Turtle Bunbury

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THE DOCKLANDS - The chq building

From 'Dublin Docklands - An Urban Voyageby Turtle Bunbury (Montague Publications, 2008).

The chq Building

The Tobacco Store

Latter-day Victorians referred to it as the Banquet Hall. Dockers and merchants called it Stack A or the Tobacco Store. The 21st century generations know it as the chq Building, short for Custom House Quay. Whatever its name, this mighty warehouse continues to stir people to such an extent that Christina Casey recently called it ‘the single most impressive building in the Docklands’. In 1931, a well-travelled English tobacco magnate likewise declared that it was ‘second to none built in America’. This industrial masterpiece forms the eastern boundary of George’s Dock. It was almost certainly designed by the brilliant Scottish engineer Sir John Rennie. His father designed the pioneering cast iron tobacco warehouse known as ‘Skin Floor’ in the London docks, built between 1811 and 1814. The chq’s original purpose was to store considerable, and valuable, cargos of tobacco, tea and spirits. Tobacco and tea were kept in separate compartments above ground. Wine and spirit casks were stored in extensive vaults below, where patrons of the Ely chq restaurant and wine bar are now seated.

An Industrial Masterpiece

At 475 feet (145 metres) long and 157 feet (48 feet) wide, the warehouse boasts the largest clear floor pre-20th century space in Dublin City. The influence of those graceful, early industrial days can be seen from its top-lit gabled roofs and cast-iron colonnades right down to the fifty-six basement vaults. These allowed for the storage of ‘4,500 pipes of wine’. The iron work was manufactured and supplied by the Butterley Foundry in Derbyshire, founded in 1791 by the canal engineers William Jessop and Benjamin Outram. An ‘extensive yard for bonding timber’ adjoined the premises.[1] The opening ceremony on 1821 was greeted with ‘the firing of guns and huzzaing of thousands’ while a sumptuous champagne breakfast was served to special guests. This event was something of a precursor to the mighty banquet given to Crimean War veterans in 1856, dealt with separately in these pages. A mezzanine floor was added to the northern tobacco end in 1871. In 1884, the building was reduced by 16 feet as its southern end to widen Custom House Quay. In 1903, John Purser Griffith, Chief Engineer of the Port and Docks Board, proposed dismantling the building as part of a radical scheme, never adopted, to modernize the Custom House Docks. In 1934, the Board began work on a new tobacco store, known as Stack G, which assimilated the eastern wall of Rennie’s Stack A into its structure. Another new store, Stack F, was built where Jury's Hotel stands today.

Modern Times

In 1987, the chq Building fell within the remit of the Custom House Docks Development Authority who arranged for the transfer of all its warehousing operations to the port estate at East Wall. They flattened the 1930s warehouse of Stack G and commissioned a comprehensive restoration of Stack A. Miscellaneous plans to convert the building into an interactive science museum, a contemporary art gallery and a national folk museum did not come to fruition. Nor did Charles Haughey’s vision of a place where the National Museum’s collection of silver, glass and furniture could be kept. The chq building has since been much enhanced by an international team of architects, glass and lighting consultants. In November 2007, it officially opened as a contemporary mall, just as Skin Floor did in London’s Wapping seventeen years earlier. Planned by Michael Collins Associates, it now offers some excellent retail and dining therapy options to the workers of the IFSC and the hordes now visiting the Docklands.The chq Building was awarded the title of Best Conservation / Restoration Project at the prestigious Royal Institute of the Architects of Ireland (RIAI) Awards 2008. It was also awarded Best Conservation Project at the Irish Planning Institute's National Planning Awards 2008.


[1] Wright, Rev GN, An Historical Guide to Ancient and Modern Dublin (1st edition).

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