The Wide Streets Commission (full title ‘Commissioners for Making Wide and Convenient Ways, Streets and Passages in the City of Dublin’) was established in 1757 by Act of Parliament. It was one of the earliest town-planning authorities in Europe.
The Commission’s original brief was to make a new street ‘from Essex Bridge to the Royal Palace or [Dublin] Castle.’ This was opened as Parliament Street in 1762. The Commission went on to widen and develop such major thoroughfares as Dame Street, Westmoreland Street, D’Olier Street and Lower Sackville (now O’Connell) Street. It was also responsible for building Carlisle (now O’Connell) Bridge, thus shifting the city centre axis downriver from Capel Street to Sackville Street.
The Commissioners were appointed by the Irish Parliament and were drawn from Dublin merchants and minor gentry; many had undertaken the Grand Tour and were influenced by English and Continental examples of town planning.
The Wide Streets Commission had the authority to acquire property by compulsory purchase; demolish it; lay down new streets; and set lots along these new streets by way of building leases issued to developers. In practice, the Commission redesigned medieval Dublin (which was built along a west-east axis, following geological formats) replacing it with a city aligned along a north-south axis, with streets following mathematically-straight lines.
The Commission also had power to determine and regulate the facades of buildings erected along the line of new streets and to decide on the number of houses in a terrace; the materials to be employed; and the type and spacing of windows. This ensured that even where each house was constructed by a different builder, the resulting terrace was regular in appearance. Doors and fanlights were not covered by the Commission’s regulations and here each builder could put his own stamp on the design. The outcome was a series of formal terraces, varied by individuated doors and fanlights, which became the characteristic feature of Georgian Dublin.
From 1800 onwards, the Wide Streets Commission adopted a supervisory role in the development of Dublin, rather than initiating major re-structuring of the city as it had done in the second half of the 18th century.
The Wide Streets Commission was abolished under the Dublin Improvement Act 1849. The Commission’s powers and property were transferred to Dublin City Council, with effect from 1851. Their archives are held at Dublin City Library & Archive.
The digitised collections here include maps and architectural drawings documenting every aspect of the Wide Streets Commission’s work including acquisition and disposal of property; development plans; and layout of new streets. Also included are examples of the work of 22 architects and surveyors who were active in late 18th and early 19th century Dublin.
Please note that the digitised collections here do not represent the entire Wide Streets Commission Collection as a whole. Not all of the collection has been digitised. Material that is not yet digitised can be consulted by appointment in Dublin City Library & Archive.