principles. Business ethics, integrity, an involved rather than dictated management style, and doing the job for himself were guiding principles.
Quaker businesses paid well and were also involved in the welfare of their workforce. Taking outsized profits was also somewhat frowned upon in the Quaker business community. Instead, the profits were mostly reinvested to improve their business.
Contracts worth millions for Smith & Pearson steel products have been made on a handshake alone and on a basis of trust.
From the foundries first of Ossory Street, then of Sherriff Street and North Richmond Street, their workers (known to Dubliners as ‘rusties’) made all the stalls in the pre-modern Croke Park (they made the Hogan Stand twice).
During the second world war, when steel became unavailable, the company was contracted to supply landing craft to the British for use in the D-Day landings. The company worked on this contract from a shipyard in Warrenpoint.
They made letterboxes for An Post, railings, door frames and farm buildings which were exported as far away as India and South America, but also brought Irish agriculture into the modern era. They built houses with Sisk.
And as modern architecture developed, S&P steel and aluminum framing became vital to modern buildings in the emerging economy. The company was involved in the construction of the US Embassy in Ballsbridge and the RTE Montrose complex and the modern headquarters of the Bank of Ireland in Baggot Street.
Craigview was built in 1850 by the Howth Estate Company and later leased to the Church of Ireland. It then became the home of the Pearson family, occupied by John Drewry Pearson and his wife Audrey. Unique, its rear garden descends to the beach and the sea rises to its edge at high tide.
The current owners, who bathe in the sea at the end of their garden three times a week, bought the house in 2000 when it was in need of renovation.
The works lasted 18 months and involved the construction of a brand new wing on the left side.
It proved so convincing alongside the original old house that a preservation architect sent by the council first insisted that part of the building be listed before finally being convinced that it had been added in the 21st century.
This was due to the skills of architect Ian Baird and a team of craftsmen, including a particularly talented carpenter and joiner who reproduced the period woodwork of the older parts of the house in an extraordinarily faithful way. The floors needed replacing and were all hardwood.
Now Craigview, once the home of Dublin’s men of steel, has returned to the market, seeking a €2.6million price tag through agency Gallagher Quigley. Located on Claremont Road, next to a handful of properties largely from the same period, the listed period house is surrounded by gardens with views of Claremont Beach.
It is a large 4,000 square foot home (four times the average of a semi-detached) with high ceilings and oversized sash windows for views and light.
The ground floor comprises a modern fitted kitchen and a dining room opening onto a veranda on the sea side, then onto a living room at the front.
The kitchen has tiled floors and a large island and a large welcoming cooker as well as a modern hob and cooker.
Across the hall are two large adjoining receptions connected by shallow wooden steps which have deceived the conservation architects. Both were created in authentic Victorian period style 21 years ago. A guest WC is located in the rear hall.
On the ground floor, the basement offers a hall, a recreation room, a bathroom, a laundry room and a guest bedroom.
Upstairs is the master suite with its own dressing room and adjoining shower room.
The remaining three bedrooms and a large family bathroom complete the accommodation on this level. One of the bedrooms is currently used as a home office.
The front lawned garden along the gravelled approach has a fine collection of mature shrubs and coastal plants, as well as an example of Monterey pine.
The most sheltered part in front is flowery,
The sea side is long and is also terraced to keep the upstairs sea view unobstructed.
A more secluded lower lawn has direct beach access. Claremont Beach is protected as part of the UNESCO Dublin Bay Biosphere. Those who wander around (most can only do so at low tide) will find seals playing and native orchids growing wild around its edges.
Sights here include Ireland’s Eye and Lambay Island as well as the kitesurfers, yachts Howth is renowned for and fishing trawlers in the harbour.
Heading east from the house, a walk along the intertidal coastline will bring you directly into Howth Harbor and its well-known range of gourmet and seafood restaurants.
Turning west you’ll hike 3km to Cush Point in Sutton, a narrow channel popular with anglers with the tip of Portmarnock strand just beyond. Howth has the DART and is 12km from the town center and 10km from the airport.
As for the big steel company Smith & Pearson? It met its end in the 1970s. The financial advisers who groomed it for the IPO brought “modern” management to the board. Former manager Irwin Pearson recalled how old family habits were abandoned and workers failed to embrace the new philosophy.
“They were used to being told the truth,” he said in an interview.
To see: “Smith & Pearson Ltd. An Irish Engineering Company in the Early Years of the State” by Irwin Pearson (2021)